Grahamstown the Creative City

A 365-Day Perspective

Grahamstown is once again centre stage as the National Arts Festival gears up for launch on 30 June 2016. The resident population of 70 000 will swell to include tens of thousands more visitors and many businesses are preparing for good trade over the 11-day Festival period.


As a university town and the host of a cultural festival, creativity was already a key driver for development when the National Arts Festival brought a group of people together to conceptualise a project that would grow the local economy, and extend the impact of the annual event.

Together the group developed a programme of projects and events that, collectively, became known as the “Creative City Project”.

Today the project is chaired by the National Arts Festival and support comes from Makana Municipality, Sarah Baartman District Municipality, the European Union, Rhodes University, Fingo Festival, Makana Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce, Assumption Development Centre, and Eastern Cape Government.

Says National Arts Festival CEO, Tony Lankester, “An 11-day Festival is like a pebble being dropped into a pool. It has a ripple effect that, without intervention, will gradually dwindle as time goes on. Together we’re able to add to the pool and get those ripples felt by more people in Grahamstown.”

Xolile Madinda, one of the collaborators on Creative City and founder of the Fingo Festival (which runs concurrently with the National Arts Festival from 5-9 July in Fingo Village) says that the residents of Grahamstown have long needed to see themselves reflected in their environment. Through Creative City, Madinda has been working on a series of murals (part of Creative City’s, City Clean Up week) that not only provide employment for artists but also allow the people of Grahamstown to see themselves creatively interpreted through public art.

Madinda notes that the murals– including one on a wall at a taxi rank - have not been defaced by graffiti and he believes that this speaks volumes about the pride people have in their own community artwork. Madinda is passionate about bringing more creativity into the lives of township people, “During Fingo Festival we are hosting a workshop called Business Beyond the Festival which examines how we sustain creativity in Grahamstown year round – and grapples with how we can find the funds to keep our artists working - and paid properly - for their work.”

Other projects that form part of the Creative City project include:

  • The Festival Gallery  - a fully functional art gallery in the heart of Grahamstown’s CBD (38 Somerset Street) which showcases the talent in the city and surrounds and facilitates the purchase of artworks to visitors both during and outside of Festival times.


  • Cinema Under the Stars – is held on Fiddlers’ Green throughout the year. Each evening it is staged sees 30 – 50 underprivileged children attend as guests of the Festival and its supporters.


  • The Foto Fence project is the brainchild of Rhodes University lecturer and photographer Brent Meistre. Through it some of Grahamstown's emerging photographic talent was discovered. As a result, a handful of aspiring professional photographers are now being led through an intensive training programme as part of the EU-funded Makana Arts Academy.


  • The third annual Masicule concert was held in May 2016 featuring a dozen choirs and culminating in 500 voices from Grahamstown on one stage. The project brings to life a core component of the Makana Arts Academy - the opportunity for Grahamstown residents to showcase their natural talents, and to grow them into viable careers.


  • Community theatre development project Uyabona Ke is has successfully staged work at both the National Arts Festival and Cape Town Fringe. Waterline and Falling Off the Horn are two Uyabona Ke works that will be presented at the National Arts Festival this year.


  • The Creative City project, has secured funding for teaching resources (sourced through the Carinus Art Centre) to start a group of Grade 10s Ntsika Secondary School in Grahamstown on the three year journey to matric art​


  • The Gathering/Intlangano uses processes of dance and choreography, applied theatre, and narrative therapy to produce a series of performative encounters called ‘Gatherings’. These encounters are aimed at stimulating dialogue between youth from Grahamstown east and west. The same project fosters partnerships between students at Rhodes University and students in the Grahamstown community in the hope of developing creative exchange.


  • The Festival supported 20 Eastern Cape sound technicians through formal training, to NQF Level 4 standard, and then helped many of the graduates find employment.


  • The Vuka Workshops and Makana Drama Development Festival aim to facilitate a stimulating Theatre Skills and Performance Platform for local Grahamstown community artists. Facilitated by Janet Buckland and her team, this programme consists of inspiring skills-building workshops (Vuka Workshops) which run throughout the year and culminate in the ever-popular performance platform - the “Makana Drama Development Festival”. This annual community festival is hosted in the Rhodes University Theatre by the RU Drama Department. The programme builds the capacity of local disadvantaged artists but also provides a unique opportunity – the winners of the Makana Drama Development Festival go on to perform as part of the National Lottery Fringe.


Looking ahead, Lankester feels positive that there is sufficient appetite within the Grahamstown community and amongst the contributors to the project to ensure that the “ripple effect” gains impact.

“The National Arts Festival employs upwards of 400 temporary staff each year but it is the development of skills that ensures there are long-term benefits for the community. In Grahamstown, these skills are grounded in creativity and it seems obvious that we have to produce more creative platforms for people to flex those skills and derive real economic benefit.”

To stay in touch with the National Arts Festival use the hashtag #NAF16 and follow:

This image from CuePix/Michelle Cunliffe



The National Arts Festival is grateful to the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Provincial Government, M-Net and Standard Bank of South Africa.



All media queries to:

Rabbit in a Hat Communications
Sascha Polkey
083 414 0552
021 300 0052

About National Arts Festival

The National Arts Festival is an important event on the South African cultural calendar and the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent.

The 2017 National Arts Festival runs for 11 days from 29 June - 9 July and is held in the small university city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, 130 km from Port Elizabeth.

The Festival consists of a Main and Fringe programme both administered by the National Arts Festival Office. The full programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, tours (of the city and surrounding historic places) and a children’s arts festival.

The event has always been open to all regardless of race, colour, sex or creed. As no censorship or artistic restraint has ever been imposed on works presented in Grahamstown, the Festival served as an important forum for political and protest theatre during the height of the apartheid era, and it still offers an opportunity for experimentation across the arts spectrum. Its significance as a forum for new ideas and an indicator of future trends in the arts cannot be underestimated.

The National Arts Festival is grateful to the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Provincial Government, M-Net and Standard Bank of South Africa.

National Arts Festival
National Arts Festival
PO Box 304
Grahamstown, Ec 6140
South Africa