THE National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has announced a landmark Main programme which will feature the work of 65 former Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners; artists from 26 countries; more than 550 performances in theatre, dance, performance art and music; nine specially commissioned music works; musicians with more than 40 Samas and three Grammys under their belt, and an ambitious Creation of a Nation project across Grahamstown.
“It is a bold programme which veers between the extravagant and the intimate as it attempts to reflect on major milestones – of the festival, of the Young Artist awards [sponsored by Standard Bank for 30 years] and of South Africa, in our 20th year of democracy,” artistic director Ismail Mahomed said.
The event, which contributes an estimated R349.9-million to the economy of the Eastern Cape each year, has become a touchstone for the state of South African art.
Balancing the Main programme, is the vast and exciting Fringe, supported primarily by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.
“The Fringe, also celebrating an anniversary as it is presented for the 35th time, continues to grow as South Africa’s biggest open-access platform,” Mahomed said.
Straddling the Fringe and the Main is the increasingly popular Arena programme, which showcases the work of previous Standard Bank Ovation Award winners as well as award-winning work from other festivals around the world – this year including the Amsterdam, Prague and Adelaide Fringe festivals.
The Thinkfest programme has an international flavour too, being funded by the Netherlands Embassy.
Two awards initiatives launched last year – the Short Sharp Stories Award for fiction writing, and the Arts Journalist of the Year Award, in partnership with Basa – return this year.
With the drive to develop new, sustainable audiences, the festival has specially crafted a programme of Family Fare.
The International Chicago’s Children’s Choir, The Children’s Arts Festival, the Oatlands Family Venue, Peter and the Wolf – a children’s concert played by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, are all initiatives which, in whole or in part, aim to reach out to families and younger audiences.
Behind the scenes, the festival continues to make improvements with the pending launch of a new website, mobile app, and a new ticketing system. “This troika of new technology will put the festival at the leading edge of what happens globally at large-scale events,” festival CEO Tony Lankester said.
But the artistic programme remains the biggest enticement for South Africans to fulfill their ‘bucket list’ ambitions and make the journey to Grahamstown, particularly in this anniversary year.
“We’re giving audiences the opportunity to think, reflect, celebrate, empathise, laugh and to look to the future through this year’s programme,” Mahomed said. “We’re proving that life begins at 40!”
Bookings for the 2014 National Arts Festival open on May 9. Visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za