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Creativate: digital playground for artists

Published on 15 May 2018

The National Arts Festival has announced a programme of work that is “inspiring, innovative, jaw-dropping and attention grabbing” for the inaugural Creativate Digital Arts Festival, which will run from 28 June – 1 July in Grahamstown as part of the National Arts Festival.

Creativate seeks to explore the space where creativity, innovation and technology converge. It’s a playground for artists and audiences interested in how the digital age is helping to bring our imaginations to life, and who want to experience the creative tools of the future,” says Tony Lankester, the CEO of the National Arts Festival and co-curator of Creativate.

The jam-packed programme comprises a mix of lectures, workshops, film and performances, focused mainly in one Creativate Hub in Grahamstown. “The festival is for the curious and creatively minded – we want audiences to check in with us in the morning and spend a full day wandering through the spaces and events we have created,” Lankester says. “We’re expecting the events to appeal to those aged 12 – 80, and technical fluency is less of a pre-requisite than an enquiring mind.”

Selected Creativate highlights


“We’ve invited some of South Africa and the world’s brightest thinkers to come and share their insights with us,” co-Curator Toby Shapshak said. Headlining the Creativate Engage series is Monika Bielskyte, described as “a futurist with an artist’s eye and an inventor’s mind”, presenting a mind-bending journey through what could be and sharing her experiences in designing Sci-Fi worlds for the entertainment industry.

Other lectures include:

  • William Kentridge-collaborator, filmmaker and Museum designer Yoav Dagan. BOOK NOW
  • WeChat founder and CEO Brett Loubser asking if artificial intelligence could ever replace artists. BOOK NOW
  • Tom Gray, a UK-based South African innovation consultant reflecting on the worlds – and opportunities – created by virtual and augmented reality. BOOK NOW
  • Maximillian Kaizen shares her insights into how artists can use new tools to make their careers sustainable and to build independence using tech and storycraft. BOOK NOW


“Genres and traditional forms are blurring fast and with the adoption of technology into the arts space, the trajectory has become even more interesting,” says curatorial advisor and NAF Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien. “Certainly, this digital infusion has the potential to expand the role of the arts, attract more diverse audiences and brings new skills and ideas to the creative space. It’s an exciting growth area and we are attentive to how this will also play out in the South African context.

The Creativate programme will showcase two international performances that illustrate how artists are integrating technology into their work. In a Swiss production of HAMLET, author and director Boris Nikitin rewrites the most famous of all theatre pieces and transforms it into a contemporary performance, featuring a mix of experimental documentary play and music-theatre. DOGHOUSE is a 20-minute virtual reality play from Denmark which an audience of five people experience through headsets.


A critical part of Creativate, says Lankester, is giving participants the opportunity not just to hear about new tools and technology, but to roll up their sleeves and to play. “Often the biggest barrier to using new technology is fear – fear of breaking something, anxiety that something is too difficult, remote or foreign to be useful.” To respond to that, organisers have selected workshops that are closer to playrooms than laboratories.

Leading the way, the Johannesburg-based Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival will be hosting two workshop spaces – If These Walls Could Talk will teach participants how to use electronics to craft props and touch sensitive surfaces for use in theatres; while their Games Play Room will showcase local computer games designed and developed by the Wits Digital Arts Division.

Rhodes University’s Alette Schoon will be working with local hip-hop artists to create and animate Afrofuturist cartoon characters in a computer lab, while Zimbabwean artist Thuthukani Ndlovu will be running a poetry hackathon leading to a digital art exhibition.

Music is taking a front row at Creativate: DJ Strat3gy will be doing a talk titled “How to produce 10 000 hours of live TV and serve a billion pages of content – from behind the DJ mixer” before jamming live with long-time drummer in the Johnny Clegg band, Barry van Zyl, and Freshlyground bass player Josh Hawkes. Van Zyl and Hawkes bring their popular Slaves to the Rhythm series of talks and workshops to Creativate. Apart from a workshop Songwriting and producing in the digital age, they will present two lectures that take audiences on a musically-illustrated journey through music’s past, present and future.

UK-based artist Rebecca Smith will work with local artists to create digital projections that will use the buildings of Grahamstown as a night-time canvas throughout the Festival.


A series of films and installations will showcase new techniques and approaches, and will challenge audiences and present them with multiple opportunities to interact and engage with artists’ work. Brothers Donald and Wesley Swanepoel explore the theme of #landexpropriation through an exhibition that responds to live discussion on Twitter, while Paige Rybko’s exhibition Self-made draws a feed from Instagram and presents it in a gallery space. In a similar vein Terrance Nzuza is creating a ‘live streaming grafitti’ exhibition called Grafitti Hyper Realism, while visiting artists from the US, MSHR, will be bringing an immersive computer music system in which audiences create sounds by moving through a room in Source Fold Compositor.


Creativate is supported by Standard Bank as a space where artists can embrace innovation and explore new ideas through technology. “As the long-standing sponsor of the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards, we see this event as another way of inspiring the next generation of artists and helping them push the boundaries of what is possible in their craft. We are excited to see how Creativate influences the arts landscape in the years ahead,” says Jenny Pheiffer, Head: Brand, Sponsorships and Events Standard Bank.

As part of this commitment, all artists taking part in the National Arts Festival’s Main or Fringe programme will be given free access to Creativate events.


Use the hashtag #NAF18

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Update – 22 June 2018: MSHR’s artists are from the US. They are currently on a residency programme in Finland [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]