The Festivals

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Edinburgh’s International Festival and the Fringe are known worldwide as celebrations of art and culture. Held annually, they were first organised in 1947, but it took two years of planning to get to that point.

The Town Council was keen to re-establish the city as a centre of culture after the end of the Second World War. So in 1945, they set up a Festival Committee to explore the idea of an international festival being held in Edinburgh. By September 1946 the Lord Provost’s Committee of Edinburgh Town Council was preparing for the promotion of an international festival of music and drama, which was to run from 24th August to 13th September 1947. There was excitement about the proposed British and international acts which were invited to perform. There was also the hope that the festival would become an annual event.

Edinburgh Town Council Minute Sep 1946
Excerpt from Edinburgh Town Council Minute book of 26th September 1946, discussing proposed International Festival for 1947. From collection held at Edinburgh City Archives

The festival kicked off in earnest on the 24th August 1947. However, several arts companies were not invited to perform, and so they decided to set up their own impromptu and more informal performances. In 1948, when such acts happened again, a journalist penned the phrase ‘the Fringe’, and so was born the universal term for all forms of cultural experiences and performances that we know and love today.

Edinburgh remembers its ongoing role as the ‘Festival City’ in the minutes and reports of the decisions taken to set up and support such events, from 1947 to present day. However, it also remembers these events in the photographs, programmes and other records created by the organisers and participants themselves.

The Town Council minutes and papers are held in the City Archives, but you can see the original programmes for the Festivals at Edinburgh’s Central Library, as well as online via Capital Collections. The archives of the Edinburgh International Festival company itself can be accessed at the National Library of Scotland.

We preserve these records to tell us about the past; but we want you to tell us what we should collect about life today for tomorrow: