South African Cultural Observatory

Join Future Festivals South Africa to map new possibilities for Festivals in the Age of Covid-19

BY Prof Jen. Snowball 17.12.20

Festivals have been one of the sectors most affected by Covid-19 globally. Arts and culture festivals provide all kinds benefits to host economies, artistic producers, and to audiences, and have been increasing in number worldwide and in South Africa. Festivals provide important platforms for artists and performers to showcase new work, network with potential sponsors and future creative partners, connect with audiences, build their reputation and earn some income. For audiences, festivals can be spaces of experimentation and learning, as well as opportunities for entertainment, meeting new people, and building inter-cultural understanding.

In economic terms, festivals contribute to livelihoods and local economic development of host cities. A recent national mapping study of the South African creative economy showed that the “Performance and Celebration” domain, which includes all live music, performance arts, and festivals, grew at a faster annual rate (3.4%) than the rest of the economy (1.1%) between 2016 and 2018 (SACO Mapping Study, 2020).

Early research on the impact of the COVID-19 shut-down on the creative economy showed that the Performance and Celebration domain (which includes all live music, performance arts, and festivals), was the hardest hit sector in the creative economy.

In response to the pandemic and the sector’s fast-changing needs, researchers from King’s College London and Rhodes University have launched a new research initiative: Future Festivals South Africa: Possibilities for the Age of Covid-19 (www.future-festivals.org) in partnership with the South African Cultural Observatory.

This international collaborative project is funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council. It aims to investigate the impact of Covid-19 on arts festivals in South Africa – and to support festivals in surviving these challenging times, and to thrive in the future.

Part of the work of the Future Festivals South Africa project is to track the impact of the lockdown and social distancing measured put in place, as well as the adaptation strategies used by festivals that did continue. Of the cultural festivals we have mapped so that, , only 43 out of 74 that ran in 2019, took place in 2020. Adaptation strategies included postponement, having smaller "pop-up" mini events , moving online to have a "virtual" digital festival , or a hybrid (online and "live") event .

The outcomes of this initial mapping are available on the project website http://www.future-festivals.org/  and feedback from festival organisers is welcomed. 

In addition to researching specific festivals, the project will be running some online seminars and workshops that will be used to share research findings, and hear how festival producers and creatives have adapted to the lockdown conditions, and their plans for the future.

If you work as a manager of an arts and culture festival in South Africa, we would like to hear from you!

Please email futurefestivalssouthafrica@gmail.com to be invited to take part in the project research activities and network. If you simply want to keep up to the date with the research project, register on this mailing list and you will receive regular updates.

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