Life begins at forty: National Arts Festival 2014

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The National Arts Festival is 40 years old this year. Ismail Mahomed tells Naomi Meyer why everybody should attend the party.

Congratulations, this is 40! Does life for the National Arts Festival begin at 40? Why or why not?

Turning 40 is a milestone for any arts festival. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past four decades. It also gives us the opportunity to assess the status quo and to re-envision the future.

Why should anybody who’s never been there attend the National Arts Festival this year?

This year’s festival offers a bumper programme. We are presenting work by the largest number of previous Standard Bank Young Artist award-winners. There are also artists from over 30 different countries at this year’s festival. Overall, the programme is exciting and innovative. It attempts to breaks many boundaries.

Is there any specific focus or theme that stands out for you in the productions this year? What are the highlights of this year’s festival?

There are several highlights. There is a very strong programme of South African work by some of South Africa’s best artists. The 2014 Standard Bank Young Artists are each presenting work that is going to be really good, inspiring and exciting. For the first time we have work from artists from at least 17 countries in Africa. In fact, we have work from artists from all five continents at this year’s festival. Each of the genres has strong work. It is also fascinating is to see how artists are crossing over genres in the creation of their work. For the first time this year we have added Family Fare as an independent genre in the programme.

What is still done the same way as 40 years ago – and what has changed over the years?

For the past 40 years the festival has celebrated excellence. We continue to do so, but we are also courageous to take calculated risks on new, untested work.

Practically speaking: Where should people look for accommodation, where can they buy tickets, what should they pack and where can they eat upon arrival?

Accommodation is still available at Rhodes University residences. Tickets can be bought online from our website,

There are several food places in Grahamstown during the festival. The Village Green offers a variety of food stalls that cater for different tastes.


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