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What Ashraf Johaardien’s New Role Means for NAF 2017

Talking to Creative Feel, Ashraf Johaardien outlines his ‘Balancing Act’ and what it will mean to the performers and the changing NAF audience of the future.

The recently appointed executive producer of the National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown, Ashraf Johaardien, playwright and arts administrator, is excited by the challenges this newly created role will bring to his artistic and administrative life.

This new role at the National Arts Festival is meant to give life to the artistic committee’s curatorial vision while also building aspects of the programme that fall outside of the curation process. A challenge of aligning artistic and curatorial freedom with the strategic needs of donors, sponsors and partners.

I have always been somebody who likes to work within a team and brokering partnerships that create deliberate value is a lot like interpretative dance: it requires equal parts art, aptitude and heart.

Says Johaardien: ‘We have a core of well established festival visitors and we must make sure that we keep looking after them while at the same time making sure that the future audience is embraced, nurtured and guided. We need to help the young inexperienced performers who have worked so hard to bring their production to the Fringe getting all the possible help. To have your work performed or performing at the National Arts Festival is still a real honour and privilege for an artist and always should be.’

Current Chairperson of the Artistic Committee, Brett Bailey, further elaborated on the changes that have taken place behind the scenes for the National Arts Festival. A decision was made ‘to create a space in which committee members could stretch their curatorial wings, and the National Arts Festival could have a programme compiled by diverse minds. We have a new artistic committee of deeply engaged artists and cultural workers who are bent on rejuvenating the NAF and orienting it to meet the challenges and demands of our times.’

‘The committee is divided into four genres – theatre, dance, music and visual arts – and we have appointed a member representing each of these genres to curate the 2017 programme around the theme “The Art of Disruption”: Samson Diamond on the music programme, Warona Seane on the theatre programme, and Ernestine White and Gregory Maqoma on the visual arts and dance programmes respectively. The curators will change every year, with different constellations of committee members responding to the submissions that we receive, and to the themes that emerge. I believe it will make for a stimulating space in which audiences can engage both with the minds of these curators and the works that they select.’

Talking to him about balancing the future, seeing his enormous enthusiasm for the arts and the unique arts festival in Grahamstown, the endless possibilities his new position brings with it, one can only agree with Johaardien’s initial statement after the confirmation of his appointment: ‘The National Arts Festival has an unrivalled reputation as the leading continental showcase of local and international creativity. To be able play a meaningful part in that is truly amazing.’

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