National Arts Festival picks: Free at fest

2014-06-29 15:00

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The National Arts Festival is offering a smorgasbord of awesome performances and productions, and the best part is that many of them are free. Binwe Adebayo picks the finest

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Arts Festival and while the paid performances offer a variety of options, Fest, as it is affectionately known by locals, can be equally enjoyed by exploring a range of free public events.

From open exhibitions by professional and amateur artists to daily sundowner concerts at the 1820 Monument, there is something for even the thriftiest festivalgoer.

This year the festival showcases a dazzling range of unique artistic projects from local and international artists, all of which are free to the public.

Analogue Eye is a mixed media production, curated by renowned photographer and Rhodes lecturer Brent Meistre.

The production is a mobile drive-in theatre (walk-ins watch for free) that features video works of art from 35 artists across Africa. This unique, pop-up film experience can be caught across a number of street venues.

For those who prefer a live performance, the Danish Arts Foundation presents Overture, a quirky orchestral piece that has toured 35 countries. The show relies on music and dance rather than dialogue, has gained wide acclaim and is making its South African debut this year.

The production takes place at the Oatlands schoolgrounds and the Drostdy Arch, both easy entry points into the rest of Grahamstown.

Performance art fundi and academic Ruth Simbao will showcase a silent street procession across town in her production Barongwa. The walkabout ends at the Egazini Monument, a key historical site.

This year’s festival also offers great support for local art projects.

The department of arts and culture will sponsor coverage of the region’s best arts and crafts through the Eastern Cape Provincial Handmade Collection and the East Cape Visual Arts Exhibition. Exhibitions featuring a vast range of artists – including the likes of the brilliant young Mohau Modisakeng – will also be free to the public in several venues across town.

Similarly, Wordfest will host free panel discussions, presentations and workshops for those with time to spare.

Although the official programme provides many options for free public events, much of the real magic of the Fest happens off the programme.

The Village Green, located centrally on the Rhodes University campus, provides a rest stop from the busy festival.

Populated with food stalls, seating areas and a home to busking artists, it is a must-visit. (Another must-visit of the Fest, by the way, is the annual pop-up restaurant, The Long Table.

It provides home-cooked meals at affordable prices and a good chance of sitting next to complete strangers. It is a firm favourite every year.)

Festivalgoers should take advantage of the shows that offer their first performances free. But whether you plan to buy tickets or not, you can explore the town, follow a marching band or sit in a story circle and enjoy the culture without breaking the bank.

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