2014 will be the National Arts Festival’s 40th anniversary. The approximate number of productions on the various stages during the 2013 National Arts Festival were: Main – 50, Arena – 9 and Fringe – 350. A real daunting task for anyone to see all the productions, let alone all the art, free and Village Green activities.
The total number of tickets sold can only hint at the total number of people attending the festival. Figures are difficult to ascertain given the free shows and high volumes of general foot traffic around social areas like the Village Green etc.
A study by the University of Northwest commissioned in 2009 concluded that the National Arts Festival generates a R60m annual contribution to the GDP of Grahamstown.
The National Arts Festival today announced “satisfying” attendance figures for this year’s arts showcase which came to an end on Sunday.
Overall attendance to the Festival was at 211 701, a marginal 7 000 decrease over the 2012 figure, according to CEO Tony Lankester. “Bearing in mind that 2012 was an all-time record audience for the Festival, coming close to maintaining attendance is a major achievement and points to the quality of work our artists are capable of producing,” he said. The rand value of tickets sold increased marginally, by 1.56%. This figure excludes “donations” received by approximately 108 productions which made up the “Free Fringe”.
“Over a 5-year rolling average we have seen audience growth of around 20% since 2009. This is a healthy trajectory for the arts and for the economics of arts,” Lankester said. “Annual spikes and drops in audience would be worrying – organic, steady growth over time is a lot more reassuring and sustainable.”
On the Main programme, audiences flocked to a variety of performances. “The list of sold out shows on the Main is long, but includes the Gala Concert, Beautiful Creatures, Asinamali, Woza Albert, The Last Moustache, My Name is Rachel Corrie and Pieter Dirk Uys’ two performances. On the Standard Bank Jazz Festival programme, Gloria Bosman, MiCasa, Jonas Gwangwa, Vusi Mahlasela and Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Shane Cooper were among those who played to packed houses,” Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed said.
A series of talks on the ThinkFest programme by music guru Richard Haslop called Richard Haslop’s Listening Lounge, in which he explored topics as diverse as Bob Dylan, Touareg Blues and the accordion were all sold out. So too was the end-of-Festival Pops Concert featuring the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Cock and featuring Zwai Bala.
Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award winner Dan Patlansky’s collaboration with Karen Zoid sold out the Guy Butler Theatre mid-Fest, while the final weekend saw audiences taking advantage of the “50% Fringe” on the Festival’s last day.
Several new initiatives in Grahamstown this year, such as the introduction of the late-night “Standard Bank Jazz Blues Café” drove support for live music higher; while the Fringe saw an increasing amount of collaboration between performers working in collectives to share their costs and spread the financial risk of performing at the Festival.
The Festival attributed part of the success of its Main programme to a number of partnerships which boosted both production and marketing budgets – these included deals with the Mandela Bay Development Agency, the SA Post Office, the National Film and Video Foundation and the Eastern Cape Performing Arts Council. “These partnerships contribute directly to the content of our programme, freeing us up to invest in some new voices and create a wider platform for our artists,” Mahomed said.
Turning his attention to the Fringe, Mahomed said “Attendance figures for individual productions indicate that Comedy and Theatre are still the staples of the Fringe.” The top grossing production on the Fringe was Festival newcomer Riaad Moosa’s Doctors Orders Tour, closely followed by two Fringe stalwarts – the 2013 incarnation of the ‘Raiders’ franchise, The Whiskey Raiders, and Big Boys II, the follow up to the smash Big Boys Don’t Dance.
“What is gratifying is that in the Top 10 grossing productions there are three theatre shows – The Three Little Pigs, Crazy in Love and Dirt. Last year only one theatre production – London Road – featured on that list, the rest was comedy,” Mahomed said.
Two productions on the Fringe – The Brothers Streep and Epicene Butcher and Other Tales for Consenting Adults – were 100% sold out for their whole run in Grahamstown, with Butlers and Billionaires, Big Boys II, and Siv Ngesi’s Race Card having just a handful of seats to spare.
A feature of the Festival this year was the large number of free performances.
“We know that the economic climate has a potentially damaging effect on audiences, and so we consciously tried to create events that crowds could enjoy on the streets of Grahamstown and in our venues,” Lankester said. These initiatives included two Street Parades which saw about 200 local community based artists perform alongside artists from elsewhere in South African and abroad; an investment in the Fingo Festival which ran workshops and staged productions for audiences in Fingo Village; and a number of free performances in the Monument’s Guy Butler Theatre and Fountain Foyer.
Apart from the attendance figures, the Festival also highlighted other data which helps paint a picture of the impact of the event.
“In 2009 we saw the Festival making a contribution to the GDP of Grahamstown of around R60m,” Lankester said. “We commissioned some fresh research this year to establish the wider impact of the Festival – on both the District and Province. ” The results of that research are expected to be made known later this year.
The 40th edition of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown will take place from 26 June to 6 July 2014.
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