A DYNAMIC new initiative which will see Nelson Mandela Bay incorporated to a far greater degree in the National Arts Festival was unveiled in the metro yesterday.
The move – which has been hailed by the metro arts community – is seen as a major boost for the performing and visual arts in both the city and the Eastern Cape as a whole.
It also affirms for the first time that the Bay is not utilised as the "gateway" to the festival as it should be.
The new partnership – the birth of which occurred over a dinner table last year – has been cemented between festival organisers and the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA).
It will see many events being "fed" through Port Elizabeth and its surrounding areas and will allow artists from the region to "walk under a bigger spotlight" at this year's National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, organisers said.
"The majority of artists coming to the festival come through Port Elizabeth so it is in effect the gateway to the festival, but it has in fact not been profiled as such in a very strong way," the festival's artistic director Ismail Mahomed said at the refurbished Little Theatre at the Athenaeum where the agreement was signed yesterday.
In fact, the Little Theatre will be one of the first beneficiaries of the project which will consider ways in which Fringe productions can also stage their work at the intimate venue.
"This is a dynamic collaboration and partnership which already this year will see 40 to 50 violinists from Port Elizabeth travel to Grahamstown and be fully part of the festival experience," Mahomed said.
The musicians from the Port Elizabeth Youth Violin Project will participate in a "Festival Encounter" which, Mahomed said, would see them performing at a prime venue and be given the opportunity of attending other festival concerts.
Welcoming the initiative, MBDA chief executive Pierre Voges said the partnership would prove a huge boost for the Bay which had so much to offer in terms of the arts, its heritage and its youth.
Voges used the example of AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh about "not sitting in the corner of a forest and waiting for people to come to you, but rather going to fetch the people you need to find".
Mahomed said with so many ongoing inspiring cultural developments in the Bay, the partnership was "crucial to profile the creative economies of Port Elizabeth and its surrounding areas to a captive audience of passionate art lovers who come via Port Elizabeth to the festival from all over South Africa and the world".
"This is a major step towards positioning Port Elizabeth as a mainstream player in the South African arts sector."
MBDA planning and development manager Dorelle Sapere said the partnership marked the culmination of a three-year programme of investment in the arts through the implementation of Route 67, a public art driven tourism infrastructure project.
"The agency is committed to supporting the growth of the creative economy of the metro as a tool for urban renewal and place-making."
The group of young Bay violinists travelling to the fest will also attend a workshop led by 2010 Young Artist Award winner Samson Diamond and other musicians. In addition, at least one major arts project from Port Elizabeth will be presented on the festival's Main programme.