Browse shows

NAF’s curators share tips on what they’re looking for

Published on 24 July 2019

Not long after the curtain has fallen on the 2019 National Arts Festival, organisers are in preparation mode once again, announcing the call for artists to submit works for the 2020 Festival Main Programme. They have a short window to do so, with applications closing on 19 August. The 2020 National Arts Festival is set to take place from 25 June to 5 July in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown).

The National Arts Festival’s Main Programme is a platform for works by well-known or established South African or international artists and has two streams: the Curated Programme and the Festival Choice.

The Curated Programme comprises works selected by the Artistic Committee, and spans all genres and types of work, with an emphasis on those that are more cutting-edge and provocative. The committee members (curators) will consider all the submissions received, engage with artists and producers, and develop a coherent Curated Programme for presentation at the Festival.

This committee and the Festival’s Executive Producer, Nobesuthu Rayi, then supplement these distinctive and innovative pieces with more mainstream pieces known as the Festival Choice. Artists are not, however, asked to distinguish which aspect of the programme they are pitching their proposal at.

‘Be realistic’

Speaking at a discussion held at the 2019 Festival that explored the curation of the Main Programme, Artistic Committee Chair Brett Bailey cautioned that artists would need to be realistic about the budgets they are proposing for works.

“It will be of added benefit if artists submitting proposals for costly works are able to come to the table with co-funding in place or ideas about how co-funding could be achieved. The Festival’s budget is very much a finite one,” he said.

David April, the curator for dance, also advised artists to look at collaboration as a way of adding gravitas and experience to their ideas: “In dance, many artists are reaching outside of their genre and working with artists from other disciplines. It makes for exciting work.”

Lara Bye, the curator for theatre, said that artists needed to have broad experience of touring work to meet the professional and personal demands of performing on the Main.

“A level of technical skill and experience is really important for artists who bring work to the Main because it’s not a mentorship space. Artists who have set their sights on the Main but are not yet experienced with touring may want to try and break out some work on the Arena, Student and Fringe stages, which are a vital part of the Festival’s ecosystem. There are also some exciting programmes that are running through National Arts Festival such as the Distell National Scriptwriting Award that can really assist artists in getting themselves ready for the Main. The Artistic Committee is always taking note of interesting and exciting new work on various stages around the country throughout the year.”

Selection considerations

The curatorial team looks for the following in assessing proposals of works to include in the programme:

  • PREMIERES OF NEW WORK: Premieres of new productions, exhibitions and concerts by well-known or established South African or international artists.
  • CUTTING-EDGE WORK: Boundary-pushing productions, exhibitions, new music and digital arts interventions that can generate an active dialogue both in terms of form and content.
  • STRONG WORKS THAT HAVE ALREADY HAD A SEASON: Productions, exhibitions and concerts – whether cutting-edge or mainstream – that have already been presented in South Africa or abroad.
  • COLLABORATIONS/CO-PRODUCTIONS: Proposals for collaborations with South African and non-South African artists and managements and / or festivals to co-produce work that may require more than one partner for the effective funding of productions with the proviso that such productions have strong artistic merit.
  • MULTI-DISCIPLINARY PRESENTATIONS: The Festival recognises that an increasing number of South African artists are creating work that interfaces across genres and also with different forms of media and welcomes such proposals that reflect changing trends in arts practice.
  • DIVERSITY: The Festival presents work that reflects the broad demographic of South African arts practice.
  • PUBLIC SPACE WORK: Works that activate public spaces in all genres

The application form for submitting 2020 Main Programme proposals can be found here.

For enquiries, artists can contact the Festival Office on +27 (46) 603-110 or email

Registrations for the 2020 National Arts Festival Fringe open later this year. The Fringe is an open-access, uncurated programme of works across multiple genres.

Main image: Broken Borders Arts Project’s The Boat. Choreographed by Themba Mbuli / Mark Wessels