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.

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