Grahamstown National Arts Festival

03 July 2014

A whirlwind of art, culture and theatre celebrating artistic expression.

The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is South Africa's largest and most colourful cultural event, an annual exhibit of the best local and international musical, acting and literary talent. This year, from 3-13 July, the population of the small Eastern Cape town will double as more than 50 000 people gather to celebrate artistic expression in all its forms.

Over 11 days, every theatre, hall, courtyard and field is filled with visitors and every bed in town is booked. From plays to dance, opera to cabaret, fine art to crafts, classical music to jazz, poetry readings and film lectures, every art form is represented. One of the main attractions of the festival (and what makes it so special) is that the visitors who travel far and wide are as diverse as the art forms themselves.

Organised by the Grahamstown Foundation, the NAF began in 1974 with a programme of 60-odd items. Today, more than 600 events and close to 1,800 performances are on offer so expect a week of constant activity – and don’t be surprised if you find yourself sprinting from one show to the next. It’s busy, but the people are warm and friendly and the energy palpable so you’re bound to give in to its keep-going-til-you-drop spirit.

The festival - shows are chosen by a committee - is a great platform for up-and-coming artists and performers. Every year, shows premier at the festival and then go on to tour the world.
Meanwhile, the Fringe is open to all applicants and is where some of the most exciting artistic development and dynamic talents in our country were first spotted.

When selecting shows to see, choose at least one that you know nothing about – you may be pleasantly surprised. No one is excluded and the festival remains an open platform for all to express and share in a free way. Given the history of this country, such a tool was and still is invaluable.

Many factors explain the festival's popularity, not least its location. Largely untouched by modern development, Grahamstown is like an English 19th-century cathedral town in a setting that is unmistakably African.