Attendance numbers for this year’s National Arts Festival dropped by 10.2%.The 43rd instalment of the annual event, billed as Africa’s biggest and boldest celebration of the arts, ran from June 30 to July 9 showcasing more than 700 shows.
Festival chief executive Tony Lankester said: “We experienced a 10.2% drop in attendance to our various events and performances, with overall festival attendance settling to 202643.”
Lankester said the drop did not come as a surprise given the current economic climate and the costs associated with making the annual trip to Grahamstown.
“The recession is beginning to bite and South Africans are having to be more careful with their money. On the positive side, the long-term growth trajectory is still positive, with the rolling 10-year attendance up by 37%,” he said, adding that they would have to be smarter in the years to come to keep innovating and offering audiences good value.
Among some of the new things they would be introducing next year, Lankester said they will move the Village Green Craft market to a new site “closer to where the bulk of people in Grahamstown live, and on a site where we have the space and flexibility to create a craft market on a par with the best in the world”.
The new market, to be housed at Victoria Girls High School, will be the core of a new “festival zone” planned for the CBD that will feature, alongside the stalls, a large children’s play area, beer tent, box office, multiple performance areas, a food court and an “art walk” for lovers of visual art.
“We’ve established a planning committee comprising traders and local business who are already soliciting input and ideas, and we believe the festival zone will be an area to be proud of,” Lankester said.
He said local businesses reported a mixed bag of results, with supermarkets claiming an increase in turnover from last year, and restaurants and bars a decline. “Those figures tell us a lot about what choices festinos are making,” Lankester said.
“In the past people would come for five or six nights and eat out every evening. Now we’re seeing people come for three or four nights and opt to eat at home instead.”
Despite those shifts, the festival’s new executive producer, Ashraf Johaardien, said he was pleased with the general response to the programme.
“We had a number of sold out shows on the main and arena programmes,” he said.
The next edition of the National Arts Festival will be held in Grahamstown from 28 June to July 8 2018. — firstname.lastname@example.org