The KKNK was one of the first South African festivals to make the decision to cancel their live festival event in 2020 and to shift online to a virtual festival format in 2020 and 2021. The virtual 2020 KKNK offered a comprehensive programme including theatre, dance, music, a virtual art gallery, poetry and artist discussions. To account for restrictions on travel, the KKNK introduced short films to their festival content along with a number of online community projects. With physical location and timeframes no longer an issue in the online environment, festival activities were offered throughout the year. In 2021 with safety concerns around live gatherings and lockdown restrictions still in place, the KKNK continued with the virtual festival format as their main offering and also hosted some small COVID-compliant live events for a hybrid festival format. To increase the accessibility of online theatre shows, the KKNK has partnered with VIA, an Afrikaans television channel available to subscribers, to air four theatre productions.
Marketing poster for KKNK Oraloor (everywhere), the 2021 virtual edition of the KKNK. The festival attempted to reach audiences wherever they were and content would be accessible “on television, on the silver screen and even in the palm of your hand”
Data were collected via an online audience survey, focus groups discussions with festival organisers and sponsors, and a “Letters from the Future” project.
64% of the survey respondents had attended the KKNK 4 or more times before, highlighting that the festival was able to retain a large portion of the loyal audience during the transition to an online medium. The festival also managed to attract new audience members (14%) who had not attended any form of the KKNK prior to 2021. During 2020, the most popular event attend at the virtual KKNK was the Virtual Art Gallery (60%) whereas in 2021, theatre (76%) and music productions (65%) were the most attended events by the survey respondents. Most of the events were rated as “good” or “excellent”. 82% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that the KKNK helped them better understand and enjoy arts and culture within a South African context.
The website received the most “excellent” ratings (41%), which is a good sign since the KKNK invested in updating their website to enhance performance and end-user experience. This was one of the strengths of the KKNK’s virtual adaptation compared to some other South African festivals who struggled with their websites. However, it should be remembered that the digital divide in South Africa means that it is difficult for audiences and artists to make the shift to online participation in arts festivals.
Audience Ratings of Festival Events/Components
66% of the respondents preferred the live face-to-face event more than the online pre-recorded or streamed event, a finding that is consistent across festivals participating in this research – although there are benefits of online events, there is no replacement for live festivals. Additionally, we can compare attendance between the last two editions of the festivals which were both online. There was some online audience development which built on the success of the 2020 online festival as 55% of respondents were newcomers to the online edition of the KKNK in 2021, and 33% were repeat attendees, having attended both online editions of the festival. This indicates a generally positive reaction amongst the survey participants to the KKNK’s online festival editions. However, there is a preference for the live festival as 12% of respondents attended the 2020 festival and chose to not attend in 2021.
Focus group discussions with Festival organisers and sponsors revealed the huge disruption that COVID-19 caused, but also the great opportunity it provided for innovation and rethinking the core vision and purpose of the KKNK. The shift to an online format was a way to maintain business continuity and provide work opportunities for artists, but there was also concern about the impact of this strategy on the host city, and a desire to still be able to contribute economically to the town of Oudtshoorn and bring people together for social cohesion and connectivity purposes. The close relationship and collaborative approach to the KKNK adaptation strategy has been unique amongst the festivals participating in this research, with input from festival organisers, the local community, and sponsors.
In both the 2020 and 2021 editions of the festival, there is a strong theme of community and connectivity as the KKNK attempted to move beyond a passive viewing of artistic works by including a number of online community activities. These were designed to connect people and inspire them to be creative during a difficult time by making art in multiple forms such as crochet and poetry. An online international programme for artists to collaborate was also introduced. Lastly, in 2021, a virtual version of Oudtshoorn was created where online visitors could ‘walk’ through the town and recreate a live festival experience.
In both online festival editions, there has been a focus on quality. This is important for an online festival as they are competing with a lot of other online content, some of which is free. The festival offering thus needed to be of a high technical quality as well as being new and exciting in order to tempt audiences and to cut through screen fatigue. This also helped with the monetization of festival content which is something that many of the festivals participating in this research have struggled with.
The KKNk’s primary sponsor has been closely collaborating with the management team to continue to support the festival. They stated that their motivation to continue to provide support to a festival, where they cannot reap the usual return on investment through marketing and promotion at the live event, is based on supporting creative communities, Oudtshoorn communities and audiences while having the opportunity to be a part of something new with the potential to innovate. While there has been a decline in festival finances, the innovative business models adopted by the KKNK, and the ongoing loyalty of sponsors has helped the festival to manage. However, as with all festival partners in the Future Festival South Africa research, longer-term financial sustainability and content monetisation remain a challenge.
The “Letters from the Future” project received submissions from artists, audiences, festival organisers and sponsors. Participants used the opportunity to imagine what the KKNK 2030 edition would be like. Themes included reflections on live versus digital experiences and how these could become intertwined in the future; new ways of using technology to transform the overall KKNK experience and make the festival easier to navigate; the role the festival plays in connectedness, inclusion and togetherness; as well as how the festival relates to its environment in terms of being green and performance spaces expanding into nature. A wide range of values associated with the KKNK were articulated. Some imagined futures were pessimistic (where some important attributes of the festival had been lost), but most were optimistic, imagining a festival, and a country, that was inclusive, progressive, and thriving, although sometimes different from what had been done in the past. These letters from the future offered a wide range of visions of the KKNK 2030 – indicating the many types of value that the festival has (and could have) for its diverse audiences, artists, and communities.
The KKNK has tried to remain true to their mission in their virtual festival adaptation strategy by supporting the arts and artists, providing quality content, supporting communities and promoting social cohesion. Through this process, the KKNK have innovated with the content they offer and the virtual platforms they use in terms of content delivery and moving beyond a passive viewing experience. The space to be creative and innovative has been an unexpected positive aspect of the pandemic.
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The NAF was one of the first festivals in South Africa to move completely online to a virtual festival format in 2020, and to attempt a hybrid approach in 2021. However, just 10 days before the 2021 festival was due to start, South Africa entered into a strict lockdown that did not allow for live audiences. The NAF quickly regrouped and took the entire festival online with recorded and live-streamed performances. Since the planning and implementation of a hybrid approach to a festival has already been figured out, this should stand the NAF in good stead for future hybrid festivals as South Africa recovers from COVID-19. The NAF’s experience also illustrates the importance of flexibility in planning to be able to adapt quickly to changing situations.
To collect information on how the NAF has navigated the crisis, research methods included online focus group discussions with festival organisers, an online audience survey, an analysis of Google Analytics website activity data, and a “Letters from the Future” project.
Audience responses to the online editions of the NAF were mostly positive: 45% of respondents rated the NAF between 8 and 10 out of 10 for overall experience in 2021. The NAF tends to have a loyal audience as 57% of respondents reported having been to 4 or more previous editions of the festival and continuing to support the NAF in their online transition. There is also some evidence that the NAF succeeded in building new audiences: 25% of respondents said they were attending for the first time or had been only once before.
Survey respondents tended to enjoy the 2021 virtual NAF as the majority of ratings were in the “good” or “excellent” categories for most components. While generally quite similar, younger festinos gave higher ratings to the Fringe Live, Exhibitions, Workshops and Webinars and the Eastern Cape Showcase (although note the small number of responses in the latter 3 categories), while older festinos rated Livestream and Jazz more highly.
Audience ratings of Festival components
Respondents were also asked to indicate which aspects of the National Arts Festival Online Experience they had particularly enjoyed or not enjoyed. The majority of festinos (79%) said that they enjoyed being able to participate in the Festival from home, without having to travel. Smaller groups said that they appreciated having to pay less for tickets (32%); being able to move quickly and easily between shows and events (29%); and not having to “dress up and go to see shows and events” (28%).
Aspects of the Online Festival that were enjoyed
In terms of aspects that were not enjoyed, nearly three-quarters of respondents said that they missed the “excitement and vibe of going to a live event” (74%), and that they missed the experiential aspects - “the sense of connection to performers and artists that you get at a live event” (73%). Smaller groups missed being able to “socialise and party with friends and fellow festival-goers” (49%), not being able to experience the food and drinks on offer (39%); and not being able to travel to a new place (30%). Only 13% reported that they had struggled with the technology in accessing online content.
More than half (57%) of respondents felt that they definitely preferred the live event; 26% said that they liked the live event, but that the online edition of the Festival was also fun. Much smaller groups said that they liked some aspects of the online event more than the live event (14%) or that they definitely preferred the online event (3%). These results imply that, while there is definite potential for hybrid events, most respondents miss the experiential aspects of attending a live Festival and would want to return to that in the future, at least in part. Accessibility is also increased by having online events, though this is hampered by the digital divide in South Africa.
Finally, respondents were asked to rate their National Arts Festival Experience 2021 overall on a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 meant “very bad” and 10 meant “excellent”. As shown in the figure, ratings were generally good, with 45% of respondents rating their overall experience as an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10 (good to excellent). 32% of respondents rated their experience as a 6 or 7 out of 10 (fair to good); and 23% rated it as 5 or below (fair to poor). For those who rated the overall Festival as 1 to 5, the most common reason was because of the difficulty in navigating the website.
Overall ratings of National Arts Festival Experience
However, there was a marked reduction in NAF online activity between 2020 and 2021 as an analysis of Google Analytics data showed. This may be because of other events at the time of the 2021 festival edition (such as the social unrest in some provinces in South Africa, an increase in COVID-19 lockdown level, and the Olympic games), but may also be because of general “screen fatigue”. The much higher bounce rate in 2021 may also indicate that aspects of the NAF website user experience could be improved.
In terms of audience behaviour, online audience views of 2020 shows built up over the first few days of the festival to peak at day 10, before steadily decreasing again. The decrease beyond the first ten days of each festival is to be expected, since the NAF has always been a 10-day event, and livestreamed content was available during this time. Insights from the daily popularity of the site allows festival organisers to deduce when the site is most active and to use this information to schedule livestreams to optimize viewership and revenue generation. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were the most popular days for both 2020 and 2021. Hourly data for both years shows that the visitors peak between 7pm and 9pm and dip between 3am and 5am. Given these patterns, it would be ideal for festival organisers to schedule livestreams from Thursdays to Sundays between 7pm and 9pm for optimal viewership.
The online environment does offer the potential for the NAF to reach more international audiences. 80% of the visitors in 2020 came from South Africa and this decreased to 75% in 2021. For both 2020 and 2021 most foreign visitors came from the United States and the United Kingdom.
As with almost all South African festivals who moved to an online format, monetization of content was a challenge, and the festival relied on public and private sponsors in order to continue. The fall in income generated from ticket sales and spending data reflect a general challenge with online cultural events: that monetising the content is difficult. This may be because of falling household incomes during the pandemic, but the relatively high-income levels of most respondents cast doubt on this explanation. Other reasons for lower online spending could be the very high levels of competition and variety in online content, much of which is provided for free on platforms like YouTube, or at very low prices on OTT services like Netflix. It may also be that online content, which in many cases audiences are used to being able to access for free, is not perceived as having the same value as an in-person experience.
The change in format to include online and hybrid festival events necessitated a huge investment in skills and a steep learning curve for managers, artistic directors and creatives. A key factor management had to keep in mind was their reason for adapting and why they were continuing to produce a festival during a global pandemic. For many festivals, including the NAF, supporting festival stakeholders like artists and technical crews has been an important motivation. The NAF took on a collaborative role, supporting artists in their production of online content by providing access to recording studios, workshops and webinars.
The COVID-19 pandemic, although devastating, has acted as an opportunity in disguise to re- evaluate and redesign the NAF. Using the metaphor of a tree, the NAF organisers discuss the need for a “hard prune” to cut away what no longer works and re-grow the festival by introducing new components and re-thinking the festival format and offering so that it is sustainable in the long-run and functions as a healthy tree. Though a difficult process, the pandemic has prompted several festivals interviewed for this research to refocus on their core mission, aims and objectives. For the NAF, the heart of the festival resides in Makhanda. This has become apparent to festival organises through the pivot to an online festival where there is a feeling that so much of what makes a festival was lost.
The futuring project sought to provide festival audiences, artists, and organisers with the opportunity to step back and imagine what the NAF could be like in 2030. Many of the scenarios imagined ways in which online and mobile technology and applications could be used to increase the accessibility, collaboration and inclusivity of the future NAF. Interestingly, the physical location of the festival remained important (“the heart of the festival”), and ways of building on its historical context and sense of African identity while expanding its reach was a recurring theme.
Still image of the NAF portal created by artists blk banaana (Duduetsang Lamola) and Francois Knoetze representing ideas from the Letters from the Future. This interactive world acts as a portal for the further imagining of the NAF and can be explored at https://seekbeak.com/v/35ze4nP91An
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The Cape Town Carnival, established in 2010, is a street parade that showcases and celebrates the diversity of Cape Town and South Africa. Although the parade is the highlight, the Carnival works with creative professionals and local communities throughout the year to develop the costumes, music and dances that make up the event.
In this report, the Future Festivals South Africa team explores how the carnival has changed and adapted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, tracking the Cape Town Carnival's evolution from 2020 to 2021.
The Cape Town Carnival had to cancel their annual street parade just days before it was due to be held in March 2020. The organising team refocused on their core purpose to "ignite joy and unity through creativity" which proved crucial to their success as it inspired their adaptations and helped them to persevere through the challenges of designing a new Covid-safe carnival format. In 2020, the Carnival shifted to an online format that allowed them to continue working with creatives and community groups, and then designed a scalable hybrid event for 2021.
The Cape Town Carnival has shown that flexibility is key in adapting to Covid-19. They have positioned themselves well for the future with stronger community bonds in place and a more diverse range of business models that includes scalable live and virtual elements.
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Researchers from the Future Festival team are involved in two dissemination events in the coming weeks.
Prof Jen Snowball will talk at the 8th edition of DUT’s Faculty of Arts and Design Digital Festival (DigiFest08) that will be held as a virtual event from 19th to 21st October 2021. This event, themed UNMASKED, will promote collaborative practices (creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship) in art, design, and technology. She will contribute to the panel The new possibilities of digital festivals due to the pandemic
Dr Roberta Comunian and Mr Delon Tarentaal are contributing to the Association for Cultural Economics International online seminar series this Tuesday 26 October, 2021 / 16:00 Central European Time during a Mini-symposium on ‘Cultural festivals in an era of C19: New Research Agendas and Data Sources’
Prof Jen Snowball, Rhodes University, South Africa
Prof Ian Woodward, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
Dr Roberta Comunian, King’s College, London, United Kingdom
Mr Delon Tarentaal, Rhodes University, South Africa
For more information http://culturaleconomics.org/about/seminar/
What does the future hold?
Take a stance and stand a chance to win - prizes of R60 000 are up for grabs. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, festivals from all over the world need to think anew, this includes the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK). Write us a letter from the future and tell us how you see the KKNK in 2030. Voice notes, videos or sketches can be submitted instead of a letter.
Please click below to participate:
Droom Saam oor die Toekoms van die KKNK
Hoe lyk die toekoms?
Waag 'n mening en staan 'n kans om te wen - pryse van R60 000 is op die spel. Weens die Covid-19 pandemie moet feeste van regoor die wêreld nuut dink, dit sluit die Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) in. Skryf vir ons 'n brief uit die toekoms en vertel hoe jy die KKNK in 2030 sien. Stemnota's, video, of sketse kan in plaas van 'n brief ingedien word.
Klik asseblief hieronder om deel te neem:
What will the National Arts Festival be like in 2030?
Future Festivals South Africa is working with the National Arts Festival as a research partner to ask about the future of festivals in South Africa.
Artists blk banaana (Duduetsang Lamola) and Francois Knoetze have created an interactive 360 world including public contributions of imaginary spaces, places and people which could form part of the National Arts Festival ten years from now.
This interactive world acts as a portal for the further imagining of the National Arts Festival ten years from now. We welcome new contributions towards this project in any format, for example: a photograph or scan of small collages created from home, a letter, an idea, a poem, a voice note or a sound recording.
Be free and imaginative with your contributions!
Explore the portal and contribute to the imagining the National Arts Festival 2030
The Buyel’Ekhaya Pan African Music Festival started in 2009 and is held annually in mid-December in East London, Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality in the Eastern Cape province.
In this report, the Future Festival South Africa team explores how the festival has changed and adapted due to the Covid-19 pandemic , writing on Buyel’Ekhaya’s 2020 virtual festival edition.
In 2020 Buyel’Ekhaya was televised. Though there were a number of challenges including having to navigate a change into producing a festival for television, the viewership figures of just over 400 000 people show that Buyel’Ekhaya successfully made the jump into the virtual festival format. Buyel’Ekhaya have positioned themselves well for the future with a number of business models open to them which include live and virtual elements.
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Cultural festivals have been one of the hardest hit parts of the creative economy in the COVID-19 lockdowns. But, this is also a sector that has adapted in many innovative and exciting ways. On the 19th of May 2021 we hosted, in collaboration with the SA Cultural Observatory a workshop to facilitate knowledge sharing and discussed some preliminary results. We also hear directly from festival organisers themselves about the challenges and opportunities SA festivals face.
The video of the workshop is available here below for anyone who was not able to attend.
Feel free to use the forum to share your questions and ideas!
Chair: Mr Mboneni Mulaudzi (SA Cultural Observatory)
An introduction to the project: Dr Roberta Comunian and Prof Jen Snowball (Download presentation)
· Mapping the impact of Covid-19 on SA Festivals: Fiona Drummond
· Learning about new audiences using online data: Delon Tarentaal
· Thinking of new possible futures: Dr Jonathan Gross
Learning from new practices: Inputs from SA Festivals
·Suidoosterfees (Download Presentation)
· Cape Town Carnival (Download Presentation)
· Buyel’Ekhaya (Download Presentation)
Questions and discussion
Cultural festivals have been one of the hardest hit parts of the creative economy in the COVID-19 lockdowns. But, this is also a sector that has adapted in many innovative and exciting ways!
Join the SA Cultural Observatory and the international Future Festivals SA research team to see some preliminary results and to hear directly from festival organisers themselves about the challenges and opportunities SA festivals face.
Date: Wednesday the 19th of May
Time: 11am – 12:30pm (SA time)
The Meeting Link for pre-registration:
Meeting: 816 9414 2124
The Future Festivals South Africa project has been mapping the South African festivals landscape and how it has been impacted by COVID-19 shutdown. With COVID-related social distancing measures unlikely to ease to allow large in-person gatherings in 2021, festivals continue to be hard hit by the pandemic. Of the 214 cultural festivals that we mapped for 2019, only 116 took place in 2020.
Of the 214 festivals that occurred in South Africa in 2019, the largest groups were mixed Arts and Culture festivals (43%) and Music festivals (38%), with smaller numbers of Film (9%), Literary (8%) and Comedy (2%) festivals. In 2020, approximately half of the Arts and Culture and Music festivals that occurred in 2019 were cancelled. However, Film, Literary and Comedy festivals adapted quite well to the restrictions, mainly by pivoting to online “virtual” festival formats. With only 28 festivals having occurred before lockdown, adaptation strategies included having smaller, in-person live events that complied with lockdown regulations (17 festivals), a hybrid (online and "live") event (7 festivals) or moving online to have a "virtual" digital festival, which was the most popular response (64 events).
The Western Cape hosted 93 festivals in 2019, making it the largest festival hosting province. Gauteng was the next largest hosting province with 54 festivals, followed by KwaZulu-Natal (22 festivals) and the Eastern Cape (16 festivals). The remaining five provinces all hosted fewer than 10 festivals each. In 2020, the Western Cape (50 festivals) and Gauteng (33 festivals) remained the largest hosting provinces. KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape also faired quite well hosting 14 and 8 festivals respectively. The Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape each hosted less than 5 festivals while all festivals the North West were cancelled.
As the COVID-19 situation in South Africa continues to evolve, the Future Festivals South Africa project will map the 2021 festival responses to the pandemic.