SA’s theatre greats lend their voices to help save much-loved arts festival

Supporter James Cunningham in Abu Dhabi shows his support for the festival.
Supporter James Cunningham in Abu Dhabi shows his support for the festival.
Image: via Facebook

SA’s theatre heavyweights John Kani, Athol Fugard, Nthati Moshesh, Fiona Ramsay and Gcina Mhlophe have lent their voices to a global campaign to save the Hilton Arts Festival from extinction in light of diminished arts funding due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Supporters and performers around the world are continuing to pledge their support for a crowdfunding appeal by the organisers through BackaBuddy to enable the festival, held annually at the Hilton College theatre in KwaZulu-Natal, to continue.

The festival is due to be held in September.

Photos of supporters in front of iconic landmarks around the world have been posted on social media platforms over the past few weeks from across SA, London and Bath in the UK, Paris, Barcelona, Moscow, Lillehammer in Norway, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, the US and the Bahamas.

Kani joined other luminaries in a five-minute video posted on the crowdfunding page imploring for contributions to save the festival. He appealed to supporters to “help us turn out the ghost lights and bring back the spotlight”.

“As a largely self-funded festival, Hilton relies on donations in kind from technical supply companies and sponsorships to operate. Sadly, due to the pandemic, many of them can no longer afford to offer the kind of support a festival of this scale needs,” said actress Moshesh.

The organisers have a target of R500,000 and nearly R155,000 has been raised.

The festival has for almost three decades presented quality performances and exhibitions to national audiences and launched the careers of many actors and writers.

“Funding and support are essential to make a festival of this magnitude viable. The sums simply won’t work if we rely on ticket sales only. To keep the ticket prices affordable, patronage is essential,” said festival director Sue Clarence.

“We believe audiences, performers, artists and support services genuinely want the festival to survive and continue into the future, even initially at a scaled-down version. However, not even that is financially viable for us. We are on the brink of extinction.”

Clarence appealed to people to continue the chain of support, wherever they are, by taking photos posing with a “Hope4Hilton” banner alongside an iconic local spot and posting the photographs onto social media, pinning location, tagging the Hilton Arts Festival, using the hashtag #Hope4HiltonFest and asking people to click to donate.

“Despite being far away, so many people with connections to the festival have been publicly endorsing our campaign. It is hugely gratifying and spurs us to continue to work hard to endeavour to ensure the future viability of the festival,” she said. 

“It is about helping the arts to survive, not simply saving a single platform. Any contributions underline the vital importance of the arts to a balanced society.”