Grahamstown National Arts Festival
Every year hundreds of thousands of people converge on the small university city of Grahamstown for
the countries biggest annual celebrations of the arts. The Grahamstown National Arts Festival runs from
the end of June to the beginning of July for between 8 to 10 days and is the most important event on the
South African cultural calendar. Situated roughly 130 km from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, people
come from all corners of the globe to participate in and to enjoy the festival.
Grahamstown started life as a small pioneering town where British immigrants settled and began new lives.
The town is still quite small and has two internationally renowned life-bloods which continue to sustain it –
Rhodes University and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. The festival was officially inaugurated in 1974
when the 1820 Settlers National Monument was officially opened though numerous small carnivals and festivals
took place regularly in the town for about 160 years prior to this.
The Arts Festival has been held annually ever since 1976 and has grown from a one venue even to include approximately
50 venues throughout the town. The main goal of the festival was initially the furtherance of the English language but
the event has always had a much broader base. By 1974 the programmed included drama, dance, opera, music, visual art,
films, lectures and tours of the city. Today just about anything goes. From the vibrant and artistic flea-markets of
the Village Green to the more dynamic performances which take place at various locations in the city, accommodation in
the town is often fully booked for as much as six months prior to the event. It is also no longer strictly an
English-language event as Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa are also widely used. The event is multiracial and multilingual.
There is also numerous craft workshops and a children’s festival.
Simply put, the Grahamstown National Arts Festival comprises of an average of 9 days jam-packed with performances and
displays of every kind of art imaginable shown at 50 venues from the early morning to way past midnight. It is one of
the best ways to explore the amazing cultural tapestry of the country and often features shows by performing artists from
other countries. Programs can obtained from the official Arts Festival Website and tickets for many of the shows can be
booked from Computicket.