August 16, 2013 11:34 pm

Director steers clear of 2014 referendum debate

Since 2006, the Edinburgh International Festival has enjoyed an Australian ingredient in the form of its Sydney-born artistic director, Sir Jonathan Mills.

And a somewhat Australian flavour is set to remain when Sir Jonathan steps down after next year’s festival: his successor, the Irish curator and producer Fergus Linehan, has spent much of the past decade in Sydney.

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In a reminder of the sensitivities surrounding a festival that was founded in 1947 and is still a core driver of Edinburgh’s cultural calendar, Sir Jonathan this month drew much flak when he announced that next year’s programme would stand studiedly aloof from the Scottish independence referendum to be held on September 18.

Instead, Sir Jonathan’s inspirations for 2014 will be the 100th anniversary of the first world war, and Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games – while keeping the festival a “politically neutral space” for artists.

Some commentators bristled at the avoidance of a historic referendum with the potential to reshape the nation – arts and all – although there is already a great deal of exploration of independence issues in Edinburgh’s other summer festivals, and there will certainly be more next year.

At least the result will be firmly decided by the time Mr Linehan unveils his 2015 programme, but few doubt that the festival will continue to be impressively wide-ranging in taste. From June 2010 to December 2012, Mr Linehan was head of music at Sydney Opera House, but he is also known for his enthusiasm for pop and rock.

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