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In conversation with...Jonathan Mills

Across the Arts speaks with the artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

Across the Arts: What is it about the Edinburgh Festival that makes it so special, not only for Edinburgh, Scotland or the UK but in the world?

Jonathan Mills: There are a few factors which I believe make the Edinburgh Festivals so special. Edinburgh as a backdrop cannot be beaten anywhere in the world. It is the perfect Festival city, compact and beautiful. The combination of Edinburgh’s Festivals mean that whatever your passion it is catered for here. The offering is incredibly diverse from the very best artists working in the world today, the finest novelists, leading thinkers, radical comedians, emerging young artists. They can all be found here and make Edinburgh an addictive and unique cultural experience.

AtA: What are the challenges of being the Artistic Director of EIF?

JM: There are many many challenges as a Festival Director from artistic logistics to how to be in 5 places at once during August. But that is the thrill and the buzz, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

AtA: Within the time that you’ve been in the post, is there something that you have done or achieved that you are particularly proud of?

JM: In broad terms I am particularly proud of the internationalisation of the Festival over the last 5 years so that this year we are able to focus so richly on the very diverse cultures of Asia. The Festival had been somewhat Euro-centric and with my five programmes I have explored from the heart of Europe, to the Eastern Fringes, to the New World and now the cultures of Asia and the influence they have on us in the West and vice versa.

AtA: Can you tell us a bit about the selection process for each year?

JM: I start with an idea or a series of ideas and explore that with collaborators and artists in conversations. I keep my ear to the ground for projects which reflect those ideas and travel the world exposing myself to new work and artists perhaps less known in the UK.

AtA: Where did the inspiration come from to do a season from Asia? Was there an interest in Asian culture, or perhaps you’d seen a few things and saw a common Asian denominator?

JM: I was very keen that the Festival, as an international festival, should really embrace the cultures of Asia in a way it hadn’t really done before. So I programmed 5 Festivals with a geographically expanding focus, last year was the ‘New World’. I think it is a very important time in shifting global powers and influences that we examine the influence the East and West have had on each other for so long now, how that is manifest in our current time and where we might be headed in the future. The cultures of Asia are going to play an ever increasing importance in the day-to-day life of the younger generation and we need to become more familiar and knowledgeable about them, though often they are more familiar than might be expected.

AtA: Do you perhaps see any differences, or similarities, between British, or Scottish, cultural programmes and Asian programmes?

JM: Every culture in the world has its own character, colours and nuances, be they Scottish, English, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian or Indian. In our programme this year, we are celebrating these details but are also reflecting on how familiar in many cases these far away cultures are, and that despite these different traditions and styles someone like William Shakespeare resonates across the world.

AtA: Is there anything you are particularly proud of or excited about with this year’s Festival?

JM: At this point I am proud of everything set to appear and excited that this moment has finally come round. I am just desperate now to start to enjoy all the performers set to grace our stages.

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