The beginnings of the National Arts Festival took place in 1974 with a Shakespeare Festival organised by
Prof Guy Butler and colleagues to inaugurate the 1820 Settlers Monument on Signal Hill overlooking Grahamstown. Butler and others persuaded the organising committee that a living monument dedicated to tdebate and culture would be most appropriate and necessary.
The Monument was built to commemorate the contributions made by English-speaking Settlers to South Africa.
It is unlike any other monument because since its opening on 13 July 1974, this well-equipped building has been a centre of creative thought and activity.
Amid reminders of the past, the building provides facilities for use by all South Africans–in particular, activities which encourage the ideals of freedom of speech, social interaction and the use of English as a contact language.
Flags of our fathers
The larger than life Fountain Court scuplture is designed to look like scaffolding. which symbolises the ongoing work of the English speaker in South Africa.
The rectangles and diagonals represent the crosses of the British Union Jack. The statue is built entirely of yellowwood, an indigenous wood that was used by the 1820 Settlers to build ships and a host of other items.
The Village Green
The Village Green market place has grown from just over 100 stalls in 1989 to over 1 000 in recent years.
The funds raised from the leasing of stalls and stands provides a much-needed injection of cash for many disadvantaged communities in Grahamstown.
The service clubs involved in the organisation of the Fair, headed by the Grahamstown Foundation, distribute these funds to charities in need.
The Festival in general
The National Arts Festival is the second largest arts festival in the world, after the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.
The Festival started in 1974 with 60 – odd shows and exhibitions. At presentthere are over 600 events on the Main and Fringe programmes and close to 1 800 performances on offer. Initially, supporters came in their hundreds, now it is estimated that they total around 120 000.
The main goal of the Festival was initially the furtherance of the English language but the event has always had a
much broader base.
It is also no longer strictly an Englishlanguage event as Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa are also widely used.
The Festival has grown from centreing around one venue (the 1820 Settlers Monument) to host cultural productions in over 50 venues around town.