The National Arts Festival Goes Digital

Due to the 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

COVID-19 And The Arts 

In light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national disaster on Sunday, 15 March 2020 regarding the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, arts organisations, theatres and events organisers have had to scramble to find a way to stay afloat. Seeing that events of over 100 people have been strictly prohibited to prevent the further spread of the virus, these already vulnerable state entities and entrepreneurs are expected to take a huge financial knock. However, some are welcoming the challenge and are embracing new ways of thinking about how audiences consume art. Leading the pack is the National Arts Festival, which is held annually over 11 days in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown).

The NAF supports thousands of artists each year, drawing hordes of spectators from around the country. Many Joburgers make the yearly pilgrimage to Makhanda to see the very best in theatre, dance, music and visual art. The usually quiet town of Makhanda is turned into a bustling arts hub, as the festival culminates in a spectacular parade presented by city locals, many of whom rely on the festival 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.

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Ok, so here's the thing: the National Arts Festival 2020 won’t be cancelled, but it will be different. From 25 June to 5 July 2020, the National Arts Festival will be going completely virtual for the full 11 days of Amazing. By going virtual, the Festival can continue to support artists and the arts in 2020 by presenting work within a digital space. We will be able to share some magic and hope with those who may still be confined to their homes, offering an opportunity to connect when we are being asked to distance ourselves from one another. . Here’s to a whole new and exciting experience for the National Arts Festival because if anyone is resilient, agile, creative and extraordinary – it is our artists. . We're very excited about this – and can't wait to hear what you think! . 📸: Birthing Nureyev by Mark Wessels . #NAF2020 #VirtualNAF #arts #coronavirus #covid19 #creativethinking #virtual #digitalart #creativity #agility #southafrica #artsfestival #magic #socialdistancing #connection

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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 restrictions on large events may be over, the NAF must have a contingency plan in place to ensure that their programme could continue unhindered. More importantly, the NAF seeks to continue their support of artists and local audiences who may be unable to travel to Makhanda due to travel bans. 

We have just over 100 days to our opening day. The reality is that we can’t ask artists to prepare for a festival that may or may not go ahead; we can’t ask our supporters to make their plans, book their accommodation and transport, without the certainty that it will happen; and we can’t ask our service providers to stand at the ready if it may all come to nothing,” 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 taken to social media to spread a little light and positivity. By sharing their gifts and talents with people who may be under lockdown for weeks on end, 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. While it is not yet clear how or in what format the festival will be presented, CEO Monica Newtown said, “Our commitment to the arts remains steadfast and we invite you to take this journey with us.

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

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

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