881 Designer and owner of Afro Child label Nobuzwe Mabona showcases her designs at the Grahamstown Arts Festival. This year is the 40th anniversary of the festival. 030714. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

NATIONAL ARTS Festival stallholders and artists geared up for what they hoped would be a great weekend.

This year celebrating its 40th anniversary, the event has grown into a hodgepodge of our cultural experience – it is noisy, expensive, weird, over-politicised, magical, underfunded and arty in indefinable ways.

In addition to being the place where you find the creativity, it is also the place to buy art.

Statistics released in a socio-economic study undertaken last year by the Rhodes University economics department suggest the festival contributes R350 million to the economy of the Eastern Cape.

Visitors from outside the province spend an additional R27.3m, promoting the use of arts and culture as a marketing tool for tourism.

The festival contributes an estimated R90m to the gross domestic product of Grahamstown through spend, job creation and tourism.

While the study does not detail how much money goes to artists and crafters selling their wares, they keep returning.

One of these is Nobuzwe Mabona of Afro Child, who has come back to sell her clothing at the Fiddler’s Green Market after success last year.

Mabona sells T-shirts explaining different local greetings, as well as bags made of local fabrics.

She sees Grahamstown as an important networking opportunity.

“It was worth my while. It’s to get my name out there.”

Fine artist Alison van Zijl from Stilbaai and Mandy McKay from Cape Town are exhibiting in the Albany Science Museum.

Van Zijl has returned as an exhibitor for the third time and finds that customers seek them out.

“It does make business sense,” she said about lugging 19 paintings all the way from Stilbaai in the hope that she will sell.

If she could sell about half of her work she would deem the trip a success, she said. And already after their opening night preview, three paintings had been spoken for.

Van Zijl noted with enthusiasm how the visual arts section of the festival’s Fringe had grown over the years. “In quality I think it has gotten better and I think a lot of festival-goers come knowing they are going to see the art, both to look and buy.”

She makes a point of checking out what the Young Artist for Visual Arts does every year, finding that it spurs on her own artwork.

“It gives you a creative impetus to see their work, even if it is different to yours. You feel like you can chat to them,” she said.

“It’s interesting to see the angst the younger people are going through.

“It’s a declaration of where we are,” said Van Zijl.

• The National Arts Festival is currently on in Grahamstown and runs until next Sunday. Check www.nationalartsfestival.co.za for details and www.iol.co.za.