Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Annual Adam Smith Festival in Edinburgh?

Eamonn Butler’s done it again, this time in our national newspaper, The Scotsman, advocating an annual festival around Adam Smith and his works, similar to the events around the unveiling of Smith’s statue on 4 July this year (also organised by the Adam Smith Institute).

By all accounts of many of those who participated in the events (including me) considered the 4 July events were a great success, and the natural thought is now circulating that Edinburgh should promote an annual Adam Smith Festival. Edinburgh already the home of one of the largest arts festivals in the world, currently about to begin, with thousands of events packed into four weeks in August in scores of simultaneous festivals of ‘high’ culture is an ideal venue for such a new festival.

The original Edinburgh Festival was held in 1947 – ‘wartime’ rationing was still in operation; I remember it well as it was around that time that I ate my first banana!

Students of modern ideas about ‘spontaneous order’ and such like, should note that the official ‘arts’ festival was accompanied, from the start by what we now call the ‘fringe' unofficalfestival, without any recognition of any kind of these early upstart performers (Scotland was more deferential of established authority in those days).

The unofficial fringe events were set up by people who simply turned up in Edinburgh, booked a hall (the City has an abundance of such venues, some of excellent quality, some not so, and not a few of them of imaginative ‘adaptations’), handed out their leaflets to passing and probably bemused tourists, among which were the serious serial, high-arts patrons, known for their ‘superior’ and serious dispositions. The less 'superior' lovers of the arts, joined by detached refugees from officialdom, soon voted with their feet to take in events from the Fringe productions along with the 'High Arts' productions.

Since 1947, the International Edinburgh Festival has grown and grown with separate but integrated festivals of Television – all the big names and tv personalities; International Books – getting bigger and bigger each year; International Science; Children’s Theatre; International Film; International Art; International Jazz and Blues festivals, plus the ever popular Military Tatoo (of which the military bands of the former eight Scottish Regiments – sadly, now just one – are ever popular with all Scots and with the many international visitors; and the ever expanding, famous ‘Fringe’ that now has 2,008 separate shows on during this coming month, up 30 per cent on last year. The Fringe keeps growing each year and arts lovers still keep coming.

The significant aspect of the mushrooming, unofficial festivals, which until relatively recently were disdainfully ‘ignored’ and kept apart from the official and publicly funded festival, was their complete lack of ‘central direction’. The 'organisers' of the Fringe facilitated rather than ran the events and did so without censorship (if your show is crap or 'beyond the pale' you won't get an audience once the daily reviws are in).

What started as poorly printed individual leaflets, has by today been developed into a 288-page colourfully printed catalogue. The Fringe is an example of the evolution of an uncoordinated, undesigned, and unintentional successful matching of outcomes to opportunities, and was recognised eventually by numerous producers of art and culture as comparable to the official Fesitval. (There are graduate theses and dissertations here waiting to be taken up by economists, sociologists, political science and anthropology students…)

So Eamonn Butler’s suggestion today is of sound practical interest. I hope it is taken up in Edinburgh. You can read his article HERE (courtesy of The Scotsman).

"Following the huge success of the unveiling events, there are calls for an annual Smith celebration – let's call it an Adam Smith Festival. A good time might be near his birthday in mid-June. (His exact birthday is unknown, though his birth was registered on 5 June, 1723. But the calendar was changed in 1752 and a few more days were added, so mid-June is about right.)

A highly successful part of the unveiling celebrations that a festival certainly should replicate was the Adam Smith Debate in the Caves, under the arches of South Bridge, Edinburgh. It was led off by former Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth, proposing that "this house would prefer to be led by an invisible hand" – against the opposition of his old political adversary Brian Wilson. It was an example of what many of us thought no longer possible: a really good-natured debate on serious issues that was both enlightening and entertaining. That makes it worth repeating: you won't see the like in Holyrood, after all.

Another highlight of the unveiling programme was the opportunity to enjoy Adam Smith's favourite food – strawberries – in his old home, Panmure House. Its new owner, the Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, seems keen to repeat this event, too.

We will certainly stage an international dinner near the statue; and perhaps a candle-light vigil around it. But other people will have their own ideas. After all, it would not do for an Adam Smith Festival to be too rigidly planned. How much more appropriate it would be if different people's initiatives came together – as if led, indeed, by an invisible hand.

Bringing together both topics I discuss above, I find on page 180 of the Fringe Festival Catalogue of events the following:

Adam Smith – making poverty history’ from ‘The Radicals’, featured at St Mark’s artSpace, 7 Castle Terrace on 3, 10, 16, 24 August (from 5pm to 6pm):

Adam Smith! Brilliant Scottish economist? Inspiring moral philosopher? Hero or Villain? You decide after meeting with his friends, including David Hume, Benjamin Franklin and Robert Burns in this thought-provoking, vitally relevant, entertaining docudrama’ (World Premier)

Bookings to T: +44 131 226 0000; Online booking: (24 hours)

Disclosure: Neither I, nor Lost Legacy, has any commercial or personal interest in this show, nor any idea of its contents or of its quality – it’s the Fringe after all! I have booked to attend it out of interest, to be followed by a family dinner later that evening.


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