Grahamstown starts gearing up for Arts Festival



THE world’s arts spotlight will fall once more on Grahamstown from June 29 to July 7 as the National Arts Festival’s presents a ‘window into the soul’ of South Africa’s artists through a varied and exciting programme of performances.
The Festival has long been a cultural pilgrimage for artists and audiences wanting to immerse themselves in multiple genres of theatre and art, soaking up the small-town atmosphere and passionate post-theatre debates. And this year organisers are flagging a programme change that may affect many visitors’ plans.
“Traditionally we open the Festival with a weekend programme anchored by an orchestra performance and, quite often, a ballet. The second weekend was then given over to a closing party featuring some big music shows. This year we’re flipping these weekends around – with lots of high profile artists performing on the opening weekend, and the Festival closing with the much-loved ballet and orchestra on the second weekend,” Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien said, explaining that the change was necessary as a result of later than usual mid-year school holidays which were affecting scheduling.
The Festival’s artistic committee is in the final stages of curating a new cutting-edge core of works that will be at heart of this year’s Main programme. New executive producer, Ashraf Johaardien explains that his role is to bring the curated programme to life, and to build a solid programme around that, so the Festival celebrates a broad range of work that is the best that South African artists can offer.
Says Johaardien, “The Festival is a legacy project and I am really just the most recently appointed caretaker. In the team responsible for assembling and delivering this mammoth showcase of creativity, my job is to ensure that the loyal following the Festival has built up over the last four decades will find all the highlights and heavy-hitters they have come to love and expect, while ensuring that we are also evolving and innovating the programme to grow our audience for the future.”
Festival CEO, Tony Lankester, advised Festival goers to make their plans well in advance, “Grahamstown has an assortment of accommodation options from B&B’s to home rentals and much in between. In addition, visitors can stay slightly further afield on one of the game farms or in one of the nearby towns (Bathurst, Kenton and Port Alfred) for a blend of culture and seaside town. Shuttles also run daily between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.”
The National Arts Festival’s website has a detailed resource for planning Festival logistics
The Department of Arts and Culture reaffirmed their funding commitment to the Festival last year with a three-year contract valued at R17 million, and they continue to be a supportive partner in ensuring this vital platform is available to artists across South Africa. Says Arts and Culture Minister – Minister Nathi Mthethwa, “The National Arts Festival continues to create a space for the arts to develop and flourish; it has played a pivotal role in the careers of many of the county’s premier artists and many return back to the Festival to perform for South African audiences.”
Standard Bank remain one of the National Arts Festival’s longest-standing sponsors and will be presenting a stellar line-up of jazz from both South Africa and abroad.
The host sponsor is the Eastern Cape Government. The Eastern Cape’s MEC for the Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Dr Pemmy Majodina, is a vocal advocate of the Festival “The Eastern Cape is the proud home of this prestigious festival which is proving itself to be an artistic footprint in the province. We look forward to welcoming international and national artists and audiences descending on Rhini for yet another Eleven Days of Amazing.” she said.
The 2017 National Arts Festival Programme will be revealed in a series of announcements from March until booking opens to the public on May 2.
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