Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Creative Economy & Cultures of Production, Creativity & Cultural Labour, events

Future Festivals South Africa

Dr Roberta Comunian and Dr Jonathan Gross

We are leading on a one-year project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Future Festivals South Africa: Possibilities for the Age of Covid-19 is an international collaborative project developed in collaboration with Prof Jen Snowball, Delon Tarendaal and Fiona Drummond at Rhodes University (South Africa). It aims to investigate the impact of Covid-19 on arts festivals in South Africa (SA), building a new knowledge base – and a collaborative network – to enable them to survive these challenging times, and thrive in the future. In doing so, the project is partnering with some of the country’s most important festivals and will be seeking to develop a broad and inclusive network of stakeholders. The project brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers including cultural economists, cultural policy researchers and creative labour specialists.

Data collection has already started, with maps (see fig.1) used to capture the impact of Covid-19 on the festival sector.  In 2020, approximately half of the Arts and Culture and Music festivals that occurred in 2019 were cancelled. 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 (63 events).

Fig.1 Map: The impact of Covid-19 on the festival sector

Data collection will also involve a wide range of research participants including festival organisers, creative producers, and festival audiences. Qualitative interviews and focus groups are being conducted with festival organisers and creative producers. Quantitative data will be collected with festivals’ audiences, via online surveys, exploring their patterns of cultural consumption and participation (before and since the outbreak of Covid-19). Finally, a community engagement project will be undertaken – Letters, Videos and Pictures from the Future – to gather creative contributions from stakeholders on their vision of what South African festivals should be like in the years ahead. The project aims to provide an initial understanding of the how Covid-19 has affected arts festivals in South Africa, but also to enable new ideas for the future: including new business models, and new approaches to audiences and participation.

Future Festivals South Africa

The project will build a new knowledge base, and a new network, to enable South African festivals to survive these challenging times and to thrive in the future. A knowledge sharing event, co-organised with the South Africa Cultural Observatory, will take place on Wednesday the 19th of May (11am – 12:30pm, SA time).
To register please use this link:

To keep updated on the project’s progress, please visit the website: