Our cover for July is dedicated to the National Arts Festival – a major tourist attraction, and an important event on the South African cultural calendar. It is also the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent.
Starting at the end of June/beginning of July, it runs for 11 days and is held in the small university city of Grahamstown, which is situated in the Eastern Cape, 130km from Port Elizabeth.
The cover image is from Masote’s Dream – an inspiring journey into the life of one of South Africa’s most iconic classical musicians, Matlhaela Michael Masote who, during the apartheid era, founded the first black youth orchestra. The Soweto Youth Orchestra, now named the Soweto Symphony Orchestra, gave birth to one of the most internationally acclaimed musical groups to come out of South Africa, the Soweto String Quartet
The Festival consists of a Main and Fringe programme both administered by the National Arts Festival Office.
The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, tours (of the city and surrounding historic places) and a children’s arts festival.
The event has always been open to all regardless of race, colour, sex or creed. As no censorship or artistic restraint has ever been imposed on works presented in Grahamstown, the Festival served as an important forum for political and protest theatre during the height of the apartheid era, and it still offers an opportunity for experimentation across the arts spectrum. Its significance as a forum for new ideas and future trends in the arts cannot be underestimated.
A committee of experts in the various disciplines selects the content of the Main programme. The planning process takes into account what is available locally and from outside South Africa. Three considerations that influence decisions are the artistic merits of any submission, the creation of a varied and balanced programme, and the costs involved.
Today, the Fringe is on an equal footing with the Main Festival. Seasoned performers and famous directors can just as easily be found on either programme, and a slot on the main programme one year does not preclude a return to the Fringe the next. The distinguishing feature of the Fringe is that it is open to all and exempt from the selection process that applies to the Main programme.
In this edition, Dr Alexandra Dodd writes about a few of the many productions at this year’s National Arts Festival that will be raising up the troubled ghosts of the 19th century in her article ’Speaking with Ghosts in Grahamstown’ (see pages 20 to22).
As usual, we have our regular subject features in this edition (see content on page 3).
Enjoy your reading!
Yours in Tourism,
Des Langkilde. [email protected]