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Sharjah Waterfront. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sharjah Waterfront. Picture: SUPPLIED

The National Arts Festival recently added a new event after they were contracted by Shurooq, the trade and investment arm of the Sharjah government, to co-produce the Sharjah Fringe Festival in the United Arab Emirates city.

“We’re taking our core competency — organising and staging wide-scale festivals — and packaging it as a marketable asset. The strategy is to develop multiple income streams for the National Arts Festival so that we can ensure its sustainability,” says its CEO, Tony Lankaster.

“It will give us the space to attract and retain some of the best staff we can, people who may want to work on events year-round and not just seasonally.”


The National Arts Festival created the Cape Town Fringe Festival  in 2013. It ran from 2015 to 2017, expanding from the city into partner venues in Khayelitsha, Delft, Nyanga, Woodstock and Athlone. It was not held in 2018 due to a funding shortage, but will return in 2019.

The Cape Town Buskers Festival was born out of the Cape Town Fringe and is now a standalone event. The third annual Buskers Festival was at the V&A Waterfront until last week and featured buskers from all over the world.

“Having run an iconic festival for 40 years and created a new festival from scratch, we are able to bring some best practice to the table,” says Lankester.

The Sharjah Fringe Festival in January 2020 will focus on providing the best children’s and family theatre. Dolphin Entertainment, an international street theatre network directed by Stuart Every and based in Dubai, will produce the street theatre component of the Sharjah Fringe.

“Street theatre, or busking, is a joyous, wonderful, family friendly form of entertainment that is a vital component of any arts festival. It adds colour, life, excitement, vibrancy to a festival programme and is wonderfully photogenic and shareable across social media.”

The Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority has identified culture as a key to achieving  its goal of attracting 10-million tourists by 2021.  “The festival event is expected to result in a further influx of tourists to the emirate, thereby paving the way for more vibrant local tourism sector and growth of businesses associated to tourism and hospitality,” says authority chair Khalid Jasim Al Midfa.

All the major and minor details of the event — from building venues, hiring equipment, designing and printing programmes, building and running websites, box offices and social media campaigns — will be the responsibility of the National Arts Festival. The Al Majaz Waterfront will be the event's hub.

“They are taking a long term view on the project. Festivals in Edinburgh, Makhanda [formerly known as Grahamstown], Adelaide and elsewhere all make massive contributions to their local economy and contribute to tourism. But none of those happened overnight,” says Lankester.

As a member organisation of the World Fringe Alliance, the National Arts Festival will  draw on their global pool of fringe talent.  There will be many opportunities for South African artists and art administrators at the Sharjah Fringe. 

“Many of the technicians we’ll be using in Sharjah will be South Africans that we have developed and worked with over the years, and used at our events at home,” says Lankester.

“There will also be opportunities for South African businesses to get a look in and we look forward to building a formidable team of entrepreneurs who will help us pull this event off in 2020 and beyond.”


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