The spotlight was turned on the importance of the arts in South African society at the official opening ceremony of the National Arts Festival (which runs from 29 June – 9 July) in Grahamstown on Wednesday night.
“The Festival is a national treasure in the hidden work it does in building the nation through the arts,” National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester said at a press conference yesterday. Although funding remains a challenge in economically constrained times, the Festival continues to uphold some important principles worth celebrating. “No artists will be arrested for what they do and say on stage at the Festival, they enjoy the freedom to express themselves without fear. Artists are at the Festival in the same numbers as they have been in years gone by, demonstrating an incredible commitment to their craft. Audiences are coming and South African audiences listen and engage especially deeply with the arts,” he said.
Dr Pemmy Majodina, the Eastern Cape MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, welcomed visitors to the province and emphasised the significance of this year’s event: “The National Arts Festival takes place in the year of the centenary of the birth of Oliver Reginald Tambo, born in 1917 in Nkantolo Village, Eastern Cape. His memory and legacy will be remembered at the Festival. The Festival will also be commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi. The memories of the soldiers lost in that tragedy will play out through exhibitions and performances at the Festival.” Many of the soldiers who perished in the sinking of the SS Mendi came from Pondoland in the Eastern Cape.
The chair of the National Arts Festival’s board, Ayanda Mjekula, acknowledged the extraordinary support of the Eastern Cape government for the Festival and also noted the significance of the Festival’s partnership with Makana Municipality. “The partnership we enjoy with our municipality and province in driving the Creative City project is central to our agenda of using the arts to address some of our deeply systemic problems.” The Creative City project focuses on extending the Festival’s legacy through creative platforms and employment opportunities for Grahamstown residents.
Mjekula honoured the commitment of long-term sponsor Standard Bank, which is again supporting the Festival in 2017. Hazel Chimhandamba, Head: Group Sponsorships for Standard Bank, said this, the 43rd Festival, held a special significance for the group; “At Standard Bank, we’ve long believed in the power of the arts as important drivers of economic and social transformation. This year we take stock of our longstanding commitment to the arts as we commemorate a number of key milestones at the National Arts Festival. Standard Bank has been a proud sponsor of the National Arts Festival for over 30 years. This year marks the 20th year of our direct sponsorship of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival. And the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival celebrates 25 years. What a celebration of the arts! Here’s to another successful year at the National Arts Festival, as we reflect on these incredible milestones in our art history.”
The Executive Mayor of the Makana Municipality, Councillor Nomhle Gaga, welcomed Festival-goers and assured visitors that there were plans in place to manage the extra water and electricity demands. “We are currently experiencing a severe drought in Grahamstown so we are urging visitors to please use water sparingly during their stay,” she said.
The Festival’s programme can be explored on www.nationalartsfestival.co.za