Edinburgh Fringe: The Perfect Place for Placemaking

Every August, Edinburgh is transformed into a creative hub of fresh ideas, theatre and art. The Edinburgh Fringe itself is an inspiring phenomenon: ticket sales are on the increase and over 3,000 shows are put on throughout the event (a far cry from the 182 companies performing back in 1976). However, there’s another interesting impact of the fringe: how does the annual festival contribute to placemaking, and transforming the city all year round?

Placemaking during the Edinburgh Fringe

Immersive events and street performers are a particular feature of the Fringe, in addition to the countless programmed shows that go on each and every day throughout August.

Performances brought into the public realm instantly activate the space, making use of the city’s exciting streets, parks and open spaces. Innovative creatives aren’t limiting themselves to arts venues, which is part of the Fringe’s unique charm.

The Fringe also makes use of underutilised space as well as transforming existing rooms and buildings into theatres and performance areas. Galleries, music centres, pubs, bookshops, auction houses and everything in between open their doors and transform into official Fringe venues. The performances will no doubt drive even more customers to the venues throughout August, thus increasing footfall and revenue.

Ultimately, the success of the Fringe relies on the community’s involvement and commitment to the event – which it certainly has fostered over the years.

Immersive experiences

Particular performances go one step further by immersing audiences into the performance. Last year saw ticket-holders step into Spain, take part in interactive flash-mobs and group singing during a walking tour of Edinburgh, and an audio tour of the city.

Theatre-goers are encouraged to explore their boundaries by attending performances that include the audience in their art. No more sitting in neat rows watching a show – in some instances, the audience members become part of the experience themselves.

The ongoing impact

Does the Edinburgh Fringe Festival change the local’s perception of the city? It certainly does. According to the Edinburgh People Survey, 78% of residents say the Festivals (which include the Fringe as well as the other 11 Festivals) makes the city a better place to live. It’s unsurprising, given the increased tourism and ongoing notoriety associated with the Festivals. Further research showed 89% of locals said it increased their pride in Edinburgh, and an incredible 94% said having the Festivals is part of what makes Edinburgh special.

There’s no doubt about it – the Fringe has helped solidify Edinburgh’s place on the cultural map, but it’s also helped to impress and connect with local residents.

The Fringe has become such a prolific festival thanks to its solid support from the local community that has helped to consolidate its image and identity, both locally, nationally and around the globe. It’s a win-win for both the event and the city: the event gets support from its location, and Edinburgh benefits hugely also.

Though it may seem an impossible challenge to consider the long-term impact of a standalone event, major events often do snowball into an exponential monthly or annual occurrence. Therefore, event organisers and researchers must consider how they effectively connect an event to its location from the very beginning.

Going beyond placemaking

Arts-based placemaking is described as “an integrative approach to urban planning and community building that stimulates local economies and leads to increased innovation, cultural diversity, and civic engagement.”

Communities and individuals don’t have to be part of the art or theatre world for the Fringe to illuminate Edinburgh’s unique character, having a significant positive effect on the city’s economy. However, events such as the Fringe go beyond placemaking in order to improve the city, city living for local people and visitor experience both on a short and long-term basis.

It’s fair to say Edinburgh Fringe is firmly part of a wider place marketing / place branding strategy too. To achieve such success the event must be repeated through time, particularly if it hopes to be recognised on a global scale. For marketers looking for a “quick win”, arranging a large-scale event isn’t the right avenue – but as a long-term strategy, establishing a regular, unique event can have tremendous success.

An economic advantage

The Festival’s economic impact was measured at £280m in Edinburgh and £313m in Scotland, showing that the Festivals really do drive visitors to the city. In turn, of course, visitors stay in hotels, shop locally, drink in the city’s pubs and dine in nearby restaurants – a full tourist experience.

Placemaking is shown to boost a destination’s appeal, ultimately boosting the local area’s economy.

Arts festivals are particularly important to local stakeholders as the Edinburgh Festival brings together communities and performance networks from across the world. Creating an international reputation for bringing artists together is an incredible achievement.

So how can we achieve success?

The Fringe is an ideal example of how to transform a city through effective place marketing and placemaking.

The key to creating a successful events-driven placemaking campaign is to think outside the box and allow the event to grow organically. Initiate an exciting programme, and let the community take over and add their own individual spirit.

At DS.Emotion, our place marketing/place branding and placemaking services provide an exciting new way for retail and leisure destinations, developments and cities to enhance and develop communities. Get in touch to find out how our touch of ingenuity can help activate your space. Contact our Head of Placemaking Razi Riahi at razi@dsemotion.com.