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Derry City of Culture spat woman Shona McCarthy lands job at Edinburgh Fringe

By Claire McNeilly

Published 14/01/2016

Shona McCarthy is the new Edinburgh Festival Fringe boss
Shona McCarthy is the new Edinburgh Festival Fringe boss

A Northern Ireland woman has landed one of the most prestigious jobs in the arts world.

Shona McCarthy, the former chief executive of Derry-Londonderry's City of Culture year, is the new boss of the world's biggest arts event, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Shona, who is in her 40s and from Co Down, will take up her new post in March, replacing Kath Mainland.

"I am thrilled to be appointed chief executive of an organisation I have long admired," said Ms McCarthy.

"I have spent 25 years working in the cultural sector and have seen up close and personal the transformative power that art can have on people, on cities and on wellbeing.

"I have visited Edinburgh and the Fringe on many occasions, and there is no better outlet for creative expression than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

"(It is) the greatest open access arts festival in the world, and I can't wait to work with and support all those who make up such a wonderful festival."

Ms McCarthy, who lives in Ballycastle and is the mother of two teenage daughters, has big shoes to fill.

The festival grew significantly during Ms Mainland's tenure. In 2015, it boasted more than 1,200 productions and 48 venues more than were at Ms Mainland's first festival. Ticket sales for 2015 set a record, with about 2.3 million shifted.

Ms McCarthy's two-year tenure as chief executive of the Culture Company, leading on to Derry-Londonderry's year as UK City of Culture in 2013, was blighted by animosity between her organisation and Derry City Council, which was revealed in a series of leaked emails.

Communications between Ms McCarthy and the then council chief executive Sharon O'Connor underlined the ill-feeling between the two organisations tasked with making the culture year a success.

The angry exchanges began shortly before 2013, when Ms O'Connor claimed that the Culture Company's marketing was sub-standard.

Ms McCarthy countered that her company was used as a dumping ground for staff who were managed out of jobs and made clear she was unhappy about constant discrediting of its marketing strategies.

The feud reached a climax when the two chief executives had a public spat on BBC Radio Foyle over the decision to wind up the company running the UK City of Culture celebrations early.

Ms McCarthy is currently director of Shona McCarthy Consulting, founding director of Culture Trust, chairperson of the Oh Yeah music centre in Belfast and Walk the Plank in Manchester.

She was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship for Innovation in 2014.

As Culture Company boss in Derry, she was tasked with delivering the city-wide cultural programme for 2013 and raising and managing a budget of around £20m.

Previously, she was director of the British Council Northern Ireland, leading a team of 40 to oversee international programmes of work across schools, arts and higher education to build "positive international cultural relations".

Between 2002 and 2008, she was the director of her own company, specialising in cultural collaborations.

Prior to that, she was the chief executive of Imagine Belfast, leading a cultural strategy for the city and producing the Belfast bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2008.

The chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Sir Timothy O'Shea, said: "I am delighted Shona will be joining the team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

"She brings with her an exceptional resume of experience in the cultural sector and is an experienced and successful chief executive.

"The Fringe Society's role is to support and nurture the Fringe - the world's largest and best arts festival - a festival which has seen continual growth for a number of years."

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