WATCH | Pioneering the virtual transformation of Africa’s largest arts festival

National Arts Festival.
National Arts Festival.
Image: Beautiful News.

The National Arts Festival in South Africa is arguably the biggest of its kind on the continent. Since the inaugural event in 1974, it has grown into a cultural staple.

This is where creativity is worshipped, passions are ignited, and dreams come to life. Monica Newton became CEO of the annual event in 2020, and was determined to make a meaningful contribution.

But the festival she imagined wasn’t meant to be. When the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country, hosting the festival no longer seemed feasible. But Newton stood firm in the belief that the show must go on.

“We knew we couldn’t just cancel because of social distancing,” she says. “This festival is so important to the arts community.”

Spanning 11 days, the event packs thousands of performances in close to 100 venues, attracting over 200 000 attendees from across the globe.


If those numbers are impressive, so is the impact. Artists who debut on the fringe programme go on to international acclaim.

Crafters sell more in one week than they do throughout the rest of the year. For many, the festival is their one shot at success. And Newton wasn’t going to deny any of them this chance.

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While others have put large-scale events on hold, Newton and her team have redesigned the stage for the first-ever virtual National Arts Festival. “By going online, we are convinced that we will make the festival more accessible,” Newton says.

Her innovative approach has been matched by participating artists. From livestreamed theatre to virtual markets and ensembles performed in isolation, creatives have risen to the challenge.

“For artists, it means an opportunity to speak to the world, to tell their story,” Newton says.

Thanks to her  dedication, the festival’s legacy will continue. “If you believe in something enough, then there are solutions to be found,” she says.