Leading Lady Monica Newton Redefines Arts Online

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Monday, 31st August 2020

Just days before the country entered lockdown level five, the internationally recognised National Arts Festival (NAF) made a bold transition from a live festival to a virtual one - attracting more than 82 000 people from Africa to America.

NAF CEO, Monica Newton tells us more about her courageous journey to take NAF into a successful new chapter.

"We certainly didn’t have a crystal ball but we assessed the risk of the Festival being unable to go ahead live and knew we had to make the decision fast," Newton said.

Newton believed Makhanda was not immediately ready to participate in this new online trend but they had to jump in with both feet as an attempt to weather the Covid-19 storm. 

"Necessity forced so much behavioural change over this lockdown time and for some people it has been an easy transition, an adventure even, and a chance to try new and exciting things. For other people it has been difficult to reimagine the arts online, and some have felt technology to be a barrier to their enjoyment,” Newton said.

She added that the Festival is not only an economic contributor to the town, but a lively event on the calendar that many look forward to. Newton admitted that the transition was difficult for them but a real blow to Makhanda.

Once the decision to go online was made, the eyes of the world looked upon Makhanda and the doubts alongside the not-so-easy transition took a backseat.

The Festival tracked an international audience from America, Europe, South America, Australia and other countries in Africa. Newton said it was difficult to talk about the number of people who actually watched shows on the virtual NAF because they were unable to count heads. She however said, one ticket purchased could have equated to one person watching or and the entire family. “Over 82 000 people visited the Festival site which we are very pleased with,” she added.

Looking back, Newton shared that the biggest achievement of the virtual NAF was building something new from scratch in a short space of time.

“We really had to build an entirely new Festival from scratch in just under 100 days. I am pleased that we did it though and whether the world was ready or not it simply had to happen!”

“I think this moment will change the way we digest the arts and so I’m grateful that we’ve had the first-hand chance to be part of something that is evolving,” Newton added.

She said what was important for the Festival is that there was a continuation, and after 45 years that was very important for the brand. “But beyond that, the benefits for the Festival both as a brand and for our hometown Makhanda is that we were remained visible, we pioneered and we did something exciting”.

Newton said they were heartened to see that some theatres are opening again and are coming up with interesting hybrid models to have live and online audiences. “This is a space we are watching with interest and has the potential to open up to a much broader audience model for the arts”.

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