Sarah Roberson’s guide to spending a day in Grahamstown, host city of the National Arts Festival
With so much on offer at the National Arts Festival, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to get the most out of a visit. Along with the vast programme comprising Festival staples theatre, comedy, music and dance, there is Think!Fest, FilmFest, WordFest, the Standard Bank Jazz Festival and the Fingo Festival to juggle, so here are some suggestions on how to enjoy the continent’s biggest and most colourful cultural event.
A vibrant awakening
The Festival Gallery is a good place to start with gourmet coffee and decadent baked goods on offer. The gallery showcases the Arena Exhibition, a selection of artworks in a variety of mediums from the more than 40 Fringe exhibitions.
There are hundreds of shows on the Festival’s open-platform National Lottery Fringe programme. First-timers along with old-handers take to the stage and surprising talents are discovered each year. Word of mouth is the best guide to finding out what not to miss. There’s also Cue, the Festival newspaper, to guide you through the full Festival experience.
There’s much to see and experience without spending a cent. The daily SAfm Sundowner Concerts at the Monument feature a selection of National Lottery Fringe music, dance, and comedy skits. Bird / Fish, Lenyalo (The Wedding), and Semi-Gloss are free public art productions. All the art exhibitions are free to the public. Visual art highlights on the National Lottery Fringe include Common Roots, Different Routes, Palettes in Nature, Diogo Art and Egazini Expressions. #THE VOICES is a Main programme exhibition, featuring Eastern Cape artists.
“Visitors from the Eastern Cape have long been an important part of our audience and we would like to encourage our neighbours to come and celebrate the region’s biggest cultural event – whether for a day or for the full 11 days.” – Tony Lankester, Festival CEO
The Festival’s markets will keep shoppers busy – and happy. At the Fiddlers’ Green the funfair offers amusement rides, while the Transnet Village Green has a high-quality range of unique arts and wares on sale as well as many food stalls featuring a variety of international and local cuisines.
During the Festival, pop-up restaurants appear all over town, including the legendary Long Table in High Street where Festival goers might brush shoulders with the artists seen on stage earlier in the day. Spend some time in the local restaurants too, which generally do something different during Festival time. Oscar’s Country Café serves gastronomic meals and they get into the Festival spirit with wood fires and live music in the evenings.
Feel the beat
The Festival has a mighty music programme and the newest Festival hangout is the Fringe Club at the Steve Biko building on Rhodes University campus, where a band plays every hour on the hour. For evening listening pleasures, there is the Standard Bank Late Night Jazz Café at Saint’s Bistro that features some of the headline acts from the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in “stripped down” jam mode into the early hours. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]