The Perth Festival of the Arts, which begins on Thursday, is a great survivor of an older model.

The story of its genesis is quite well known. An article by veteran music critic, and regular contributor to The Herald, Conrad Wilson, speculated that, on the model of Edinburgh's success, Perthshire's fair city was topographically well-suited to stage an arts festival. A group of the great and the good of the area read the piece and decided to act up on it. With the emphasis on classical music, it began in 1972. When it celebrated its 40th birthday, it was Wilson they asked to write a slim volume of its history.

It has certainly evolved over the years. For many of them its own opera productions were staged by John Currie, who ran a highly regarded chamber choir, and for most of them its main venues were the civic hall as well as the theatre and St John's Kirk. Now, of course, Perth has its own very handsome concert hall, and a year-round programme of music of the first rank, and the theatre has recently acquired a very highly rated director in Rachel O'Riordan, who is shortlisted for best director in this year's Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland. The festival has not stood still; it has expanded its programme so that a core of classical programming sits alongside concerts of popular music of broad appeal – Jools Holland, Van Morrison, and Scottish Album of the Year-nominated Admiral Fallow in the 2013 programme – as well as jazz and folk music, touring theatre and often a classical dance or comedy element. Given its May time slot, comparison with Glasgow's much-missed Mayfest are not inappropriate.

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The festival has built strong links with certain promoters and artists. The successors to Currie's productions are English Touring Opera, who now have their annual Scottish showcase at the Perth Festival and have productions of Donizetti, Verdi and Mozart on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week. They will be busy, and so too will the schools orchestra concerts, and the showcase for a local young talent, this year Blairgowrie violinist and viola player Jessica Hall, who is studying for her masters at the Royal North College of Music.

All of this is put together by a single festival administrator, the indefatigable Sandra Ralston, and a committee of local people who are the successors of the group who read Conrad Wilson's piece and decided they liked the idea. Nowadays they are styled the Festival Executive, but none of them is on the payroll.

On the one hand this is perhaps exactly what Prime Minister David Cameron meant by the Big Society, but it is a long way from what Westminster Culture Secretary Maria Miller meant when she enthused about the need for the arts to pay their way. Those behind Perth Festival do well to attract support from the Gannochy Trust and a slew of other charitable bodies as well as significant commercial sponsorship, but that is alongside the crucial involvement of Perth and Kinross Council and Creative Scotland. Its role is to serve the community within an hour's drive, and to balance the books at the end of the year. The people of Perth, many of whom have always voted Conservative, know profit is not always measured in pounds and pence.