Arts Alive – 20 years of excellence

Arts Alive celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with yet another successful run.

For two decades Arts Alive has been celebrating the arts. Every year, Johannesburg is transformed into an arts stage, with a diverse line-up ranging from theatre, poetry and the visual arts to music, dance and film.

This year Arts Alive kicked off with a bang, hosting the popular annual Jazz on the Lake concert featuring Lira, Maleh, Vusi Mahlasela and Thandiswa Mazwai. This year also saw the festival introduce the Dance Umbrella 2, with performances by Bailey Snyman and Dada Masilo.

We talked to Lesley Hudson, the project team leader of the Cut 2 Black Media consortium that handles Arts Alive, about the festival.

What do you think has been the key ingredient that continues to make the festival a success?

The festival has always offered a little of something for everyone. All residents in the City of Johannesburg feel included in the offering. There is also a good balance between paying events and free events. The free events offer the highest quality of performers and often mix top billing local talent with international artists.

What impact do you think the festival has on the arts scene in Johannesburg?

The Arts Alive festival definitely contributes to the perception of the city being a cultural capital. It provides an opportunity for all residents to have access to world-class performances in all genres.

How do you make sure that every year you bring something better than the previous year?

This is, of course, a huge challenge. But it is precisely this challenge that keeps the festival relevant and fresh. Two words which drive the programming. By scanning global examples and keeping a finger on the pulse of local trends, Arts Alive always manages to respond.

Attendance wise, how has the festival been doing over the years?

The festival attendance has grown steadily over the last six years. I believe it has consistently achieved a 60 000 audience figure. This year is the first time that Arts Alive has been confined to the first 10 days in September – previously it ran for the whole month. While the figures are not officially in, rough calculations show that we will meet the previous year’s figures – and in just 10 days! In terms of business, how do you assist the artists who become part of the festival maintain themselves when the festival is no longer running? This is a question that is bigger than the festival itself and talks to the city’s long-term strategy (GDS 2040). Economic empowerment and skills development are a critical part of this strategy. The festival spend is at least 30% on emerging and small businesses. There is also a mentorship programme.

Would you say the festival opens up doors for the artists?

Yes. Arts Alive prides itself in spotting talent before it has been recognised elsewhere. The stages of the festival always have new talent. Our formula is to attract audiences by headlining them with already-known names and then exposing new talent.