The Festival is always a funny time of year for business. For some it is frantic, especially if you’re in hospitality, food, art or catering, but the profits are hopefully good. For others, it’s a quiet time of the year. Some choose to take the time to enjoy the spectacle while others choose to get away. And then there are those who despise it for a myriad of other reasons. On a whole however, I doubt that any reasonable person could argue that it’s not a great event and a much needed economic boost to our local economy.
This year the countdown to the start of the Festival was particularly nerve-wrecking as the Grahamstown grapevine was abuzz with rumours of a lack of funding. And water. And electricity. And then were threats of mass stay-aways and protest actions, which may have been real, but was very well managed by Tony Lankester and his team. Only a year ago, Tony was pushed to the point of having to write an opinion piece that shocked us all, but which he was able to support with evidence emerging from his experience of organising the Festival.
What stood out this year was how under tough economic, social and political circumstances, the Festival seems to have been a huge success.
As usual, some naysayers complained about the absence of the beer tent and lack of the hippie vibe while others expressed their concern about local business being excluded from operating at the Village Green. I can respond with some degree of confidence that all of the above is not entirely true or the NAF’s fault. The absence of the beer tent seems to have been a rather unfortunate administrative slip up unrelated to the NAF whereas tepees, drummers, and hippie villages have never been organized by the NAF. Also, local business seemed to be well represented at the Village Green, in town and at the shows themselves. I am sure many of you enjoyed a kudu burger, a glass of orange juice from Nartjie Moss, cheese from Fusion, craft beer from Featherstone, and marvelled at art from many local artists. Let’s also not forget the great local productions of the Secret Garden and the Gruffalo.
Kudos goes to Phumulo Masualle, the Premier of the Eastern Cape who not only prioritised the National Arts Festival as an important event for the Province, but also rescued the event when funding from the National Lottery was not forthcoming. Makana Municipality, and in particularly our executive mayor, Nomhle Gaga, need to be congratulated that their hard work long before the Festival paid off in that no interruption of services were experienced during the crucial time when our little city was awash with visitors. The South African Police Services and Hi-Tec who ensured everyone’s safety during the event were equally amazing.
Times are tough. Changes have had to be made and may continue to be made. Those involved may not always get it right. However, we as the GBF are grateful to all those hardworking people who make the festival happen. Grahamstown without the festival would be a much poorer place both economically and socially. Bravo to the NAF team. You all deserve a bells!