The world’s cultural spotlight will fall once more on Grahamstown from 29 June to 9 July 2017 when the National Art’s Festival’s presents a “window into the soul” of South Africa’s artists with a varied and exciting programme.

The Festival is an annual pilgrimage for artists and audiences wanting to immerse themselves in the many genres of theatre and art on offer, soaking up the small-town atmosphere of Grahamstown and the passionate post-theatre discussion and debate.

Because school holidays fall later than usual this year, the organisers have made a change to the traditional schedule, which may affect visitors’ plans.

“Traditionally we open the Festival with a weekend programme anchored by an orchestra performance and, quite often, a ballet,” says Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien. “The second weekend is usually given over to a closing party that features big music shows. This year, we’re flipping these weekends around – with lots of high-profile artists performing on the opening weekend, and the Festival closing with the much-loved ballet and orchestra on the second weekend.”

The Festival’s artistic committee is in the final stages of curating a Main programme that will showcase new and cutting-edge works. Johaardien, who was appointed in last year, explains that his role is to bring the curated programme to life, with the Festival celebrating a broad range of work that is the best South African artists can offer.

Says Johaardien: “The Festival is a legacy project and I am really just the most recently appointed caretaker. In the team responsible for assembling and delivering this mammoth showcase of creativity, my job is to ensure that the loyal following the Festival has built up over the past four decades will find all the highlights and heavy-hitters they have come to love and expect, while ensuring that we also evolve and innovate to grow our audiences for the future.”

Festival CEO Tony Lankester advises Festival goers to make their plans well in advance. “Grahamstown has an assortment of accommodation options from B&Bs to home rentals and much in between. In addition, visitors can stay slightly further afield on one of the game farms or in the nearby seaside towns, such as Kenton or Port Alfred. Shuttles will also run daily between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.”

The Department of Arts and Culture reaffirmed their funding commitment to the Festival last year with a three-year contract valued at R17-million, and they continue to be a supportive partner in ensuring this vital platform is available to artists across South Africa. Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa says: “The National Arts Festival continues to create a space for the arts to develop and flourish; it has played a pivotal role in the careers of many of the county’s premier artists and many return back to the Festival to perform for South African audiences.”

Standard Bank remains one of the National Arts Festival’s longest-standing sponsors and will be presenting a stellar line-up of jazz from both South Africa and abroad.

The host sponsor of the National Arts Festival is the Eastern Cape Government. Dr Pemmy Majodina, the Eastern Cape’s MEC for the Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, is a vocal advocate of the Festival. “The Eastern Cape is the proud home of this prestigious festival, which is proving itself to be an artistic footprint in the province. We look forward to welcoming international and national artists and audiences descending on Rhini for yet another 11Days of Amazing,” she says.

The 2017 National Arts Festival Programme will be revealed in a series of announcements from March until booking opens to the public at the beginning of May 2017.

Follow the National Arts Festival on the hashtag #NAF17