While the Festival still attracted a supportive and enthusiastic community of online fans, the number of visitors to the website was lower than in 2020. Newton puts this down to a combination of factors, “Our timeline hit several curveballs that we had to react to and it was a tough year to hold the attention of audiences. Online fatigue has really set in for many people and the unrest in South Africa happened right in the middle of the Festival so many people’s attention was rightfully on the situation that we found ourselves in as a country.” The Festival once again attracted an overseas audience, particularly from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Indonesia, Canada, India and Nigeria.
Newton believes online is here to stay. “We are hoping to return to live events and experiences as soon as possible but there are some interesting possibilities for the arts online and we want to incorporate them into future festivals. There are audiences around the world with a specific interest in the arts in Africa, there are expats all over and, here at home, there are people who choose the online experience or are unable to join our live events – all of whom can get their fix of the arts online.”
Even though the Festival period has ended, the Fringe Live remains online for visitors to explore. Audiences are encouraged to look out for all the Standard Bank Ovation Award winners, including those shows that took the Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards.
As to whether the 48th National Arts Festival will be live in Makhanda, Newton says that 2021 certainly showed that Festivals need to have a plan B, C and D, “We have our sights set on a live Festival in 2022 but we know we can offer our programme online if we need to, with two online Festival’s behind us we’ve learnt a thing or two! We are all craving a return to the magic of a live festival in Makhanda and we will watch with interest as other countries in the world with high vaccine prevalence reopen their live festivals and gatherings so we can learn from their example. Fingers crossed for next year.”