Festival claims success despite challenges
Concerns over finance, venue changes and ‘segregated events’
WITH the curtain on the 2017 National Arts Festival finally dropping yesterday, organisers of the 11-day arts gathering are convinced they put up a convincing showcase despite the challenges faced.
According to festival chief executive Tony Lankester, the funding the festival received of R17.6 million allowed the event to go ahead as planned.
“The 2017 National Arts Festival was a success. We did have some turbulence with our funding, but the Eastern Cape government stepped up with speed and commitment to fill the gap and the show went on!” Lankester said.
Initially, the funding crunch had been caused by the National Lottery, previously one of the festival’s funders, when it changed its funding conditions. This left the festival with a R10 million shortage.
Lankester said plans were under way to avoid the crunch ahead of next year’s festival.
With several changes taking place within the festival, a group of concerned citizens have levelled several criticisms against the festival’s organisers.
The collective, who have branded themselves the Reviving the National Arts Festival Team, under the leadership of Mark Rose-Christie, have raised concerns that the festival is becoming increasingly segregated and is, as a result, losing its vibe.
In a recent letter sent to media houses, Rose-Christie noted how venue changes and cutting down in certain aspects disturbed the vibe.
“As stated in my previous media releases, according to those interviewed last year and this year, people want the ‘hub’ back, which is the old Village Green at Fiddler’s Green, and with only real arts and crafts in a cosy environment where other stallholders can be put up elsewhere; plus the Alley; the mixing of all cultures rather than division, where the current Village Green is more a white folk area and the Cathedral Market more a black folk area.
“And the current Village Green has been described as clinical, made more so with its white-coloured tents, and generally without colour in a vast open space that makes it even more impersonal.
“And then, getting the alternative cultures to return and inviting the trance dance crowd; plus allowing one part of the one side of the street to be blocked off to create a buzz at the bottom of High Street, with fairy lights in the trees at night, this area having food stalls and to help connect with the rest of High Street; and the big outdoor performances ending it all off at the top of High Street at the Drostdy Arch – one entire hub and flow,” he said.
In relation to these criticisms, Lankester said the vibe of the festival was still intact and that the decisions to change some things were practical.
“The festival vibe is first and foremost in the theatres and on the stages – as it should be for an arts festival. We have had passionate, enthusiastic responses to the programme, and the audiences and artists have given it their all,” he said.
“For the most part, the decision to move the Craft Market from the Village Green to the Victoria Girls’ High grounds has been met very positively. We feel that the new space will give us the opportunity to significantly improve the market experience, and the space is more integrated with the town,” he added.
While final attendance figures have not been finalised, the organisers have noted a decline in the number of attendees to the festival, something that they are chalking up to difficult economic times.
This year, the festival saw a wide variety of work on display, with classics such as Gisele being given an African twist by choreographer Dada Masilo and Greek tragedies such as The Oresteia being given a new lease of life through the Tshwane University of Technology as the play Molora.
Other highlights included Tau, the story of a young man embarking on a journey to discover his manhood, himself and his Sotho culture.
The theme of authentic black African stories being told by black writers, directors and performers was one that resonated in many shows.
According to the festival’s spokesperson, Sascha Polkey, the festival had several sold-out shows.
“Some of the sold-out shows included Giselle, Sabamnye noMendi Centenary Celebration, Zoe Modiga’s Confessions of a Blacklisted Woman, Msaki’s Platinum B Heart and Benjamin Jephta, as well as the Gala Concert – and the Symphony Concert also sold out,” she said.
With the festival’s economic impact being R94.4m on Grahamstown and R377.15m on the Eastern Cape, jobs were temporarily created directly and indirectly by the festival.
“The 2 700 shows and more than 700 productions helped to produce employment for more than 400 freelance and contract staff, predominantly from the ranks of the unemployed in Grahamstown, as well as student interns who work across the event in various capacities,” Polkey said.
The current Village Green is more a white folk area
THAT’S A WRAP: Thousands of visitors attended the 43rd annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown from June 29 to yesterday. Billed as Africa’s biggest and boldest celebration of the arts, more than 700 shows were featured , including theatre, dance, music, visual and performance arts, film, illusion and cabaret. Shown above are performers in Confessions of a Blacklisted Woman, a provocative piece which explores the power relations between men and women.
CUTTING EDGE: Sabamnye noMendi Centenary Commemoration is a creative interdisciplinary and multimedia interpretation of the sinking of the SS Mendi. This evocative live performance, conceptualised and curated by Mandla Mbothwe, goes beyond the theatre walls and into the public space to investigate and creatively interpret SEK Mqhayi’s poem about the sinking of SS Mendi just off the Isle of Wight in 1917, a tragedy in which more than 600 black South African troops drowned.
CENTRE STAGE: National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester.