Vrystaat Arts Festival director Michael Garbett on the transformative power of the arts

  • 0

Naomi Meyer spoke to Michael Garbett, newly at the helm of the Vrystaat Arts Festival director, ahead of the festival opening on 11 July 2023.


Michael, you are now the director of the Vrystaat Arts Festival. Please tell our readers about your background?

My passion for the arts dates back to my early days in academia, where I studied drama and theatre arts at the University of the Free State. I freelanced in many roles and took any role in any project I could, even mopping the stages during Vryfees so that I may observe the artists doing warm-ups. This led me to work in a variety of roles across the arts sector, such as with notable theatres and performing arts organisations. I have worked in diverse capacities, from production management to academic research. Now my broad experience allows me as the festival director, to create an environment where artists can express themselves freely, and audiences can engage with their work in meaningful ways.

I recently listened to your discussion on a panel at the Tribuo arts conference. Could you please share some of your thoughts on the panel with our readers?

The Tribuo arts conference was a great opportunity for artists, scholars and enthusiasts to come together and share ideas. We had in-depth discussions on various topics, including the role of art in fostering social unity, the importance of representation in the arts, and the challenges and opportunities in the current arts landscape. I firmly believe in art's capacity to bridge gaps in our society, and this was a key theme to the panel discussions. The creative industry is a shared landscape and only when organisers and artists take hands and share responsibilities will it truly thrive. We need red-faced conversations now so that we do not fall into a repetitive state where we face a crisis within every ten or so years.

When is the Vrystaat Arts Festival this year and is there anything on the programme you specifically wish to share with our readers?

The Vrystaat Arts Festival will run from 11 to 15 July, and we have an exciting programme lined up. We are particularly excited about our focus on showcasing emerging talent sharing the stage with some of the best artists this year. We have also curated a series of thought-provoking theatre productions, innovative visual art exhibits, and an eclectic mix of musical performances. We will be hosting some engaging literature panels, and our interdisciplinary events promise to blur the lines between different art forms in exciting ways. We have many pop-up surprises as well for the public, as you can tell; I am avoiding the singling out of one particular artist or production – this is because we have downscaled our programme by more than 60% this year to ensure every production or artist receives the exact same exposure and opportunity to sell – it was a painstakingly process, but we are proud of every single person in the programme, and that is not even to mention our PACE programme happening the weekend before our festival kicks off with key international artists and delegates, creating a sustainable network to create more platforms and exciting works.

What do you experience as truly unique to the Vrystaat Arts Festival if you look at some of the country's other arts festivals? Another way to ask the question would be: Why attend the Free State Arts Festival?

What makes the Vrystaat Arts Festival special is our commitment to showcasing a mix of established and emerging talents, creating a rich and diverse program that caters to all tastes. We pride ourselves on our community engagement initiatives, which involve local communities in co-creating elements of the festival. This not only enriches the festival experience but also instils a sense of ownership and pride among local residents. Also, we're known for our excellent theatre facilities.

What are the challenges and also the best parts of organising this festival?

Organising this festival is no small task. The logistical challenges, from securing funding to coordinating schedules, are significant. But when I see the impact the festival has – whether it's an emerging artist getting their first major exposure, or a festivalgoer having a transformative experience at a performance – all the hard work is worth it. One of the greatest rewards is seeing the local community's enthusiasm and pride in being part of the festival, which is a testament to the power of the arts in bringing people together.

Visit the Vrystaat Arts Festival website and view its full programme here.

Also read:

Tribuo-kunsberaad: waarom kunstenaars doen wat hulle doen

If not here, where? Notes from the 2023 National Arts Festival

  • 0


Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.