When I moved to Makhanda in January this year and joined the National Arts Festival team, I was changing my life; changing jobs, creating a new career path, moving to a new city and taking on brand new challenges. As I entered the New Year, there was no way I could have predicted how the entire world, and not just my tiny life, would begin to change. By March 2020, it was clear that this was not any ordinary year.
We were faced with a critical decision. Word was that theatres were going to close, events would be cancelled, travel curtailed. We saw the writing on the wall. The 46th National Arts Festival was under grave threat.
Making the decision to go online was not taken lightly; we considered all options available and decided that this route would be best for the arts community, for the Festival and of course, our loyal donors and sponsors; the Eastern Cape Province, Standard Bank of South Africa, Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Eastern Cape Provincial Tourism Agency and Business and Arts South Africa. We knew however, that there was one major stakeholder that would derive the least benefit from our decision, the City of Makhanda, its residents and businesses.
This leaves us with a heavy heart as Makhanda is our home! The gracious hosts of our 11 Days of Amazing; we are a town that is synonymous with the arts, late night post-show chats and chilly evenings huddled up in theatres, restaurants and rental homes as the Festival unfolds across the town. For the first time in decades our winter holiday streets are quiet.
Where possible, we have reached out to local businesses to source products and services, but we know that it cannot replace the income lost from thousands of visitors flocking to the city and the pride it engenders to see so many happy customers on our streets.
We are pleased that some of our local artists are featuring on the programme, and online audiences will definitely benefit from their creativity and innovation, but this cannot replace the opportunities to showcase their work and generate income from the Festival.
What does offer a glimmer of hope, is that the online experience means that audiences from across the world are joining us in their numbers to experience this one-of-a-kind Festival from phones, laptops or other devices, everywhere from Norway to Mexico and Nigeria to London. It will not be the same as enjoying the experience of the Festival with live audiences from but we hope that they will be inspired to visit us when we are safe to travel and gather again and we believe that the online Festival will give us all a great boost in terms of marketing this national treasure well beyond our borders.
The Festival team who would usually be building venues are building a website – site scaffolding instead of set-building. Where they would normally be welcoming artists with warm hugs of reunion, they are now spending hours in video conferences. While we are all
working at full tilt to deliver our online programme, there is a sadness that we all carry. It is just not the same without you and our live audience!
The National Arts Festival is an organization that revels in live events and loves audiences; we will make sure that the Festival is back where it belongs in Makhanda in 2021.
We hope to see you at www.nationalartsfestival.co.za for the online experience.
CEO National Arts Festival
- Sponsored by National Arts Festival