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Grahamstown lays out the red carpet

Published on 26 June 2017

Grahamstown is being draped in red, white and blue as it prepares to welcome thousands of visitors to this year’s National Arts Festival, which runs from 29 June to 9 July.

This is the 43rd installment of the annual event, billed as Africa’s biggest and boldest celebration of the arts. Showcasing more than 700 shows the programme features theatre, dance, music, visual and performance arts, film, illusion, cabaret and more. This year’s comedy is particularly strong, with the biggest names in South African comedy performing alongside visiting talents such as UK comedians Stephen K Amos and Louise Reay.

“We are ready! Put down what you are doing and come to the National Arts Festival,” says National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester. “In times like these the need to reflect, revitalize, engage and reimagine is critical. It will all unfold at the Festival this year.”

Last year, an audience survey showed that 99% of Festival goers would recommend the experience to others. “So take it from them, not me – it’s 11 days of amazing.”

Dr Pemmy Majodina, the Eastern Cape MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, says of the National Arts Festival: “It is an event we guard and value. And it has a role beyond what happens on its stages. It is a cornerstone of our province’s economy, contributing R 377-million annually to our GDP. That translates into jobs, tourist spend, visitors buying the work of our crafters … A myriad activities that help our people enhance their lives. It is an example of how the arts can play a meaningful role in the reconstruction of our economy and country.”

Research* commissioned by the National Arts Festival and South African Cultural Observatory revealed that a total of 147 384 tickets were sold at the 2016 National Arts Festival and that the average number of shows seen by a visitor was 10 (over and above free performances). Visitors stayed at the Festival for an average of six days.


Jazz will be celebrated with a sensational programme of South African greats – including Judith Sephuma, Afrika Mkhize and Zenzi Makeba Lee, Kyle Shepherd, and Benjamin Jephta – collaborating with international legends such as Andy Narell (USA) and the James Morrison Quartet (Australia) for the 20th anniversary edition of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.

Family fare

Families will be happily entertained with a full programme of fun that includes children: Festival favourites include Rat Race, James and the Giant Peach and Granny Susan Incredible.

After successful runs in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Grahamstown’s production of The Gruffalo is set to run for the full 11 days of the Festival. Free performances of When Lion Had Wings and other child-friendly activities are events to look forward to. Parents can enrol their children (ages 4-13) into the Children’s Arts Festival, hosted by St Andrew’s Prep school.


Think!Fest, a series of lectures, workshops and seminars, will include a spotlight on children to mark the 100th anniversary of Child Welfare in Grahamstown. The daily programme draws in a mix of high emotion and cerebral ruminations with speakers and audiences unpacking topical issues such as fake news (with Verashni Pillay), climate change, the “lost art of listening”, land acquisition and redistribution as well as focus on collaboration and growing the arts industry. In a jam-packed programme, there’s something to meet every interest, including the launch of the latest Short.Sharp.Stories collection Trade Secrets.

*The Social Cultural and Economic Impact of the 2016 National Arts Festival by J. Snowball and G. Antrobus [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]