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Virtual NAF: your questions answered

Published on 9 April 2020

Welcome to our world for 2020 – with a brand-new concept for our ‘new normal’

We’ve put together a list of answers to some of your burning questions about this year’s Virtual National Arts Festival. We’ll be adding and changing this list as it all unfolds. If you have any suggestions or comments, please get in touch by emailing If your question isn’t answered here, post it as a comment below and we’ll try to answer it. Bear with us – this is all new and we’re learning as we go along.

Read more about the reasons behind the decision to go virtual in this special announcement from our CEO, Monica Newton.

  • How will I be able to experience the Virtual National Arts Festival?

We are planning to make works available every day of the Festival on demand through our website and other internet-based platforms. We’re also hoping to be able to present a scheduled programme on a traditional platform such as a television channel. We are exploring all the options available to us and hope to be able to release more details as to how the platform for presenting content will be structured in the next few weeks.

  • Will it be pay-to-view, donation or subscription based?

You will need to pay for some aspects of the Virtual NAF, while other sections will be free and open to all — similar to the physical Festival. We are going to try our utmost to create opportunities for artists to still be able to generate revenue for themselves at the Virtual NAF. We are investigating the different types of online payment methods and will choose those that are the most suitable and effective. We may also look at options such as ‘click to give’, crowdfunding, and digital auctions.

  • Will it be on for the 11 days it was destined to be – 25 June to 5 July?

Yes – the Virtual National Arts Festival will run from 25 June to 5 July 2020. We will advise on the ‘opening times’ (if applicable) closer to the time.

  • Will we be watching live or pre-recorded shows?

Hopefully a bit of both. As we negotiate the current situation it may become possible for artists to get together to stream or record performances but until we know what the outcome of the lockdown is going to be, we are open to ideas and innovations.

  • Will it be the full Festival or just the Main?

The Virtual National Arts Festival is not simply an online reincarnation of what happens annually in Makhanda (Grahamstown) — given the uncertain circumstances, it is not possible for us to present that. So, we need to think about it differently. There won’t be a ‘Main’ programme and a ‘Fringe’ — it will be a curated platform that will traverse the South African and international digital art scene. It is not going to be simply films of productions (although there will be some of those), but rather a reimagining of various arts forms for digital  platforms. So we’re looking at virtual exhibitions, augmented reality theatre shows, studio jam sessions, podcasts and live-streamed debates, animated versions of stage plays, dance clips, gaming, film, music and more. We can’t wait to see what the artists in South Africa will come up with for this exciting and novel Festival.

  • Why not postpone the Festival to September or December?

We considered postponing the Festival to later in the year – which we have been able to do with the smaller festivals such as Scifest Africa and the Eastern Cape Schools Festival. However, the difficulty of finding suitable dates (for the use of venues, accommodation etc.) within the school and university calendars proved impossible. Holding the Festival in December would be the only option, calendar-wise, but the weather is unbearably hot in Makhanda at that time of year and we would also be competition to our Eastern Cape neighbours at the coast for their much-needed summer revenue. Leaving the postponement open-ended would have been unfair to our artists, service providers and audiences so, with just under 100 days to go, we made the decision to go digital. As the Covid-19 situation in the country clarifies, other opportunities for live performance in Makhanda may become apparent – we’ll keep you posted.

  • How can artists sign up to participate?

We’re inviting artists and others to send us their ideas. There’s a short online ‘ideas form’ that you can fill in here. We will be reviewing submissions until 15 May 2020, and will be in touch with everyone who sends us ideas.

  • Will artists have to arrange their own cameras and sound equipment?

Each case will be different but NAF is working on toolkits to provide info, equipment, know-how and other assistance to artists. We will be entering into partnerships with individuals and companies that are experts in these fields and we will work together to create the platforms and ensure that they are jam-packed with the best digital work that we can find. We are also looking at partnering with theatre houses, other festivals and galleries to present some of their work or to facilitate the digitisation of work. Anyone who is interested in engaging with us on this should get in touch as soon as possible by emailing with a brief outline of your proposal and we’ll get in touch with you.

  • As artists, how do we know that our content will not be recorded?
The Virtual NAF will stream content through an encrypted server. Unlike some social media platforms, the content will be protected, will not be downloadable and will not show on a screengrab.
  • I registered to perform on the 2020 NAF Fringe – can I claim a refund of fees and costs incurred?

Companies and artists that registered for the Fringe can claim a 100% refund of the registration fee and any up-front marketing fees they have already paid to participate in the 2020 National Arts Festival. We will make the deposit to the company’s bank account in May 2020 on receipt of an email from the authorised representative of the company, providing verified bank details and proof of payment – if not already submitted. Alternatively, companies or artists can opt to defer the fees for the company’s participation in the 2021 NAF Fringe. The benefit of this option is that participation in the 2021 Fringe is guaranteed at the 2020 fee.

As stated in the Fringe Guide, which forms part of the agreement participants enter into with the NAF, all other costs incurred by an artist or company in bringing a production or exhibition to the NAF Fringe are for the artist’s/company’s own account and cannot be claimed back from the NAF.

Fringe artists requiring a refund should contact the Fringe Team through the usual channels or email

Updated: 9 April 2020

Image: Sirqus Alfon’s I Am Somebody at the 2019 National Arts Festival / Mark Wessels