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Stand by for the first-ever virtual NAF

Published on 17 March 2020

A special announcement from Monica Newton, the CEO of the National Arts Festival

So here’s the thing… The National Arts Festival 2020 won’t be cancelled, but it will be different.

We at the National Arts Festival have been worrying, thinking, worrying, arguing and thinking some more about what we do about the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe in relation to our very special annual Festival.

This our reality:

  • Based on the ban on major events we can’t allow more than 100 people to congregate anywhere.
  • Due to the travel ban and recommendations with regard to domestic travel and the use of public transport, our artists and visitors can’t get to Makhanda and we can’t get to them.
  • We don’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus and fully understand that this is a time for isolation.

That’s not what we do. We create experiences and celebrate the arts.

So, after more thinking, listening, reading, arguing and talking, we’ve come up with a plan… We’ve decided to do something bold, and something we have never done before. From 25 June to 5 July 2020, the National Arts Festival will be going completely virtual for the full 11 days of amazing.

Going virtual will mean that the Festival can continue to support artists and the arts in 2020, by presenting work within a digital space. This way we can share some magic and hope with those who may still be confined to their homes. An opportunity to connect when we are being asked to distance ourselves from one another.

Artists depend on festivals like ours to generate an income through selling tickets, getting their work seen and talked about locally and internationally, and networking with their peers. Rather than cancel, we aim to create a new opportunity for artists and audiences alike to celebrate the arts, and to create an accessible platform for artists to share their work.

Millions of people across South Africa and the world will be cut off from each other in completely unprecedented ways: unable to go to church, school or work, or socialise outside of their immediate family. This is absolutely the responsible thing to do to contain the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, but as social beings, it is going to chip away a little bit of our souls every day the bans are in force.

Why make the decision now and not wait? We have just over 100 days to our opening day. The reality is that we can’t ask artists to prepare for a festival that may or may not go ahead; we can’t ask our supporters to make their plans, book their accommodation and transport, without the certainty that it will happen; and we can’t ask our service providers to stand at the ready if it may all come to nothing. The 2020 National Arts Festival will go down in our history as the first-ever virtual edition.

For Makhanda and the Eastern Cape, this is going to be a really hard year and we are fully aware of the enormous impact that COVID-19 will have on our economic stability. We know how much income our festivals contribute to the infrastructure and economy of Makhanda. We remain committed to the city and will continue to play our role as good corporate citizens.

We will let you know more in the next few weeks about what will be on offer and how this will all work. We are engaging with our sponsors and donors, the Eastern Cape Provincial Government, Standard Bank of South Africa, the Department of Arts and Culture, Distell and Multichoice regarding our plans. Our commitment to the arts remains steadfast and we invite you to take this journey with us.

We will be engaging directly all artists and traders who are currently registered to participate in the 2020 Festival.

Here’s to a whole new and exciting experience for the National Arts Festival because if anyone is resilient, agile, creative and extraordinary – it is our artists.

Warm regards,
CEO, National Arts Festival

Note: Scifest Africa will be postponed and take place from 9 to 15 September 2020 – all being well. The Eastern Cape Schools Festival will similarly be postponed to September 2020 – dates to be advised.

Image: Birthing Nureyev at NAF2019 / Mark Wessels