National Arts Festival to be held virtually for second year in a row

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The updated level four lock down regulations came as a blow for the National Arts Festival, which starts in seven days in Makhanda, in the Eastern Cape.

There were plans for limited attendance and a return of festival goers to the city of Saints, but now that is no longer possible.

The organisers are falling back on last year’s plans and will be doing it all virtually and for longer. The festival will now run until the end of July, instead of July 18 as previously planned.

The festival usually attracts thousands of tourists, both nationally and internationally. The decision for it to be held virtually, again this year, has come as a disappointment for those who were counting strongly on the major economic impact this festival could have brought to the small town of Makhanda.

Anastasia Zacharellis owns a restaurant and a hotel in the area. She says a lot of people anticipated this and did not make any bookings. She says the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa came as a blow, but not a shock.

“People were holding back till the last minute and now with the announcement on Sunday, it’s all been cancelled so people have not made bookings, cancelled bookings obviously wanting refunds if they did pay. We didn’t have any inquiries. The few that we had we advised them to rather wait until closer to the time to see what was going to happen,” explains Zacharellis.

Zacharellis says the most heartbreaking part has been what this directly translates to for the workers. She says some of her employees are breadwinners and have dependents that solely rely on their income.

“In this industry we actually work day to day and there is no guarantee that we have monthly income so what we make on a daily basis is what we get to feed our staff. One staff member has to feed up to 10-15 people in a family, the government doesn’t look at they see one person and think he’s alone. But for every one person there is 10 to 15 to feed and that’s a huge impact,” Zacharellis adds.

CEO of the festival, Monica Newton, is adamant that the show must go on. She has, however, emphasised that the pandemic has also had a negative impact on the revenue, as there has been a massive drop last year, compared to other years.

“One of the difficulties about doing work online is that you are competing with so many other online events and shows like Netflix, so of cause our revenue was reduced. So we are learning across all spectrums of creative industries that you can’t replace the income from live events with online events,” Newton adds.

Despite this, Newton says, they have attracted a new audience and she is sure that they will generate income, even though it might not be as much as before.