By MONICA NEWTON, CEO of the National Arts Festival
In three weeks, Makhanda will welcome the artists and audiences returning to the first live National Arts Festival since 2019. It’s a significant reunion; a symbol of our collective resilience and our fervent hope that the arts can resume their vital role in reflecting on the past, present and future. But it’s also happening within an environment that still requires 50% capacity in indoor venues and mandatory mask-wearing in all indoor spaces. Our Festival has been designed for these new realities.
The programme is tighter in its curation but with more time between shows. For many who grew up with the Festival, the slower pace may be reminiscent of festivals gone by. The programme is rich and full, though, and we do not doubt that artists and arts lovers alike will find something exciting to experience every day of the Festival.
We don’t truly know what our green shoots will look like. We return in the context of a constrained economy, and tragically, there has been a substantial loss of life and livelihoods in the arts sector. Our 48-year-old Festival has weathered four decades of storms, however, and the one thing that has always carried it through is the collective belief that the National Arts Festival matters. It matters to the city, the country and the world, and it is necessary for the continued growth of the arts.
In these times, we need the collective support of our city, our artists, our audience, and the South African public. It may be that we will need to rebuild and reframe the Festival. It may take some years to bring back the crowds that once filled our streets, but there is no doubt that we can only do this with your help.
It is so encouraging to see efforts across the city to make improvements, from our Municipality to local businesses to residents who care. Potholes are being filled, street lights are getting fixed, verges are getting trimmed, and new gardens are being created. As our team is getting ready to build venues and markets, businesses are gearing up for the Festival with discounted rates and special offers. This is the community spirit that makes the National Arts Festival so very special and is what keeps people coming back year after year.
Let’s make this a National Arts Festival to remember!