National Arts Festival (South Africa)

National Arts Festival (South Africa)
The National Arts Festival (NAF, Nasionale Kunstefees) is one of the most important events on the South African cultural calendar as well as the biggest annual arts festival on the African continent. The festival runs for 11 days in late June and early July. The event takes place in Grahamstown, a small university town located in the Eastern Cape province, about 70 miles from Port Elizabeth.

Grahamstown has been associated with festivals and carnivals for almost two centuries. The tradition of grand-scale celebrations of important anniversaries and other major events was brought here by British immigrants. When a movement gained momentum in the 20th century to erect a memorial to the first settlers it was decided that the town itself should become a “living” monument to those who founded Grahamstown due to its numerous festivals, conferences and other major cultural events that attract people from all over the country.

The 1820 Settlers National Monument was officially opened in 1974 and became the anchor of the National Arts Festival that has been held every year since then, except for 1975. It was organized by the Grahamstown Foundation until 2002, when it became an independent not-for-profit company. The program of the festival encompasses different kinds and genres of art including music, dance, comedy, drama, physical theater, street theater, opera, film, visual art & design, and more. The festival comprises the Main Program and the Fringe Program.

The National Arts Festival has always been open to everyone regardless of their race, skin color, gender or religious beliefs. It has never imposed artistic restraint or censorship on works presented by the participants. During the height of the apartheid era, the festival was the only platform for political and protest theater in the entire country. Luckily, apartheid is long over but the festival still gives artists a unique opportunity to experiment with different forms of art and introduce audiences to new ides and trends.

Concerts and other events are held in over 50 venues throughout the city of Grahamstown. The diverse and balanced program of the National Arts Festival includes theatrical performances, concerts, street performances, lectures, art & craft fairs, exhibitions, workshops, a children’s art festival and plenty of other events for attendees of all ages and backgrounds. Acts in the Main Program are selected by a special committee while the Fringe Program is open to everyone.

Every year the National Arts Festival Artistic Committee presents the Young Artists Awards. The award is designed to honor emerging South African artists who have demonstrated exceptional skills and talent in their chosen disciplines but who have not yet achieved national exposure and acclaim. The awards are presented in several disciplines including Music, Drama, Dance, Jazz, Visual Art, and Other (for example, film, performance art, special awards).

In 2020 and 2021, the event was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

National Arts Festival (South Africa)

Photo: Tamani Chithambo




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