About The National Arts Festival

The National Arts Festival is an important event on the South African cultural calendar, and 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 in the small university city of Grahamstown, which is situated in the Eastern Cape, 130km from Port Elizabeth.

The Festival comprises a Main and a Fringe programme, which are both administered by the National Arts Festival Office. The Festival is reliant on sponsorship with the core sponsors being the Department of Arts and Culture, the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture and the Office of the Premier, and Standard Bank of South Africa. Media partners include M-Net and City Press newspaper.

The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, 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 an indicator of future trends in the arts cannot be underestimated.

The Main programme

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.

The Committee strives for excellence in all aspects of the programme, an approach that has assisted in bringing in sponsorship money for world class shows from a number of foreign governments and large multinational corporations.

The National Lottery Fringe

Today, the National Lottery 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 National Lottery Fringe is that it is open to all and exempt from the selection process that applies to the Main programme. Fringe participants are responsible for their own costs and 85% of their box office sales accrue to them directly. They are liable for certain payments for venue hire and registration fees.

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