The National Arts Festival goes virtual!

by Aurora Manique


The National Arts Festival is Makhanda’s biggest festival and one of the biggest arts festivals in Africa. Creatives from all over the world look forward to the annual celebration where thousands congregate in the name of art and culture. From the musicians to the  street vendors, and everyone in between, the National Arts Festival brings Makhanda to life, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's festival will have to be celebrated a little differently.


In light of the coronavirus, festivals all over the world have been forced to - at first - postpone and then cancel their festivities due to social distancing concerns. Afrika Burn, Splashy Fen, Coachella and Rocking the Daisies are just a few of the many festivals that have had to shift their focus to the 2021 season. 


Mikhail Manique, one of Rocking the Daisies’ core production team members provided a statement elaborating on the impact that the pandemic has had on the local festival:


“We are using all platforms of social media to stay in contact with our fan base to make the best of this situation. It has been a tough time for us all, from our performers to our suppliers, as we love providing the best experience for our fans, but our fans have remained loyal and our acts are confirmed for next year”. 


Although many festivals have been cancelled, others like the MTN Bushfire Festival in eSwatini decided to take a different and modern approach and host the festival online – accessible via their own website and fully equipped with different Zoom stages showcasing lively performances from all over the world in the safety of  your home.


The event was wildly successful, boasting over 130 000 viewers worldwide who all donated to #KeepTheFlameAlive. This money went mostly to their beneficiary, Young Heroes, which provides over 1000 orphaned children with various healthcare and education programs.  The festival was free of charge and gave both performers and spectators the space to celebrate despite the distance between them.


The National Arts Festival will be joining in on this modern approach.  A  statement released by the National Arts Festival said, "We've decided to do something bold and something we have never done before. From 25 June to 5 July 2020, the National Arts Festival will be going completely virtual for the full 11 Days of Amazing”.


The poster for this year’s National Arts Festival. The festival will be held for 11 days, from 25 June to 5 July 2020. This will be the fist virtual National Arts Festival. Photo by the National Arts Festival via Facebook.

Makhanda has been associated with carnivals and festivals for more than 180 years as British immigrants established the tradition of celebrating landmark anniversaries on a grand scale. When the movement gained ground last century to erect a memorial for these pioneers, it was agreed that it should be a "living" monument upheld by festivals, conferences and other gatherings. An inaugural celebration was held at the opening of the 1820 Settler’s National  Monument. The National Arts Festival was eventually added to this roster of celebrations and festivals with the first being held in 1973 and every year since then, except for 1975 and this year physically.


This year’s digital festival will provide a stage for performers and artists to have their work shared and appreciated despite  the circumstances. Times are tough, and the world is going through an unprecedented period but the National Arts Festival has a goal to help its patrons by bringing the festival into homes using a virtual theatre and various virtual stages.


The Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winners for 2020 who will be performing at the festival. From left to right: Jefferson Tshabalala (Theatre), Sisonke Xonti (Jazz), Lulu Mlangeni (Dance), Blessing Ngobeni (Visual Art) and Nthato Mokgata (also known as Spoek Mathambo) (Music). Photo by the National Arts Festival via Facebook.

The National Arts Festival committee was adamant on continuing this year stating, "Artists depend on festivals like ours to generate an income through selling tickets, getting their work seen and talked about locally and internationally, and networking with their peers. Rather than cancel, we aim to create a new opportunity for artists and audiences alike to celebrate the arts, and to create an accessible platform for artists to share their work." 


There will be pre-recorded musical and theatre performances, short films, jam sessions, webinars, virtual art exhibitions and live events. Alongside various free works, there will be a number of pay-per-view performances by various artists. 


Another huge part of the National Arts Festival is the Village Green, which has been given the cyber space called, the Virtual Green – where traders, creators, crafters, artists and resellers can come together and get the most out of having an online presence.


The official 46th edition of the National Arts Festival will take place from 25 June to 5 July. So   join in on this momentous occasion and brighten up your #Lockdown2020 with the beauty of our continent’s art and culture with the National Arts Festival


To take part, go to their website, www.national arts festival.co.za, and register in order to see the programme and watch shows, webinars and even attend workshops online.


You can also find out more information about  the National Arts Festival on its various social media pages: 

Facebook: National Arts Festival Makhanda - Home

Twitter: NationalArtsFestival (@artsfestival)

Instagram: National Arts Festival (@nationalartsfestival) • Instagram photos and videos

YouTube: National Arts Festival

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Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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