The National Arts Festival has opened amid a joyful Eastern Cape celebration at Grahamstown’s Festival hub, The Monument, at an event on Wednesday evening that also noted the centenary years of home-born legends Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.
Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa reminded Festival-goers that the National Arts Festival remained a preserve of free expression: “It is where, as South Africans, we can be comfortable exploring who we are and being bold about what we stand for. It is where our artists speak truth to power and where we give meaning to our constitutional principles of free speech and free expression.”
Amid the celebrations, the Eastern Cape Premier, Phumalo Masualle extended his hospitality. “Welcome once again to our magnificent Province, the Home of Legends! It is my fervent belief that the Eastern Cape is home to South Africa’s warmest and most engaging people, and I join with each and every resident of our Province in welcoming you to this jewel in our artistic crown: the 44th National Arts Festival.”
The Eastern Cape’s MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Bulelwa Tunyiswa, commented that it was a significant year for the Province and the Festival. “This year’s National Arts Festival is one in which an emphasis is being placed on giving a voice to the voiceless in our society, something that is timeous and vital in our emerging democracy. At the same time, we recall and commemorate the legacy and values of two giants from our Province – Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, both of whom would have commemorated their 100th birthdays this year.”
National Arts Festival Festival Deputy Chair Elinor Sisulu gave thanks to the Office of the Eastern Cape Premier and Department of Sports Recreation Arts and Culture for “their recognition of the work that we do and for their support of the Festival”.
The annual gathering of the arts is now in its 44th year and has shaken things up this year with the addition of a new digital arts festival Creativate and a revamped Village Green, which has moved to the grounds of Victoria Girls’ High School.
‘More than ever’
Speaking on the eve of the Festival, National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester said that the 2018 Festival was offering more entertainment than ever before. “The new Standard Bank Village Green will boast free live music, a beer tent and food vendors and we have some exceptional local and international buskers who will perform show-stopping acts. There are premier shows, international acts – such as singer Suzanne Vega – and plenty of comedy, music, film as well as talks and workshops to get involved in.”
The National Arts Festival programme is packed with dance, music, theatre, performance art, visual art and more. Presenting a curated Main Programme and an unsolicited and uncurated Fringe, the National Arts Festival is also a magnet for jazz lovers.
Standard Bank, a long-standing sponsor of the National Arts Festival, will showcase a programme of stellar jazz through the Standard Bank Jazz Festival and Youth Jazz Festival. Commenting of this year’s programme the Head of Brand Sponsorship and Events for Standard Bank Jenny Pheiffer said: “This year’s programme is extraordinary and unmissable with world-class young musicians who are taking their inspiration from the legacies of the forebears to recreate, revive and remix great South African works for a youthful generation of audiences.”
The Festival’s Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien urged Festival-goers to try new shows and see something different. “The tickets range from R30 – R120 so it’s possible to see plenty and experiment a little, that is what an arts festival is all about. Take yourself on an adventure.”
The city of Grahamstown is ready to welcome the annual influx of visitors and performers after a major drive from citizen-led organisation Makana Revive, which has seen many improvements being carried out.
The National Arts Festival contributes 94.4 million to the economy of Grahamstown and R377.15 million to the economy of the Eastern Cape. On average visitors to the Festival stay for 6 days. (source: The Social, Cultural and Economic Impact of the National Arts Festival, 2016 – by Snowball & Antrobus).
The 2018 National Arts Festival is from 28 June – 8 July.
IMAGE: The Sarah Baartman Ensemble performs during the official opening ceremony of the National Arts Festival at the Guy Butler Auditorium in Grahamstown on 27 June 2018 / Photo: Werner Hills, HeraldLive