So here’s the thing… The National Arts Festival 2020 won’t be cancelled, but it will be different.

The team at the National Arts Festival have been worrying, thinking, worrying, arguing and thinking some more about what to do about the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe in relation to South Africa’s very special annual Festival.

This our reality:

Based on the ban on major events they can’t allow more than 100 people to congregate anywhere.

Due to the travel ban and recommendations with regard to domestic travel and the use of public transport, artists and visitors can’t get to Makhanda and performances can’t get to them.

The team don’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus and fully understand that this is a time for isolation.

That’s not what they do. They create experiences and celebrate the arts.

So, after more thinking, listening, reading, arguing and talking, they’ve come up with a plan… Decided to do something bold, and something we never done before. From 25 June to 5 July 2020, the National Arts Festival will be going completely virtual for the full 11 days of amazing.

Going virtual will mean that the Festival can continue to support artists and the arts in 2020, by presenting work within a digital space. This way they can share some magic and hope with those who may still be confined to their homes. An opportunity to connect when we are being asked to distance ourselves from one another.

Artists depend on festivals like this to generate an income through selling tickets, getting their work seen and talked about locally and internationally, and networking with their peers. Rather than cancel, they aim to create a new opportunity for artists and audiences alike to celebrate the arts, and to create an accessible platform for artists to share their work.

Millions of people across South Africa and the world will be cut off from each other in completely unprecedented ways: unable to go to pray, school or work, or socialise outside of their immediate family. This is absolutely the responsible thing to do to contain the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, but as social beings, it is going to chip away a little bit of our souls every day the bans are in force.

Why make the decision now and not wait? National Arts Festival leaders have just over 100 days to the opening day. The reality is that they can’t ask artists to prepare for a festival that may or may not go ahead; they can’t ask supporters to make their plans, book their accommodation and transport, without the certainty that it will happen; and they can’t ask service providers to stand at the ready if it may all come to nothing. The 2020 National Arts Festival will go down in our history as the first-ever virtual edition.

For Makhanda and the Eastern Cape, this is going to be a really hard year and the management are fully aware of the enormous impact that COVID-19 will have on our economic stability. They know how much income the festivals contribute to the infrastructure and economy of Makhanda. They remain committed to the city and will continue to play the role as good corporate citizens.

“We will let you know more in the next few weeks about what will be on offer and how this will all work. We are engaging with our sponsors and donors, the Eastern Cape Provincial Government, Standard Bank of South Africa, the Department of Arts and Culture, Distell and Multichoice regarding our plans. Our commitment to the arts remains steadfast and we invite you to take this journey with us”. Says MONICA NEWTON, CEO of the National Arts Festival.

“We will be engaging directly all artists and traders who are currently registered to participate in the 2020 Festival”.

Here’s to a whole new and exciting experience for the National Arts Festival because if anyone is resilient, agile, creative and extraordinary – it is our artists.

*Official opening / Photo: Mark Wessels