The first arts festival in Peebles took place in 1982 when Myrtle Ashmole assembled a team of dedicated volunteers from local arts groups to organise ‘a busy week of arts activities from all the arts organisations in the town’. Strongly supported by Tweeddale District Council and many local businesses it was a great success and has taken place every year since.
Timed to coincide with the close of the Edinburgh International Festival, it was initially held annually during the first week in September, shifting sometimes into the last week of August. Over the years, the festival has sought to showcase the many and varied arts groups that thrive in Peebles, from theatre shows to art exhibitions, photography competitions to craft demonstrations, historical tours to parades of belly-dancers.
For ten years the Festival supported the Under One Roof campaign which raised substantial funds for the eventual development of the Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre, which opened its doors in 2004 and has since become a hub of arts activity in the Borders.
Local organisations such as Music in Peebles, the Tweeddale Society and Tweed Theatre have all had long associations with the festival, supporting it tirelessly with fundraising events, concerts, performances and lectures. The Exhibition Trail of local artists’ work in shop windows throughout the town is a popular feature of the festival, as is Busking Saturday, when children and adults line the High Street playing music, juggling, dancing, reciting and sketching.
For most of its long history Peebles Arts Festival has been run by a volunteer committee dedicated to supporting the arts in Peebles, and funded by a combination of local business support and grants from public bodies. Businesses have advertised in the festival’s programme and benefitted from their association with each year’s successful programme of fun and entertainment. Individual donations have always been important too, and in 2013 a Friends of the Festival scheme was introduced as a means for individuals to donate.
Also in 2013, the festival expanded its range of events, creating a new Words programme of literary events, a new Photography programme, including professional workshops, exhibitions and a photo competition, and extended Music and Tours programmes. All saw the festival reach well beyond the local community to offer a busy week of exciting arts activities for locals and visitors alike.
This process continued in 2014 with a visit by artists from Peebles’ twin town of Hendaye in France, alongside a partnership with Peebles Creative Place 2014. In 2015, the committee decided to concentrate the festival into a long weekend around the August Bank Holiday after a lengthy local consultation about the festival’s future.
In the 30-plus years of the festival’s existence, Peebles has grown and changed considerably. Arts activity now flourishes in multiple forms and has a focal point in the Eastgate Theatre. There are multiple professional art galleries, theatre groups, choirs, a music school, film club, bands and music gatherings, and a vibrant programme of festivals thought the year. The aims of the original arts festival to encourage and educate about arts activity have been achieved and superseded in ways that the founding committee could only have dreamed possible.
In 2016, the festival evolved again, with a change of name to Creative Peebles Festival, and the transfer of its management from the previous volunteer committee to a creative partnership headed by the Eastgate Theatre.