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Glasgow keeps cultural cards too close to its chest

When Fergus Linehan, director designate of the Edinburgh International Festival, revealed that he planned to synchronise his dates to coincide with the Fringe from 2015, my first, mischievous question was whether he'd like to see the Edinburgh International Film Festival also restored to synchronicity in August.

He, naturally, declined to be drawn on the policy of another event, but the fact remains that the film festival, which begins this week, is, for whatever sound reasons, out of step in one sense with the whole Festivals Edinburgh experience for audiences.

In other ways, however, the collegiate approach to Edinburgh's cultural effort is now astonishingly cohesive. This is a relatively new thing, for it is not so many years ago when covering a spat between "official" Festival and Fringe or between the city council and the bolder of the Fringe promoters was a regular and predictable part of the working journalist's tour of duty in the capital in August.

It was particularly striking 10 days ago at the launch of this year's Fringe at the National Gallery of Scotland (the venue itself indicative) how coherent the whole inclusive business of promoting the Edinburgh Festivals has become. The sequence of launch events that run through the spring are not just singing from the same hymn sheet, they show off with elements of polyphony, harmony and counterpoint along the way. Even formerly combative councillor Steve Cardownie, the council's designated Festivals Champion, is always reliably on-message these days, and at the same time there is nothing about this coherence that seems manipulated and laboured (small "L"), rather than simply sensible.

I was tempted to conclude that this may be partly down to the number of women (including Faith Liddell at Festivals Edinburgh, Joanna Baker at the Festival and Cath Mainland at the Fringe) in key positions, but there are also a number of females in senior posts in the mixed gender economy of Glasgow 2014, where the tone is very different.

Where, for example, Linehan was happy to reveal some of the content of the 2015 Festival and Mainland is relaxed about venues releasing news of their programmes before the publication of the Fringe bumper brochure, the cultural programme associated with the Commonwealth Games has been the subject of obsessive secrecy, rigorous embargoes, and some quite absurd restrictions because of sensitivity to the rights of big-name sponsors.

It would be betraying confidences to reveal some of the ludicrous stories that are going around about the instructions that participating artists have received, but be assured that they will surely surface in the fullness of the time so that we can all chortle at the expense of those who drew them up.

Tales of artists being asked to provide a performance for an important day in the Games schedule, but not being deemed trustworthy enough to be vouchsafed details of the actual work they will be expected to provide or the forces they will be allowed to employ to provide it. Documents that put the Official Secrets Act to shame that young people have been recquired to sign as a condition of their participation. Gifts to children as part of a performance that have been outlawed lest they undermine the exclusivity guaranteed to a multinational corporation.

From a media point of view, just finding out what is happening and when has turned out to be a soul-sapping chore - eveything that emanates from the communications wing of the Glasgow 2014 operation seems to be issued on a "need to know" basis rather than a willingness to respond to enquiries. It is now clear that the initially bullish response to criticism of the bonkers Red Road flats plan was emblematic of a "we know what's good for you" ethos that runs through the organisation.

At risk of opening up an old rivalry that seemed to have outlived its usefulness, Glasgow would do well to look east to learn how best to put the audience first.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

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