December 09, 2015

The Women Behind The Edinburgh Festivals

Back in September of this year I went to Edinburgh for the first time. The trip was organised by the lovely Edinburgh Festivals PR team and I reviewed some incredible female comedians at Ed Fringe and also the city as a whole. It was an amazing trip and I wanted to write an additional post interviewing some brilliantly talented women who are responsible for making the different festivals the smooth-running, inspiring organisations that they are. When it comes to the arts, these women are full on #CareerGoals.


Kath M Mainland

Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

“The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is completely open access which means that no one decides who can or can’t take part or what they should or shouldn’t do.  So our job here at the Fringe Society is really about supporting all  the thousands of participants (be they international performing companies, individual artists, west end producers and performers from every conceivable artform) or industry professionals, media and audiences who flock to Edinburgh from all around the world to experience the Fringe.  That and marketing and promoting the Fringe as a whole. My job as Chief Exec is to work with my colleagues to ensure we’ve done everything within our power to make sure everyone coming to the Fringe has the best experience possible. The Fringe is a profoundly international market place which can have transformative effects on careers. My advice for anyone following their dream and looking for their dream job is to be honest, don’t be afraid to speak up, but be charming and be ready to work hard.”


Sorcha Carey

Director of Edinburgh Art Festival

“Depending on where we are in the festival cycle (planning, production or delivery), my working day can involve anything from making site visits with artists or meeting funders or sponsors, to proofreading our guide, or attending the launch of an exhibition. It’s one of the great joys of the job for me that no two days are ever the same (although whatever the day it always always always starts with coffee)! It’s been wonderful to see the festival grow over the past 5 years. We were founded in 2004, so while we are firmly into our teens now, we are still quite young when compared to some of our fellow festivals. I’m particularly proud of the way we continue to open up the visual arts, contemporary and historic, to new audiences – at least 90% of the programme is free and in the past 5 years we have particularly focused on projects which bring art out of galleries and into public spaces in the city.”

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Amanda Barry

Head of Marketing & PR, Edinburgh International Book Festival

“I am surrounded by books all year – and I love them and try to read as many of them as I can – but it is the people who create those books and the people I work with that make my job so enjoyable. The Book Festival (and other festivals I’ve had the pleasure of working with) seem to be populated by the most wonderful, energetic, fun, resilient, cheerful, creative and surprising individuals and they all come together to create something very special – they are a joy and make my job very rewarding. There must be an unwritten law somewhere that lists the criteria for ‘festival person’ and unconsciously we are all following it. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is all about people: the people who curate the programme and deliver it, the people who write the books and share their stories and ideas, the audiences who join in, offer their own opinions and then go away and discuss the things they’ve heard or imagine stories of their own. It’s a wonderful forum and what comes out of each Book Festival lives on long after August is over. No festival can be successful without this coming together of hearts and minds, this collective creativity and passion. The other, perhaps more obvious, thing is that I get to see the results of my work relatively quickly – we all do. The Book Festival and all the people who flock to it is the thing we’ve been working so hard to put together all year and then there it is in all its glory, just waiting to be enjoyed, and that’s immensely satisfying.”

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Amanda Tyndall

Creative Director of Edinburgh International Science Festival

“My fate was REALLY sealed though when, at the age of 8, I got a microscope and slide-making kit for Xmas and proceeded to ‘amaze’ friends, relatives and anyone else I could hijack into looking with my images of leaves/dust/squashed insects (sorry nan). I loved science at school – especially biology, in part due to a great teacher (Mr Cleverly if you’re reading this you created a monster, in a good way!) but turned out to be pretty bad at actually doing it. I’m FAR too clumsy to be let loose in a lab with anything volatile. Luckily it turns out that science communication is a thing, and I found a way to combine my love of science with my love of communication via a move into science writing and later into public events and Festivals. This has enabled me to indulge my inner science geek, travel the world and meet some of the brightest minds on the planet in the process. Not bad for a day’s work. Albert Einstein summed it up pretty well when he said that ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.’ I suppose I’m just innately curious; about myself and my fellow humans and about the world around us and our place in it. While science certainly doesn’t have all the answers it’s having a pretty good go at finding them and I’m pleased and proud to be a part of that quest.”



Faith Liddel

Director of Festivals Edinburgh

“It varies enormously day to day but it always focusses on the needs and ambitions of the festivals. I spend most of my time strategising or meeting people, so either planning or finding ways of making things happen. On any one day, I could have a  meeting with creative colleagues about the cultural strategy for the city in the morning, a bowl of soup with a festival director to discuss a new project idea over lunch, a brainstorm about a digital innovation programme with the Informatics Department at Edinburgh University in the afternoon and then I will often be a show or reception in the evening. I travel a lot internationally and try to pack a lot into these visits – promoting the Festivals and the amazing platforms they offer to artists and explaining how they work to the creative community in major international cities. I usually spend some time with the culture ministries and national creative agencies to encourage them to support their artists to come to our festivals. I often talk with the travel media on the ground to raise the profile of the festivals to potential audiences in each country. August is our craziest time with 6 festival on simultaneously, and at that time I am doing 10 meetings a day and working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. It’s sounds exhausting but when any of our August or year-round festivals are on,  I am fuelled by adrenalin and the amazing range of talented people and inspiring work I get to keep company with and see every day. As we say here, ‘You can sleep in September’. The toughest and most satisfying bit of my job is not decisions but the constant mediation and negotiation – that’s the joy and torment of collaboration! I have always wanted to experience and consume them but I really never imagined I might one day be doing this amazing job at the very heart of the Festival City.  I started coming to the festivals as a child, was independently seeing work by 14 and had my first job at a venue at 21. I’ve been pinching myself for nine years now in this role and it still feels like a privilege.”

Check out info on the Edinburgh Festivals here:

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  1. Emma Copland says:

    The Edinburgh Festival is one of the highlights of my year and it is so interesting to find out more about the women behind the scenes.

  2. Abbie says:

    This is such a lovely post – people behind the scenes definitely don’t get enough credit and recognition for the amazing work that they do. I was in Edinburgh for all of August producing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and that was stressful enough, I can’t imagine what these women must be feeling! Serious career goals right there!

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