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Sunday, August 6, 2017


The Hilton Arts Festival, running from September 15 to 17, would not be functional if it were not for the generous support of a myriad cash and in-kind sponsors.

Festival Director Sue Clarence elaborates: “Throughout ages art has only survived through patronage and support. If it wasn’t for sponsorship the festival simply would not exist.

“We are hugely indebted to our wonderful and loyal sponsors: Hilton College whose support is in the form of a sponsor in kind offering rent-free use of its property and buildings; Grindrod Bank pledge a cash donation which enables the main theatre to function; Black Coffee who, in association with DWR, provide all lighting, sound and staging for the nine different venues and for art tents. This includes the main theatre which owns very little of its own equipment. Theirs is an amazing feat of generosity and an ongoing invaluable contribution. Their staff go the extra mile all the time working phenomenally long hours; Tiso Black Star Group (Formerly Times Media) – the festival’s media partner and responsible for so much of the advertising and the printing of the hard copy programme, and Assitej for funding children’s theatre.

“Of course, the list is more extensive than our headline supporters: other sponsors who also help to complete the picture are PWC; SAB (Castle Lite) providing the marquee and bar infrastructure; Maritzburg Sun and all KZN Caxton papers for local media support; Zultrans for free transport of sets; Bidvest Car hire for free vehicles to and from airports; BASA who contributes to the PR costs; Indwe Risk Management and the KZN Dept of Arts & Culture.

“And the glue which binds the festival together are the fabulous hands-on sponsors: Redlands Hotel for accommodating out of towners; Sappi for craft market shopping bags and dust bins; KZN Weddings and Functions and Loud Crowd”

“With the generosity of all the above, the festival manages to break even …just! With a hypothetical injection of R1.5 million a year – over and above what we have already – the festival would look very different. We could enjoy a massive reduction in ticket prices - 2017 sees a slight decrease in prices … we are trying! ... a drastically reduced ticket price would make the festival more accessible to more audiences and allow existing audiences to see more.

“Also, further support would allow for the underwriting of the Jongosi programme for schools in depressed socio-economic areas to benefit from free participation.

“Potential sponsors – in cash or kind – will have a package tailor-made to their needs. The festival is very flexible and open in their relationship with their sponsors and partners and is acutely aware that sponsorship is a two-way process, so the festival takes pride in providing great leverage opportunities in whichever field the sponsor requests – for example, the festival currently has one sponsor who enjoys the opportunity to host potential clients in congenial surroundings. Another sponsor enjoys the opportunity to access the top pupils at Hilton College to introduce them to possible career opportunities in the world of finance and accounting. And, of course, sponsors are exposed to 20,000 festival visitors every year, an association with Hilton College, and a national publicity reach across a spectrum of media.

“The festival also offers its sponsors un-buyable experiences: such as meeting the performers, backstage tours, watching the intensity of a final dress rehearsal and the opportunity to create bespoke events with performers, artists, festival participants and sponsors clients.

“To give some background, the event was born late one cold, wet and windy night in Grahamstown in a venue called The Old Gaol … in the yard where the hangman’s scaffold used to stand! The first event took place a short two months thereafter. There were six productions, performing twice each in the main theatre. There was a beer tent and I ran a tea station … on the verandah, with a kettle (not even an urn) and polystyrene cups! That was now 25 years ago and we are all older and wiser,” reminisces Clarence.

“Now the festival’s primary aim is to bring the pick of SA theatre to KZN for the weekend and to support this with quality music, visual arts, crafts and a convivial atmosphere. It also strives to support all performances with the best possible technical support and personnel.

“It’s not all fun! The hard work that goes on behind the scenes serves as a breeding ground for developing new young technicians, artists, playwrights, and actors and provides a unique opportunity to introduce the next generation to the magic of theatre – after all they are the audiences of the future.

“The Festival is not just about entertainment: every year a growing number of schoolchildren take part in the activities – whether as a group attending the Festival for the weekend or to take part in the Jongosi programme – a tailor-made day of age-appropriate theatre and arts-related workshops.

“And the Festival provides employment – from the many thousands of bed nights which are generated throughout the district – in bed and breakfasts, hotels, private homes and holiday homes to the bustling restaurants and shopping centres who benefit from the influx of people from throughout the country to the village of Hilton.

“Dr John Kani, an icon in South African theatre, said at the opening of the 2008 Hilton Arts Festival: ‘The partnership of artists and business is as old as the Bible, if not older. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and all the other artists of their time did not paint those great paintings in the hope of selling them to some buyer or art gallery so that they could live. Oh no, they were commissioned to produce that work ... This then proves, without doubt, that the partnerships between business and the arts are essential for the development of art and artists in our country,” concludes Clarence.

This unique festival is the leading arts event in KZN. Art is the soul of the nation. Support it!

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