New National Arts Festival Executive Producer Announced

GRAHAMSTOWN – Playwright and Arts Administrator Ashraf Johaardien has been appointed as the Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival, ​a newly created role aimed at taking South Africa's premier arts event boldly into the future.​


Johaardien, currently head of Arts and Culture at the University of Johannesburg, is no stranger to the National Arts Festival, having written, performed and produced work across the event’s Main, Fringe and Arena stages. His first appearance at the Festival was in the 1993 Fringe production “Suip!”. He has also headed the Arts and Culture Trust, and worked in theatres in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.


“Ashraf brings a wealth of experience and integrity as a respected arts administrator to the Festival team – we’re delighted that he is joining us and bringing some fresh thinking, energy and vigour to our operations,” National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester said in making the announcement. “I’m confident that he will play a vital role as we interrogate and reflect on our role as a national festival, and as we strive to maintain the excellent artistic standard set by outgoing Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed over the past eight years.”


Johaardien said: “I am an arts junkie. Nothing gets my heart racing quite like an opening night at a theatre or gallery – largely because I have a deep appreciation of the myriad forces that must be brought together to breathe life into any show. The National Arts Festival has an unrivalled reputation as the leading continental showcase of local and international creativity. To be able play a meaningful part in that is truly amazing.”


Following Mahomed’s resignation earlier this year, the Festival’s Board and Management have re-shaped the role of the Artistic Committee, giving it a greater curatorial role. 


“The role of Executive Producer emerged as being necessary to give life to the Artistic Committee’s curatorial vision, and also to build aspects of the programme that fall outside of the curation process,” Lankester said. “Ashraf’s blend of experience is a perfect match –  while he has strong artistic sensibilities of his own, he also has the vision to forge partnerships and co-production agreements for the Festival, navigating the complexities and challenges that characterise the South African arts sector.”


Commenting on the challenge of aligning artistic and curatorial freedom with the strategic needs of donors, sponsors and partners, Johaardien said, “Stewarding and brokering partnerships that create deliberate value is a lot like interpretative dance: it requires equal parts art, aptitude and heart.”


Johaardien will take up the position of Executive Producer from 1 September.


Ashraf Johaardien image credit: Jan Potgieter /


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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.



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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