The Grahamstown National Arts Festival kicks off at the end of June each year. It is a wonderful occasion that stands out in South Africa as a beacon for the arts. Eleven days of celebrating of all that is artsy-fartsy in this small cathedral city. I love it. I went to university there and I have not missed a festival since. But are festivals like this still relevant and sustainable?
It is the Economy You Know?
Over the years the survival of the festival has been linked to sponsors pulling out their support. Is there a return on investment for something heavily subsidised by major sponsors? Especially in the arts where there is no direct link to profits. Oh dear does this sound too cynical?
It seems that all we hear lately are words like recession, austerity measures, unemployment, unequal wealth distribution and so on. Business confidence is low and people are worried about inflation. But has anything changed? The arts are still the first to feel the brunt of these negative worldviews. After all do the arts serve any real function these days?
Well let me get to the point. Without an appreciation and support for the arts we risk losing our society to the jack-booted hordes. And please do not think for a minute that the philistines live in the hills or the bush waiting to invade the suburbs. The greatest threat to society remains all around us. In the cities, in the hallowed halls of academia and in our classrooms. Some destroy the art while others, who should know better, look away due to political correctness.
The Modern Barbarian
Cast your mind back to 2016 with students outside the University of Cape Town burning paintings in-between chats on their expensive cell phones. These were supposedly intelligent and sophisticated students. Yet they would not know art if it stood up and gave them a haircut. But whoa betide anyone who called them out as the shadow of repression clad in the politically correct clothes of the oppressed. Lest we forget it is the gift of creativity that links us to our Creator. Destruction does not.
Follow the Money
So back to the sponsors who may be forced to consider their investment in the arts. It is the freedom of the arts that reflects a free and peaceful society. This in turn makes a productive and wealthy society possible. More money means more to be invested and more good times for all concerned. So a free society steeped in culture and creativity will grow wealthier with time. More peaceful and content. And just when society grows lazy it is the artists that shake things up again. To point the finger and declare that the emperor is indeed naked.
What We Can All Do
First off we need to make sure that our education system does not completely abandon its part. I know that the world needs more scientists, maths boffins and accountants. Or so it seems since that is all I hear about. Maths. science and engineering. Well good, but no matter how hard you try you will not turn the next Pulitzer winning writer into an electrical engineer. People do not work like that. Each to their own. We cannot abandon one for the other.
Remember that society grows out of abstract ideas. This takes creative thinkers. Democracy, legal tender and so on are all ideas. Nothing more.
Arts and culture remain a pillar of civilization. Hopefully we can continue to enjoy arts festivals in the future too. More importantly let us not take them for granted. The arts are important. Perhaps more than ever.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa