Councillors who “trashed” the city’s reputation by announcing plans to scrap funding for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival (AIYF) should abandon their “non-starter” City of Culture bid, the chairman of Aberdeen Festivals has warned.
Steve Harris, who heads the group also responsible for award-winning events such as TechFest, Spectra and Look Again, said the behind-closed-doors decision to pull the plug showed “colossal ineptitude” and would make it “very hard” for AIYF to continue after 46 years.
Mr Harris, who was the chief executive of tourism body Visit Aberdeenshire from 2012 until he retired from the role this March, fears the city’s reputation will be “damaged worldwide” by a recommendation made at last week’s education committee not to provide financial support in the 2018-19 budget.
In a cross-party move, it called instead for a £100,000 pot to be shared among projects to mark Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018.
If approved by the finance committee on December 1, the move could put a £150,000 hole in the budget of the youth festival – around 30% of what is required to host the annual celebration of young talent from the north-east and around the globe.
Mr Harris is particularly angry that news of the potential funding cut broke during a festival industry conference at the Belmont cinema.
In an angry letter to the Press and Journal, he said the gathering had in part been “recognition of the great strides being made by the arts and cultural sector in the region in general, and Aberdeen Festivals in particular.
“It was at this moment that the pygmies that pose as our elected representatives chose to cut down our tallest poppy by voting in secret, in a petty, personal and political carve up, to cut funding to the AIYF – a move that, if confirmed by the full council, would make it very hard for AIYF to continue after 46 years,” he said.
“They trashed Aberdeen’s reputation in front of most of the key players in Scotland’s cultural sector.”
He later dismissed Aberdeen’s third-time-lucky bid for the coveted title of City of Culture – in 2025.
“I think the City of Culture bid is a non-starter,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s something we should be wasting our time on to be honest, because it’s a distraction from the great work that’s been going on since the last failed City of Culture bid.
“I think the idea that you can pull the plug on your longest running – and by many measurements the largest and highest profile festival – and then seriously think that you can make a City of Culture bid demonstrates the council’s ineptitude on a quite colossal scale.”
Lesley Dunbar, vice-convener of the education committee, said the new fund would ensure the council “delivers the very best value for local young people, from all backgrounds”.
She said: “We are committed to ensuring that next year’s celebrations in Aberdeen maximise opportunities for youth participation.
“Discussions with the AIYF organisers are continuing as we felt it was important to engage with and notify them at the earliest opportunity to ensure that they are given time to consider other funding options.
“As the city’s cultural offering continues to diversify, Aberdeen City Council continues to see local arts, culture, festivals and events as a key priority for the city, playing a key role in the introduction of the Great Aberdeen Run, the Cycle Tour Series and Nuart Aberdeen this year alone, and funding to other festivals that are moving from strength to strength such as SPECTRA, Look Again and the Jazz Festival.
“The council continues to work hard with Visit Aberdeenshire to showcase the best that Aberdeen has to offer.”
The Aberdeen Festivals organisation, which is part of the Visit Aberdeenshire tourism body, was established almost four years ago to improve and promote festivals across Aberdeen and elsewhere in the north-east.
Funded by Visit Aberdeenshire, as well as Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils, the group represents 11 of the region’s major cultural festivals, including True North, Spectra, Look Again and the Aberdeen International Youth Festival.
It also receives corporate sponsorship from Nexen.
Steve Harris has been the chairman of Aberdeen Festivals since 2015, and is in charge of helping to organise and highlight the work of the festivals, which showcase talent from the worlds of arts, science, music, dance and more throughout the year.
Mr Harris recently retired from his role as chief executive of Visit Aberdeenshire, a post he held from July 2012 to this March.
While working for Visit Aberdeenshire, Mr Harris was charged with boosting tourism numbers and helping drive visitors to the wealth of cultural offerings across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire such as the region’s castles, whisky distilleries and golf courses.