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The National Arts Festival Goes Digital

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Due to the national lockdown and restrictions placed on arts and culture events in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa, the annual National Arts Festival Makhanda will be undergoing big changes in 2020. From 25 June to 5 July 2020, the National Arts Festival will be going completely virtual for the full 11 days! Read on to find out more about how you can support the NAF in this brave, new endeavor.  National Arts Festival

11 Days Of Amazing For All

The National Arts Festival supports thousands of artists each year, drawing hordes of spectators from around the country, including eager Joburgers who make the 969 km pilgrimage to Makhanda to see the very best in theatre, dance, music and visual art. Over the 11 days of the festival, the usually quiet town of Makhanda is turned into a bustling arts hub. The festival culminates in a spectacular parade presented by city locals, many of whom rely on tourism to make ends meet. Similarly, hard-working artists depend on the festival to generate an income through selling tickets, getting their work seen and talked about locally and internationally and networking with their peers.

National Arts Festival

DEURnis – Droom / Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht

The First-Ever Virtual National Arts Festival

On Tuesday, 17 March 2020, CEO of the National Arts Festival, Monica Newtown announced big news regarding the 2020 festival. Although the event was scheduled to take place between late June and early July, by which time the national lockdown may be over, the NAF needed a contingency plan in place to ensure that their programme could continue unhindered. More importantly, the organisation and its sponsors seek to continue their support of artists and local audiences who may be unable to travel to Makhanda due to travel bans. 

"Going virtual will mean that the Festival can continue to support artists and the arts in 2020, by presenting work within a digital space. This way we can share some magic and hope with those who may still be confined to their homes. An opportunity to connect when we are being asked to distance ourselves from one another," Newtown said.

Therefore, after much deliberation, the NAF stakeholders have decided to embrace modern technology to present the first-ever virtual National Arts Festival!

The move to virtual performances and exhibitions is not a novel idea. In response to the outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide; artists, museums, galleries and theatres have used digital media to spread a little light and positivity. By sharing their gifts and talents, artists are providing much-needed hope, bringing people together in this dire time of need. This is precisely the goal of the NAF with their move to digital platforms. CEO Monica Newtown said, "Our commitment to the arts remains steadfast and we invite you to take this journey with us."


How Will The Festival Be Presented Online?

Over the last few weeks, the NAF team have been hard at work to finalise their new digital format. After being inundated with questions from prospective audiences and artists about how the festival is going to play out this year, they compiled a Q&A list, to answer your most burning questions. Here's all you need to know about NAF 2020 and how you can experience it:

Digital Platforms

In essence, NAF 2020 will be modelled on the physical festival, only without the necessity of travelling to Makhanda. The organisers are looking into various online platforms to bring you at least 90% of the original lineup, albeit re-imagined for digital spaces and interactions. As such, the festival will most likely be broadcast from the NAF website, social media channels and possibly television stations.

Ticketing Options

The aim of the virtual NAF is first and foremost to ensure that its artists can generate some kind of revenue for their work. So, like the physical festival, you will have to pay to access some shows, while others will be free to view. You will be able to purchase virtual tickets via online payment methods, ‘click to give’, crowdfunding and digital auctions. Ultimately, the idea is for audiences to browse the online programme and buy single day or festival packages, allowing them to view the new content that will appear each day.


NAF 2020 looks to be a combination of pre-recorded and live streaming events. There won’t be a 'Main' programme and a 'Fringe' as there usually is. Rather, this will be a curated platform which will traverse the South African and international digital art scene. It is not going to be only filmed productions (although there will be some of those), but rather a re-imagining of various art forms for digital platforms. This may comprise virtual exhibitions, augmented reality theatre shows, studio jam sessions, podcasts and live-streamed debates, animated versions of stage plays, dance clips, gaming, film, music and more.

Village Green

Local traders and craftspeople will also be supported via the Standard Bank Village Green market online and the 'Virtual Green' which will showcase the beautiful work of these local vendors.

Sirqus Alfon’s I Am Somebody at the 2019 National Arts Festival / Mark Wessels

For More Information

The official lineup for the 2020 Makhanda National Arts Festival is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on their social media channels for updates:




You can also visit their website for more information or contact them via email at [email protected]

For other ways to support the arts from the safety of your couch, click here

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