Visual arts lobby angered by Edinburgh decision: Festival director under fire after major exhibitions omitted from brochure

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The Independent Online
DISHARMONY threatened the run-up to the Edinburgh Festival yesterday as the festival's director was accused of ignoring the visual arts in his brochure. The exclusion means the National Museums and National Galleries of Scotland have had to use thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money to advertise their flagship exhibition separately.

Brian McMaster, the former head of Welsh National Opera, who is in his second year as festival director, had managed, so far, to avoid the internal rows which were commonplace in previous years. But his decision to restrict the world's largest arts festival to theatre, music and dance has infuriated the visual arts lobby. The official brochure for the festival, which starts on 15 August, contains just two items under the heading 'exhibitions'. One is a photography show from New York. The other is a display of theatrical ephemera. Painting, sculpture and any British visual arts are absent.

Dr Sheila Brock, head of public affairs at the National Museums of Scotland and chair of the Scottish Arts Council's visual arts committee, said: 'We were dismayed when we saw that our exhibition had not been included. How else do all the tourists pouring into the city for the festival know where we are and what the exhibition is. The visitor is being shortchanged.

'For many years we were included as a matter of course. We have had to undertake extra expenditure on advertising because of this, including buying the back cover of the fringe programme. The real crux of the matter is that after being an integral part of the festival we now have to be identified with the fringe.'

The museum's international exhibition, The Power Of The Mask, is one of the most spectacular mounted there, and includes masks used in play, rituals and carnivals.

There was anger too from the National Galleries of Scotland, which has five exhibitions on during the festival, including one from Russia. This is the first year the Edinburgh-based institution has not figured in the brochure, and it, too, has had to pay to advertise. It was told by the festival office that it could not even pay to advertise in the official programme.

Richard Calvocoressi, keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, said that he had scheduled the gallery's summer exhibition, Russian Painting of the Avant Garde 1906-1924, to include the festival period in the belief that it would be of interest to visitors and might bring credit to the festival itself. The Russians are sending their Minister of Culture and several museum directors to the opening of the exhibition in August.

He added: 'By refusing even to publicise these exhibitions, the festival has now decided to ignore one of its major assets.'

The spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Festival said: 'We are taking responsibility for one exhibition, a major one from the Met which we have got for Edinburgh, rather than just listing all the exhibitions that are on. We decided not to take paid advertising because we felt the space could be better used to sell the festival.'