NAF: Standard Bank’s Dying Pet
Having just returned from the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, 2007, I must say that the hype of the festival does not live up to what it has become.
Undoubtedly, I did enjoy myself. How could I not? I holidayed with my Beloved One and my best friend Ella, had a plethora of shows to choose from, and markets filled with goodies. (Goodies often priced at Joburg prices, to my annoyance.) There was Word Fest, and
However, there are some glaring problems that are arising at the once almighty Fest. Standard Bank is failing to advertise the fest as thoroughly as they used to before. After many conversations with different people, ranging from family members to customers to previous festival-goers to drinkers in Melville, I have discovered that Joburgers felt that there was very little advertising regarding the Fest. Even in Grahamstown, there were only a few random posters about town. More tellingly, the people who own stalls at the market place known as the Village Green, noted that there were far fewer customers this year. I noticed vast differences in the numbers of people at the market on the different days I went. A week into the fest, the markets were quiet, and the morning show I went to, Theatre Sports, was depressingly quiet. I was able to get three tickets to Pieter Dirk Uys’ brilliant show, Evita for President, on the day it opened. Surely a show like that would be booked out far ahead of time? And, perhaps the largest sign of all, people were able to get good accommodation mid-fest. When I mentioned this, previous Festinos were shocked. Apparently, one used to be unable to get accommodation anything less than two months before the festival. Grahamstown buzzed for those precious weeks, it was a hive, a haven for all who love theatre.
But now? With the numbers dwindling every year, fringe shows will be unable to make back their costs and to launch onto the larger national theatre circuit. Many of these small theatre companies might just disappear, taking with them their brilliant ideas and contribution to the arts. Fewer international acts will be brought down and the better main acts will likely receive less funding.
I offer some likely causes for this tragic decline of the might NAF. Firstly, it is up to Standard Bank to blitz the country with better advertising. To advocate the rarity of the acts at fest, and the huge variety of acts and shows and concepts to enthral whole families. I hope that Standard Bank isn’t planning to drop the Festival like a dead dog and leave it without funding. Secondly, one must look at the increasing numbers of festivals clamouring for the attention of South Africans and their wallets. To name a few festivals off the top of my head, there is the cherry festival, oyster festival, cheese festival, Oudtshoorn, Klein Karoo Kunsfees, Aardklop, Woodstock, Oppie Koppie…with all of these and more, the National Arts Fest is no longer the only festival, the one that people saved all year round for. Can one blame South Africans for being lured away?
I can only hope that the Festival finds its feet again. Grahamstown, as a dorpie, relies heavily on the Fest to get it through the year, especially during the long holidays when there are no students in the town. I doubt the Fest will ever shut down, but it will likely get smaller with time, and this means less income for the people in Grahamstown who so need it. Grahamstown’s unemployment rate is about 70%. Festival gives everyone a chance to scrape together a little money. I would hate to see Grahamstown suffer any further than it should. While its schizophrenic weather and plethora of spiders annoys me, it is a friendly, cosy town that has every right to do well.
Standard Bank, don’t ignore the Fest. I know it looks fantastic to sponsor it, but does it matter when there is no energy invested?