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Let’s talk about the future of the Fringe

Published on 21 August 2019

A new-look National Arts Festival Fringe is on the way – and we want to run it by you

The arts world is going through interesting times. And now, more than ever, the role of festivals in general (and the National Arts Festival in particular) is worth reflecting on.

We’ve been working on a brand-new model for the National Arts Festival Fringe from 2020 onwards – one that will, we believe, be a strong response to a challenging environment. And one that will, hopefully, see the Fringe continue to play a role in supporting new work and artists, attracting audiences to Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) each year, and make the annual trek to the Eastern Cape a more worthwhile one for artists and audiences.

It’s going to be a big change to how we programme and present the Fringe, and will affect all artists who want to take part. We’d love to share the model with you to get your input before we finalise it.

At the same time, the South African Cultural Policy Network (SACPN) have planned a series of discussions about the Festival and its role – and they have agreed to give us the space to present the proposed new Fringe model.

We hope that you will take the opportunity of attending and participating in one of the sessions.

  • If you can’t make it, we will put a FAQ and info pack on the new model, inviting your input, onto our website immediately after the discussions.


Tuesday 27 August 2019
17:30 to 19:30, Gramadoelas, Market Theatre

Panel – Chaired by Thami Mbongo

  • Tony Lankester, outgoing CEO of the National Arts Festival
  • Ameera Patel, theatre-maker
  • Mxolisi Masilela, artistic director of TX Theatre in Tembisa
  • Phyllis Klotz, theatre director and CEO of Sibikwe Theatre

Cape Town

Wednesday 28 August 2019
18:00-20:00, District 6 Homecoming Centre

Panel – Chaired by Dani Petersen 

  • Tony Lankester, outgoing CEO of the National Arts Festival
  • Mandisi Sindo, chair of the Ovations Panel 2019
  • Chuma Mtshixa, artivist
  • Lara Bye, director, theatre-maker Wynne Bredenkamp, independent theatre-maker and a producer of the Edge on the Fringe

About the Panel Discussion

The National Arts Festival and the Future: Slow decline or exciting new opportunities

National Arts Festival Panel Discussion, hosted by the South African Cultural Policy Network (SACPN)

The National Arts Festival has been a platform for extraordinary art-making over the past number of decades. Young audiences introduced to the Festival through their schools have become regular Festival-goers in their adult lives. Many creative pieces that premiered at the Festival have gone on to have longer, successful lives nationally and globally.

However, the broader politics and slow economic growth are having an adverse impact on the Festival. Disposable income is less available leading to a decline in audiences.  Plagued by maladministration, poor governance and corruption, the host city – Makhanda – is an increasingly less attractive destination with its shortage of water and failing infrastructure.

While creativity and passion continue to drive creatives towards the Festival, the rising costs of participation with fewer opportunities to be picked up at the Festival for later tours, have many creatives thinking twice about their participation. Key leadership is departing from the management of the Festival so that, at a time when the Festival faces significant challenges, it will have a new artistic director, new CEO and a relatively new Executive Producer.

As the National Arts Festival moves towards its 50th year, is it in slow decline, or does the current situation present new opportunities?

NOTE: The SA Cultural Policy Network (SACPN) is a new, independent, membership-based association of cultural activists, creative practitioners and NGOs concerned with policy and how it impacts on the lives and livelihoods of those active in the creative and heritage sector.

Edited 26 August: Updating the list of panelists for the Cape Town discussion