As South Africans brood and stew over the recession, junk status and high unemployment, cynics may wonder how relevant large-scale arts showpieces such as the National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown are to the country. They might argue that the arts are a luxury and that national belt-tightening will inevitably lead to households across the socioeconomic spectrum cutting down on pursuits seen as nonessential. And let’s not even talk about the ever shrinking public and corporate funding for the arts. Of course arts lovers and practitioners will tell you that the fruits of the creative spirit are more important than ever when times are tough, and help people to dissect, discuss and make sense of their fraught reality. Ashraf Johaardien, who assumed the mantle of executive producer of the NAF’s main programme nine months ago, is a realist but still believes in the value of the arts. He says the NAF marks "high season" in Grahamstown: "It’s like Cape Town at Christmas time." It’s bo...

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