Get ready for the National Arts Festival 2018. (Photo: Supplied)
Cape Town - Get your creative juices flowing as you get in gear for the 44th National Arts Festival set to take place between 28 June and 8 July.
Over 11 days, the world’s arts spotlight shifts to the small Eastern Cape city of Grahamstown, for a Festival packed with theatre, dance, visual and performance art, film, music and more.
"Catch the Standard Bank Young Artist’s as they unveil their new work. Experience riveting performances by Featured Artist, Mamela Nyamza. Reflect on the programme and expand your mind with the Festival of Film and Ideas and explore the exciting new Creativate Digital Arts Festival – where technology and creativity meet. And of course, don’t miss the Standard Bank Jazz Festival; an extraordinary expression of jazz talent from our own continent and beyond," say the Festival organisers.
Tickets will go live for booking on 2 May - click here to book and to get more information about this year's programme, accommodation options, transport and how to experience the Festival.
To avoid some serious arts #FOMO, plan a short vacay to the artsy town. Here's a starter-pack to help you get planning:
FLY OR DRIVE
South Africa’s major airports all service airlines flying to Port Elizabeth and East London. After touching down in either of these destinations, the trip to Grahamstown is about 130km. Hire a car or jump on board a shuttle. There are various tour and bus companies that provide airport shuttles and transport in and around Grahamstown - see the details in the National Arts Festival’s Hospitality Brochure here.
A drive to Grahamstown from Cape Town is 872km via the Garden Route and from Johannesburg 992km via Colesburg. Make a road trip of it and stop off to explore SA along the way.
Visitors coming from Gauteng or the Free State, should make a beeline for Smithfield. The small town hosts artists en route to the National Arts Festival for free in return for a very special sneak-peek at their shows.
FINDING A BED
Grahamstown certainly knows the drill after hosting the Festival for the last 43 years. Festival visitors can expect accommodation ranging from upmarket B&B’s to student residence rooms and self-catering houses.
Accommodation in the town fills up fast - with repeat Festival fans and artists reserving all their favourite spots well in advance.
The Festival provides a list of accommodation agents and establishments who can assist in connecting Festival-goers to their nests – download the accommodation brochure here.
The Grahamstown Hospitality Guild not only assists visitors in finding accommodation but also grades all of their members’ accommodation annually.
Going beyond, families can combine a beach holiday with their Festival by staying in nearby Port Alfred which is 57km away or Kenton-on-Sea, 59km away. This is also a good option for those on a budget with large houses available to share between groups of friends or artists.
Visitors can even blend a bit of history into their Festival experience by staying at the legendary Pig and Whistle Hotel in Bathurst - 45km.
There are also numerous game farms and farm stay options on the outskirts of Grahamstown; for these and many other options outside of the town, visit Makana Tourism, call 046 622 3241/ 046 625 1235 or visit www.sunshinecoasttourism.co.za for Port Alfred, and see www.kentontourism.co.za or call 046 648 2411 for Kenton-on-Sea.
The Festival works with local travel operators to create the Festival Hopper – which is free to use (although tips are appreciated by the drivers) – and travels from venue to venue. Cabs on Call also offer private and direct trips for one to two passengers to wherever you need to go, charged at varying prices.
BOOK YOUR TICKETS
All ticket bookings can be done via website, or through the Festival call centre on 0860 002 004. Tickets range in price, with discounts for pensioners and students. Once at the Festival, there are a number of physical box offices where visitors can purchase tickets using cash, cards or Snapscan.
First time Festival-goers might find it strange to book their flights and accommodation before seeing the programme – but they needn’t worry. There is always plenty of edgy and exciting work on the programme and lots to do in between the shows.
Known for its icy cold nights - despite the often warmer days - be sure to pack in a warm jacket and some woolly accessories. There are also lots of local spots to thaw out in, including pop-up restaurant The Long Table, sushi at Cape Town Edge and during the day, visit the ever-popular and varied options at the Village Green.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE FEEDS
Follow the Festival’s feeds and be part of the community on:
Instagram: @nationalartsfestival or #NAF17
TURN IT INTO A HOLIDAY
Make the most of being in the Eastern Cape before or after your visit to the Festival and explore these places:
Warm, sunny days are not unusual even at this time of year in the province - so don't be afraid to try taking a dip in the Indian Ocean. The Eastern Cape’s beach options offer kite-surfing, fishing, canoeing, whale spotting and bird-watching. Visit www.sunshinecoasttourism.co.za and www.kentontourism.co.za for more ideas.
The Addo Elephant National Park is famous for its elephants and provides a bush holiday escape not far from the Festival.
For a luxurious adventure check in at one of the area’s top game lodges, Pumba Game Reserve. Farm stays are another ideal option whilst enjoying the National Arts Festival, and the Hospitality Brochure lists a whole lot of farm and country stays to consider.
According to the Festival organisers, winter is considered off-season so you are sure to snap up a deal with special accommodation prices along nearby coastal towns, which are only a scenic half hour drive to Grahamstown.
"The area also boasts many backpackers. If you have the time, a trip into the Transkei is worth considering. See the Wild Coasts of South Africa and meet its warmest people along the way," adds the organisers.
For the kids
The Children’s Art Festival is held in association with St Andrew’s Preparatory School and offers supervised programmes for children from 4 – 13 years. The National Arts Festival also has a full programme of family shows on offer. "Afterwards the beach or bush options will make for a memorable adventure no matter the weather," say Festival organisers.
Take in the full beauty of the Eastern Cape and surrounding provinces with a road to that includes a few interesting stops.
The Platteland Preview is an annual event that takes place in Smithfield in the Free State just before the National Arts Festival. The small Karoo town opens its homes to artists performing at the National Arts Festival in return for some performances for the town itself.
Meander through Art Map SA’s Contemporary and Fine Arts Route for the Garden Route or get ahead of the rush and attend the Morgan’s Bay Footprints Festival (22-24 June) where you can enjoy live performances, traditional dancing and share in their vision for social cohesion.
Make a trip past Nieu Bethesda and the Owl House which is home of artist Helen Martins who, together with Koos Malgas, created a collection of sculptures embarking for the mystical East from her home and garden.
Passing through Cradock, you can visit the Olive Schreiner Museum in the home she had as a little girl .
Closer to Grahamstown, stop at Port Elizabeth to visit The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum - home to an impressive collection, ranging from British and Oriental art to international printmaking and art from the Eastern Cape.