Closing Time: No LeithLate in 2018

The much-loved community-focused festival will not return this year – “delivery of the festival has become unsustainable” say the organisers

Article by Jamie Dunn | 15 Mar 2018

It’s been announced today that LeithLate, one of the most vital events on Edinburgh’s cultural calendar, will not take place this year. “The delivery of an annual festival of this quality, energy and ambition is becoming increasingly unsustainable with current resources,” say the festival's organisers in a statement announcing the cancellation of LeithLate 2018.

Festival director Morvern Cunningham explains, "Fundraising on a project to project basis annually can take its toll, and particularly for a grassroots organisation like ours, limited capacity and resources can serve to undermine our scope and ambition year on year. It's hard to make such a thing as LeithLate sustainable in the current funding climate (even though we generate over half our income ourselves), and we were starting to push ourselves and the festival beyond our limits and risked compromising both the quality and spirit of LeithLate."

Founded in 2011, the event began as a one night only mini-festival spread over ten venues along Leith Walk. "I think LeithLate could really grow,” the indefatigable Cunningham told us seven years ago, before that inaugural edition. “There’s an opportunity, and a lot of support and goodwill behind it.” She was right. LeithLate soon bloomed from an evening DIY 'art crawl' to an eclectic art fest weekender and then to the lively four-day arts festival it has become.

The community-minded festival has provided a great showcase for Leith, its venues and its residents’ creativity. “In the last seven years, LeithLate has provided a much-needed platform for artists and support for local businesses,” say LeithLate's team, “and brought the local and wider communities of Leith together – providing context for ongoing change in the area.”

The statement goes on to suggest that these changes in the area have contributed to the unsustainability of holding the annual grassroots arts festival in the neighbourhood. “Leith remains an ongoing site of transition,” say LeithLate. “Increased development and rising property prices should not be prioritised over investment in Leith’s culture and identity.” We asked Cunningham for her thoughts on the overall development of the area. She tells us, "We now have a Starbucks on Leith Walk (something I thought I'd never see) and the whole former railway block that houses Leith Depot (among other community assets) is under threat of demolition to make way for student flats. We need time to question ourselves what the purpose of LeithLate is in an environment such as this."

The news comes the day after the announcement from Edinburgh International Festival of their programme coming to the Leith Theatre this August. In May, Hidden Door will once again take up residence in that space for a large scale creative extravaganza. Is this shift from the grassroots to the large scale cultural project reflective of the area's overall development? "I think it's a good thing for Leith that EIF is coming to Leith Theatre," says Cunningham. "There is the possibility of ongoing legacy and necessary investment into the theatre in order to make it a fully functioning performance space for the people of Leith and Edinburgh to enjoy all year round. However, it's also important there be strategic investment into Leith's existing local culture and identity, or we might start to see the loss of what makes Leith creative in the first place."

LeithLate's cessation is sad news for Leith’s close-knit creative community and the thousands of people who have attended over the last seven years. However, Cunningham and the other creative forces behind the festival are still committed to putting on exciting and innovative projects in this vibrant corner of Edinburgh. “Our belief in Leith’s cultural significance is unwavering,” they say. “We remain active in Leith through our work and that of sister project Leith Creative.” Upcoming projects include a large-scale outdoor film event A Wall Is A Screen: Leith in August, as well as a number of new public artworks. 

The Skinny wish Cunningham and her team all the best.