The National Arts Festival 2021 Launched Today

The National Arts Festival Opens with Second Fully Online Event


The National Arts Festival opened its second fully online Festival today with a programme of works that spans a broad range of genres, place of origin, content and stories. The Festival had planned to return to some live and in person elements in 2021, but was forced at a late stage to go fully online by the announcement of Level Four Lockdown. An element of the live experience will however be experienced by audiences who can buy tickets to see the livestreamed shows which are broadcast online on fixed days throughout the Festival. The Festival will run from 8-31 July 2021. The programme, booking portal and viewing portal is all in one place


Speaking at a press conference on the morning of the Festival’s opening, the National Arts Festival’s board chairman, Ayanda Mjekula thanked the sponsors of the Festival* for standing by South African artists. Mr Mjekula said that the Festival’s plans for the medium term sees a National Arts Festival that goes beyond the Festival’s annual showcase and into a year-long platform which will benefit artists in a more sustainable way.


The Eastern Cape MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Fezeka Nkomonye, said “We remain committed as the province to supporting our artists during this difficult time and have activated our theatres to be at the centre of making sure that their work is recorded and packaged for the online platform. Let’s work together in moving from relief to recovery.”


Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism CEO, Mr Vuyani Dayimani said the online Festival gives the Eastern Cape province an opportunity to reach markets and audiences it does not always reach. Mr Dayimani issued a reminder that tourism to the region was not closed and invited people to visit the Province to enjoy many of the other attractions in the area. He recognised the Festival for its continued choice to make the Eastern Cape their home and looked forward to welcoming people back into the province for a live experience in the near future.


The National Arts Festival’s long-standing sponsor Standard Bank was at the event, represented by Head of Sponsorships, Desiree Pooe, who joined many of the speakers in sharing her sadness that everyone was not gathering in Makhanda to enjoy a live event. Ms Pooe noted that with Level 4 Lockdown, the Festival was presented with a serious challenge but has shown its resilience and the value of skills acquired in going online last year that enabled the team to turnaround from the planned hybrid Festival and deliver the online Festival at such a pace. “A lot of us remain in awe of what the Festival can reimagine, if ever there was a testament to our bank promise at Standard Bank of finding new ways then this is it.”


Joining from Makhanda, the Mayor of Makana Municipality, Cllr Mzukisi Mphalwa, said the Festival was a symbiotic twin of the City of Makhanda and that the municipality was “working flat out to address the historical infrastructural backlogs in the city, including the water challenges and the water shortages.” He called attention to an R18 million project (supported by the Provincial and National Government) currently underway to refurbish roads within the CBD and township of Makhanda. “We would like to ensure everyone that we are not sitting on our laurels, he said.” The Mayor also alluded to big plans for the Dakawa Centre in Makhanda, a key place for artists in the City and said that the plans will be announced in due course.


CEO, Monica Newton, remarked that it takes a nation to raise the National Arts Festival. Newton said that the online space had many advantages because it meant that the Festival could sustain income opportunities for the artists in this challenging time and confirmed that the Festival would remain a blend of digital and live into the future.


Commenting on the rapid pivot to a fully online experience, Newton acknowledged that the professionalism and dedication of the National Arts Festival team, artists and technical crews has been key under the time constraints and said that the adversity of the past two years has really strengthened and reinforced the Festival’s relationship with artists. Newton assured everyone that there would be quality and diversity on the programme and pointed out that it was fortunate that the Standard Bank Presents programme – that had intended to bring live shows to cities – had already been filmed so there was a good head start in creating the materials for the online space, particularly for the Standard Bank Jazz Festival which boasts a stellar line-up yet again.


With 239 shows, exhibitions, webinars and workshops on the programme, the Festival will add warmth to winter, and the lockdown, till its closing day on 31 July. It’s all on


*The sponsors of the National Arts Festival are

  • Eastern Cape Province
  • Standard Bank
  • National Department of Sport, Arts & Culture
  • National Lottery Commission
  • Sarah Baartman District Municipality
  • Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency
  • Business and Arts South Africa

The full press briefing can be watched here