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GRAHAMSTOWN SPINOFF (article first published : 2001-07-19)

Now that Standard Bank has hosted its last national arts festival as the title sponsor, it is important to see how the local community of Grahamstown and its surroundings have benefited from Standard Bank’s major sponsorship. Over the years, the roots have penetrated deeper and further than the showcasing of art in all its forms.

The road to fame is opened in the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape by official talent-scouting and by the many chance meetings that the Festival facilitates. Every year, impresarios and arts journalists travel to Grahamstown from major centres both in South Africa and abroad to look for shows and talent.

The Standard Bank-funded Studio project is dedicated to local performers. Studio director Janet Buckland travels widely to hold auditions. This year, singing, dancing and acting troupes from as far afield as Cradock, Umtata and tiny Willowvale (between Idutywa and the Indian Ocean) all featured on The Studio programme along with artists from the Grahamstown townships.

As contributors to the Festival's main programme, each of these performers received two complimentary tickets to a show of their choice, enabling them to broaden their arts horizons.

Most Grahamstonians are extremely poor so the money turned over during the Festival is just as important as its cultural benefits. Research completed in 1997 showed that some form of income or benefit accrued to many households, adding hard value to the sense of pride which the Festival brings to even the most cash-strapped families.

The improvement in Grahamstown's marketability is indicated by the fact that more than 40 conferences have been booked for 2001. The city's extensive bed and breakfast industry started in response to the demands of festinos and continues to grow. The most significant development this year was the Umso Association headed by Thabiso Xonxa which was listed in the Festival's official booking kit, as offering township hospitality to visitors.

The power of art for urban regeneration has been demonstrated in areas like New York's Greenwich Village. By linking Grahamstown in the public perception with the arts, the Standard Bank National Arts Festival has stimulated the development of local venues, opening the way to conference business and two other national festivals - Sasol Scifest and Sanlam Future Business Week.

Now that Standard Bank has chosen to stand down as the main sponsor, surely these benefits must prove attractive to a future title sponsor?




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