Bhisho fills arts festival funding gap

The National Arts Festival was rescued from a R10-million cash crunch.

The Eastern Cape government has stepped in to rescue the National Arts Festival from a R10-million cash crunch caused by Lotto changing its funding rules, writes Mike Loewe.

This was revealed by festival chief executive Tony Lankester before the traditional media briefing yesterday – often regarded as the first public opening of the largest arts extravaganza in Africa.

He said Lotto had changed the rules about when organisations could apply for funding.

“They said organisations could only apply for funds 12 months after their previous application and payment,” Lankester said.

[pullquote]“They said organisations could only apply for funds 12 months after their previous application and payment,” Lankester said.[/pullquote]

Despite their applying way in advance last year, the festival’s R10-million Lotto money was only paid in the third quarter of the year, meaning the festival had already been held.

The new Lotto rules, designed to prevent organisations from applying twice a year, were intended to introduce a cooling off period, Lankester said.

But this also meant the festival would miss an entire year of Lotto money this year.

He said Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle, when told about the funding glitch, had immediately stepped in and sourced enough money to cover the shortfall – and more.

Arts and Culture MEC Pemmy Majodina told the media that when they heard about the Lotto problem, “we did not want [the] festival to fall on its face, so the Office of the Premier beefed [funding] up to R12-million”.

She said the government was happy to do so because this was one of the best festivals and it created employment.

The festival had undergone transformation over its 43 years.

It now drew vast numbers of visitors, and gave emerging and professional talent a platform.

Majodina said the provincial arts and culture department gave R3.6-million, the Office of the Premier R9-million and the national arts and culture department R5-million, providing a total of R17.6-million in government funding.

Festival spokeswoman Sascha Polkey said the festival drew 225 634 arts lovers last year.

Majodina said the festival had an economic spinoff for the province worth R377-million, while Grahamstown would earn R94-million this year.

The festival was dedicated to former ANC president Oliver Tambo who, Majodina said, “was a fine cultural person, who conducted choral music and acted in dramas”.

“All our ducks are in a row to deliver this 11 amazing days,” she said.

“We acknowledge the drought but we have plans to deal with shortages.

“Electricity is under control. We have capacity to ensure we do not [have a] blackout.”

Chippa United players and coaches would be holding soccer clinics at a festival-linked Junior Soccer League which would launch in Grahamstown.

“They must scout and unearth talent,” Majodina said.

Lankester said this year’s festival theme, the art of disruption, emerged from conversations with artists.

“Over the next 11 days, not a single performer will be jailed for what they say on stage, as long as they do not violate the constitution or engage in hate speech,” he said.

“Despite the gloomy economy, our artists will be here. There has been no decline in productions and artists.”

Lankester praised the audiences for their stamina and openness.

“Sometimes what our artists are doing is hugely experimental, yet we have very few walkouts,” he said.

“Most South Africans will sit it out and listen. We listen a lot. That is a great strength.”

“This [festival] is a national treasure for all the hidden work it does in building the fabric of society.”