Experienced arts administrator Monica Newton has been appointed as the new chief executive officer of the National Arts Festival. She will take up her position in January 2020.

Newton has wide experience in the arts and culture sector, having worked with national, provincial and local government and related government agencies since 1997. She has been part of creative industry strategy, development and research processes across South Africa, and has worked in the field of cultural development and the creative industries for most of her career. (See details below.)

Newton will relocate to Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) and will be working with a strong team of creative and executive team members, including newly appointed Artistic Director Rucera Seethal, Executive Producer Nobesuthu Rayi, Administrative Director Kate Davies, Fringe Manager Zikhona Monaheng, as well as Technical Director Nicci Spalding.

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

‘Meaningful contribution’

On the task ahead as CEO of the largest arts festival in the country, Newton said: “The National Arts Festival makes a major contribution to the arts ecosystem in South Africa and, like all things in the current cultural, economic and social climate, must adapt to prevailing conditions. The Festival and, in fact, all the activities initiated by the Grahamstown Foundation, are also fundamental to the economic and social fabric of the city of Makhanda and the surrounding areas.

“The task of ensuring that the Festival and all activities contribute meaningfully, sustainably and responsibly to the life of the City thus is of equal importance. 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.”

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

New Board members

New appointments have also recently been made to the National Arts Festival Board:

  • Well-known arts advocate Michelle Constant
  • Former Market Theatre CEO and current CEO of Ditsong Museums Annabell Lebethe
  • Award-winning author Dr Siphiwo Mahala, who also works in the Presidency
  • Multi-award winning writer, professional director, lecturer, curator and artist Mandla Mbothwe

Former National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester remains as a Board member, which will help facilitate continuity.

Who is Monica Newton?

Monica Newton / Photo: Robyn DavieBackground: Newton was born in Bloemfontein and grew up in Clarens where her family managed the Maluti Mountain Lodge for many years. The family still own a home on a farm just outside the town. Her love of the arts was fostered by her mother Margaret, who raised Monica and sister Sarah as a single parent for most of their lives. Margaret loved reading, films, theatre, dance and music and shared this passion actively with her daughters.

Education: Educated in the Free State, Monica matriculated from Bethlehem Voortrekker High School and completed her studies at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with Sociology and Psychology majors, a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Industrial Sociology and a Masters in Sociology from the University of the Witwatersrand. Her research in support of her MA degree focused on the economics of the film distribution industry.

Career: Newton has worked with national, provincial and local government and related government agencies since 1997, as a full-time employee and as a consultant in her own business. She has been part of creative industry strategy development and research processes across the country, and has worked in the field of cultural development and the creative industries for most of her career. Prior to being appointed as the CEO of the National Arts Festival and the Grahamstown Foundation, Newton was the Head of the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation from August 2017 to November 2019. Over her career, Newton served numerous premiers and ministers as an executive manager in the public service, including her role as Deputy Director-General: Arts and Culture Promotion and Development at the Department of Arts and Culture from April 2013 to July 2017. From January 2012 to July 2013, she was the CEO of the National Art Council, a statutory body reporting to the Department of Arts and Culture and established to support and develop the arts in South Africa. She was Chief Director: Socio-Economic Research and Chief Director: Strategic and Operational Support in the Gauteng Office of the Premier from 2008 to 2011.

  • The 46th National Arts Festival takes place in Makhanda (Grahamstown) from 25 June to 5 July 2020.
  • Photographs: Monica Newton / Robyn Davie