Our mission and history

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The Edinburgh International Festival is an unparalleled celebration of the performing arts and an annual meeting point for peoples of all nations. Committed to virtuosity and originality, the International Festival presents some of the finest performers and ensembles from the worlds of dance, opera, music and theatre for three weeks in August.

Over the course of the year, the International Festival team travel the world in search of the most exciting and creative artists working today. Together, it brings unique collaborations, world premieres, new takes on classic works, critically acclaimed productions and more to captivate, thrill and entertain audiences from around the world. All in one place, right here in Scotland.

International Festival beginnings

The Edinburgh International Festival was the inspired idea of Rudolf Bing, then the General Manager of Glyndebourne Opera, Henry Harvey Wood, the Head of the British Council in Scotland, and leaders from the City of Edinburgh. It was established in 1947 as a world class cultural event to bring together audiences and artists from around the world.

Right from the beginning the International Festival inspired artists who were not part of the International programme to put on shows of their own, and these events grew into the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. More festivals have grown up around it in August and early September, as well as throughout the year and there are now 12 major annual festivals in Edinburgh, the Festival City.

If you would like to delve into the International Festival’s rich history and discover the wonderful artists and stories that have made it so loved by so many then you can immerse yourself in publications, programmes and photos at the National Library of Scotland or take a wander around our website and the multimedia library.

Who we are

The International Festival is about the people who come together here in Edinburgh to create incredible experiences. Together we are a state of the art, world class cultural event which over its 69 years has gone from strength to strength.

As such a vibrant, innovative, energetic organisation, the International Festival contributes to many aspects of life, be it cultural and economic, education and society and enhances the lives of people not just in Edinburgh and Scotland, but around the world.

We exist to

  • Present a wide range of performances from the world’s leading artists to the widest possible audience
  • Offer affordable international culture to audiences from Scotland, the rest of the UK and the world
  • Offer an international showcase for Scotland’s rich culture
  • Present innovative performances and programming and a commitment to new work
  • Actively welcome and make it possible for all sections of the Scottish and wider public to experience and enjoy the International Festival
  • Encourage everyone to participate in the arts throughout the year

Want to know more?

Below you'll find a timeline of the International Festival including Directors, dates and images going back to the International Festival's birth in 1947.