National Arts Festival announces new CEO

BREAK A LEG: Newly-appointed National Arts Festival CEO Monica Newton
BREAK A LEG: Newly-appointed National Arts Festival CEO Monica Newton

New National Arts Festival CEO, Monica Newton, says she is looking forward to the challenges and opportunity that accompany the role and intends hitting-the-ground-running in the new year when she steps into the position.

The Bloemfontein-born Newton said her love of the arts was fostered by her mother, Margaret, who raised her and her sister Sarah as a single parent for most of their lives.

Newton’s appointment was announced on Wednesday and she is set to start in her post on January 1.

Expressing her gratitude to the National Arts Festival board for appointing her, she said: “The National Arts Festival makes a major contribution to the arts ecosystem in SA and, like all things in the current cultural, economic and social climate, must adapt to prevailing conditions.”

“I am looking forward to taking on this challenging role and its enormous responsibilities and to working with the current and new members of the team; and of course the numerous partners that make this extraordinary programme possible.”

She will also be the CEO of the Grahamstown Foundation, which works in tandem with the National Arts Festival to produce Scifest Africa, the English Olympiad, the South African Schools’ Festival and the Monument Movie Club, and which aims to further the cultural and creative life of Makhanda, as well as  make a broader contribution to the country.

Newton said the festival, and all the activities initiated by the Grahamstown Foundation, were fundamental to the economic and social fabric of Makhanda and its surrounding areas.

The task of ensuring the festival and all activities contributed meaningfully, sustainably and responsibly to the life of the city was of equal importance, she said.

Newton was previously head of the Gauteng department of sport, arts, culture & recreation and, before that, that was deputy director-general of arts and culture promotion and development at the national department of arts & culture.

Before that she was CEO of the National Arts Council, a statutory body reporting to the department of arts & culture and established to support and develop the arts in SA.

National Arts Festival Board chair, Ayanda Mjekula, said: “We are very pleased that Monica has accepted the position of CEO.

“Not only is her experience of working in the arts sector extensive, but she also brings institutional and business insight that is an absolute asset to us.

“We look forward to having her lead the Festival forward.”    

Newton will be working with team members including newly-appointed artistic director Rucera Seethal, executive producer Nobesuthu Rayi, long-time administrative director Kate Davies, Fringe manager Zikhona Monaheng and technical director Nicci Spalding.  

The National Arts Festival board has made some recent appointments.

These include well-known arts advocate Michelle Constant, former Market Theatre CEO and current CEO of Ditsong Museums Annabell Lebethe, as well as award-winning author Dr Siphiwo Mahala, who also works in the presidency.

The most recent board appointment is multi-award winning writer, professional director, lecturer, curator and artist Mandla Mbothwe.  

The festival’s former CEO, Tony Lankester, also remained as a board member, which would help facilitate continuity, Mjekula said.  

The 2020 National Arts Festival takes place in Makhanda from June 25 to July 5.