TRADITIONAL TAKE: The Eastern Cape Ensemble is among a host of heritage shows at the festival.
Grahamstown has been a hive of activity for weeks with residents, workmen and National Arts Festival employees toiling tirelessly to ready this Eastern Cape city for its popular annual Arts Festival.

Streams of visitors started arriving when the 44th annual festival opened on Thursday.

With scores of shows being staged - from dance spectaculars, intimate gatherings, provocative theatre, comedy and traditional Eastern Cape heritage performances, enticing free shows on the village green and dozens of art exhibitions - the festival finally got under way.

Visitors are being welcomed with banners, massive displays of posters advertising a myriad choices of shows and colourful bunting.

And from patching roads and filling potholes to clean-up campaigns initiated by the local schools (many of which are venues for the shows), there has been a lot going on behind the scenes to accommodate all the festivalgoers.

“We have been encouraged by the proactive way in which a group of businesses, committed government officials and some of our energetic residents have united to get involved in making Grahamstown a city we can all be proud of,” said National Arts Festival chief executive Tony Lankester.

A fund-raising auction recently raised R500000 for Makana Revive, a private citizen-led initiative to rehabilitate the city. The money is being used to cover a percentage of the costs attached to the work that needs to be done.

Richard Gaybba, spokesperson for Makana Revive and chairperson of the Grahamstown Business Forum, said: “We’ve recently seen an influx of funding and the opening of channels between business and government.

"While big projects such as road repairs and the replacement of the town’s ageing water and sewerage infrastructure are being rolled out, there is a hive of citizen activity as the people of Grahamstown roll up their sleeves”

“This is not a flash in the pan or a cosmetic lift for the festival alone,” Lankester said. “Grahamstown has had its challenges over the years, but its residents and businesses have decided to tackle them head-on. There is good energy in our city and we look forward to sharing our progress.”

The National Arts Festival contributes R94.4million to the economy of Grahamstown and R377.1m to the Eastern Cape economy.

On average, visitors to the festival stay for six days, according to a study, The Impact of the 2016 National Arts Festival, by Snowball & Antrobus.