THE economic value of the arts is being demonstrated by a festival that gives an £800,000 boost to an area where the local authority controversially axed its entire culture budget.

However, the contribution of the arts to society cannot just be measured in economic terms, according to Kresanna Aigner, director of Findhorn Bay Festival.

“It is important to talk about the economic contribution, but in many ways, the benefits of the arts are priceless,” she said. “There is also the value of the wellbeing, the sense of place, the pride in community, the aspirations that are lifted and the connections that are made through participation in the arts.

“We need things that give us hope and inspiration, and we really need that more than ever just now.”

The decision by Moray Council in 2013 to axe their arts budget and arts department was a massive blow to the sector but it is hoped that funding will resume in the future now the economic return has been demonstrated.

A positive sign is the new Moray Growth Deal support of the development of a Cultural Quarter in Elgin and the employment of a project manager to take this forward. Complementing this will be the creation of a multipurpose art space in the centre of Elgin through Moray’s bid for the UK Levelling Up Fund.

Findhorn Bay Arts, which runs the Findhorn Bay Festival, was set up just before the 2013 cuts were made and has worked in the years since to bring creative organisations and individuals in the area together.

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“In some ways, the cuts galvanised the sector to come together to showcase the incredible strength of creativity and community support we have here, but it has been difficult being in a region where there is no council funding,” said Aigner.

“We have garnered inward investment, and there is partnership working with the council’s different departments, but we do hope that in time, maybe something will change.

“I hope that in the future, given the demonstration of how the arts contribute to communities, not only through economic development but also through health and education, that funding comes back on the table.”

The estimated £800,000 benefit to the area from the festival is made up of funding from Creative Scotland, local sponsors and other arts organisations, with about half from visitor spending, based on survey results from ticket holders.

The last festival in 2018 saw just over 10,000 attendances, with people coming from as far away as the US.

“One American family came this spring, heard about the festival and are coming back for it,” said Aigner.

The festival is held every two years and a decision on whether to proceed with this year’s event had to be made in January when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was rife. Organisers decided to hold the festival, but over 10 days instead of five, with events spread out further in the wider community.

“We are in an area with no large venues, so much of what we fundraise goes back into supporting local venues like village halls,” said Aigner.

“We are fortunate to receive funding from Creative Scotland and Scotland’s Year of Stories, who felt it was really important to get the festival up and running again because they feel we add significant cultural importance to the Scottish landscape.”

Producing a festival this year has not been plain sailing, however, as local hospitality providers are struggling for staff and many production companies sold off equipment to survive the pandemic.

“While we have it covered, we are very aware of the strain on production companies across Scotland and hospitality providers,” said Aigner.

Despite the challenges, the festival is still managing to stage more than 100 events involving more than 40 companies and individual artists, with a programme designed to suit all ages and tastes.

Ticket prices have been kept down despite higher costs, there are free events, and there is an access budget for transport and tickets for community groups.

The music programme, a strong element of the festival, kicks off with Heal And Harrow, featuring two of Scotland’s celebrated folk musicians Lauren MacColl and Rachel Newton. Inspired by the 16th and 17th-century Scottish witch trials, this new project pays tribute to the accused while also exploring historical beliefs in the supernatural and modern-day parallels.

The opening day also offers an opportunity to see three of Scotland’s highly acclaimed folk musicians in one triple bill of Martin Simpson, Findlay Napier and Malcolm MacWatt.

Festival favourite Karine Polwart makes a return with her latest project in collaboration with jazz/folk pianist Dave Milligan, while Hamish Napier will perform his award-winning album The Woods, winner of the Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards.

Scotland’s Year of Stories is a feature of the festival, and The Lady of Avenel, a spectacular 102ft Brigantine square-rigged ship, will be anchored at Buckie Harbour to tell the story of Moray’s maritime heritage through music and storytelling.

The festival runs from this Friday until October 2