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In conversation with...Sorcha Carey

Across the Arts speaks with the director of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Across the Arts: Could you give us a brief history of EAF?

Sorcha Carey: Edinburgh Art Festival was founded in 2004. We are Scotland's largest annual visual arts festival and showcase a diverse programme of visual art exhibitions and events across the cities. Since 2008, we have also begun to support the commissioning of new work for the festival programme.

AtA: Can you give us a bit of background on yourself?

SC: I trained as an art historian. I had a brief spell in academia before fleeing to the (far more down to earth) world of festivals. I worked on 3 editions of Liverpool Biennial, an international festival of contemporary art, and had sometime with the British Council.

AtA: Have you ever participated in the Edinburgh Festival?

SC: I did appear in a Fringe production many years ago, just after graduation - Lois Lane which was on in the Pleasance Attic. I think tickets were retailing for a princely £2.50 then.... We just broke even, which is probably a great success!

AtA: How far in advance is the EAF programme set?

Many of our partner galleries are programming their festival shows several years in advance, but the smaller artist-led spaces can be more responsive, and our Open Submissions strand gives opportunities for people to participate in the programme five months before we open. So a real mix.

AtA: How do you go about finding artists for the programme, and do you look at individual work, or is there different criteria you use, like a theme?

SC: We look primarily for quality - whether the work is by a leading name or promising young talent. We don't have a particular theme, as our Partner Galleries each develop their own festival exhibitions, but we look to find ways to enhance and augment the festival experience. The Festival is very distributed (we have 42 exhibitions in the programme this year), so this year we have concentrated on finding ways to make the experience of navigating the city a pleasant and pleasurable one. We commissioned American artist J. Maizlish to draw a map of the city showing all the participating galleries, and we've blown it up as a giant billboard next to one of the venues. We also commissioned Cross-Artform producers, Trigger, to look at interesting ways to transform the festival journey into a creative experience, and they have worked with interactive gamers Coney to produce an ambient sound work, which is downloadable as a free app from the iTunes store.

AtA: What do you hope visitors will get from the works of this year's programme?

SC: I hope the festival programme as a whole provides an enriching space to think and engage with complex ideas - a large part of the Edinburgh festival experience is about rushing from A to B, but I hope the Art Festival provides a nice counterpoint to that, a series of oases across the city where you can enjoy the best of visual art, without having to book a ticket.

AtA: Personally, is there something you're excited about with this year?

SC: This year is the first year we've commissioned a festival pavilion. Designed by Karen Forbes and made possible through the Scottish Government's Expo Fund, the Solar Pavilion (renamed the Pluvial Pavilion in the recent downpours) is a beautiful curved glass chamber in the centre of St. Andrew's Square. It's been wonderful to see people spending time sitting in the pavilion, just looking at the square around them, enjoying the view down George Street to Charlotte Square, and the strange reflections cast by the glass. It's a great spot for cloud watching.....

The Edinburgh Art Festival is currently on throughout the city and continues until September 4, 2011.

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