National Arts Festival to go virtual amid Covid-19 outbreak

Swedish group Sirqus Alfon at the 2019 National Arts Festival. Picture: Mark Wessels

Rather than cancel the festival, organisers will aim to create a new opportunity for artists and audiences alike to celebrate the arts.

One of the country’s leading art platforms, the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees, has been culled.

Organisers decided the festival in Oudtshoorn will not continue as planned from 23 to 29 March. The decision was taken after in-depth consultation with health authorities, local government and main sponsor Absa as well as partners and other stakeholders.

“It is in the public interest of everyone involved in the festival – artists, business partners, visitors and residents of Oudtshoorn – that we made this difficult decision,” says the festival’s artistic director, Hugo Theart.

The last-minute cancellation was necessary and several possibilities are on the table to ensure no one loses out.

“The outcome will be determined by guidelines from the national government and the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic develops internationally.”

Organisers of the National Arts Festival have been discussing what to do about the coronavirus as it pertains to the festival. In a statement released yesterday, they said: “Based on the ban on major events, we 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, our artists and visitors can’t get to Makhanda and we can’t get to them. We don’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus and fully understand that this is a time for isolation.”

So, they’ve come up with a plan and decided to do something bold – and something the festival has never done.

From 25 June to 5 July, the National Arts Festival will be going completely virtual for the full 11 days of the festival. This will mean the festival can continue to support artists and theatre by presenting work within a digital space.

In this way, organisers believe they can share some magic and hope with those who may still be confined to their homes; an opportunity to connect when people are being asked to distance themselves from one another.

Artists depend on such festivals to generate an income through the sales of tickets, getting their work seen and talked about locally and internationally and networking with their peers.

Rather than cancel the festival, organisers will 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 soon be cut off from each other in completely unprecedented ways, unable to go to church, school or to socialise outside of their immediate family.

The festival organisers believe this is the responsible thing to do to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Why not postpone?

The festival has just over 100 days to opening day. The organisers believe they can’t ask artists to prepare for a festival that may or may not go ahead.

They don’t want to ask supporters to make plans or book their accommodation and transport without the certainty that it will happen. And they don’t want to ask service providers to stand at the ready if it may all come to nothing.

So, the 2020 National Arts Festival will go down in history as the first virtual edition. For Makhanda and the Eastern Cape, this is going to be a hard year and the organisers are aware of the enormous impact Covid-19 will have on the economic stability of the town.

The festival knows its contribution to the infrastructure and economy of Makhanda – but times have shifted. Even new events, like Lekkerland Carnival in Dullstroom, have been postponed.

“Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Lekkerland Carnival 2020 has been postponed until further notice,” organisers said. “With only 12 days to go to the festival, this is very unfortunate and a #NotSoLekkerrr turn of events.

“For us as organisers – the health and safety of Dullstroom residents, our festival attendees, staff, service providers and artists are paramount. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to push the pause button on Lekkerland Carnival 2020 and postpone to a later date.

“Awaiting the statements of various government ministers, we will take a few days to look at alternative dates for the event and will make those dates available as soon as we have the clearance to do so.”

They pointed out that all tickets already purchased will be valid for the new date. Those who cannot make the new dates will be given a refund and can e-mail thissucks@lekkerland.co.za for information on how to go about it.

The upcoming Boys2Men and Lighthouse Family tours have also been postponed.

“We are working to reschedule the tour and all tickets will remain valid for the rescheduled dates. Further information will be sent directly to ticket holders as soon as it becomes available,” said Big Concerts, one of the county’s biggest importer of international acts.

(Compiled by Adriaan Roets)

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