Bid to save Hilton Arts Festival

Pictured in the empty Hilton College Theatre are, from left, actor Mpilo “Straw” Nzimande, dancer Mantu Jakavula with aerial artist and gymnast Jena Woodroffe, and actor-singer-musician Belinda Henwood. Picture by Val Adamson.

MANAGEMENT of the annual Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College is appealing to the public and corporates to support an international crowd-funding appeal through Back-a-Buddy, to enable the festival to continue in the light of diminished arts-funding due to Covid.-19.

The Hilton Arts Festival has for almost three decades been presenting quality performances and exhibitions to KwaZulu-Natal and national audiences. 

“Funding and support are essential to make a festival of this magnitude viable. The sums simply won’t work if we rely on ticket sales only. In order to keep the ticket prices affordable, patronage is essential,” explains festival director, Sue Clarence.

“We absolutely believe that audiences, performers, artists and support services genuinely want the festival to survive and continue into the future, even initially as a scaled-down version. However, right now, not even that is financially viable for us. We are on the brink of extinction,” Clarence adds.

Funding for the arts in South Africa, and government-led support of the arts community, is in a state of crisis, with aggrieved creatives going to extreme measures hoping for answers and action. 

Since the first festival nearly 30 years ago, Hilton has staged countless productions and exhibitions and has provided paying work for thousands of performers, artists and support staff. In 2019 alone (there was no 2020 festival) there were 225 scheduled events in 14 venues; 17 000 tickets were sold and some 25 000 people came through the gates. 

The addition of the Jongosi programme has meant special packages have been created for school pupils to enjoy the experience at vastly reduced rates, to encourage theatregoers of the future. To date, 32 000 schoolchildren have benefited from the Jongosi programme. 

Wanting meaningfully to support the Hilton Festival going forward, top Durban creative agency, Whalley and Associates, put up their hand to help. To this end, they have offered marketing support and have made a video featuring some of the industry’s finest: John Kani, Athol Fugard, Nthati Moshesh, Ismail Mahomed, Fiona Ramsay, Bheki Mkhwane, Gcina Mhlophe, Amra-Faye Wright, Greig Coetzee, David Jenkins (of the hit duo Qadasi) and others, who have all added their voice and support to the campaign. 

“As a largely self-funded festival, Hilton relies on donations in kind, from technical supply companies and sponsorships,, to operate. Sadly, due to the pandemic, many of them can no longer afford to offer the kind of support that a festival of this scale needs,” says actress Nthati Moshesh. 

Writer Greig Coetzee recalls the extraordinary support the festival offered him when he was starting his career; Isibaya’s Bheki Mkhwane talks of the arts industry being “decimated”; Spud author John van de Ruit talks of the role of the importance of the Jongosi youth outreach project and Aaron McIlroy enthuses about the festival’s “compressed energy”. 

John Kani’s poignant contribution in the video talks of ghost lights – a light left burning in an unoccupied, dark theatre as a symbol of optimism. Right now, due to Covid-19, many theatres globally have ghost lights burning on their empty stages. Kani implores supporters to allow us to turn off the ghost lights and turn on the spotlights once more.

All concur that the Hilton Arts Festival absolutely should be supported. All going to plan, and with financial aid, the festival is scheduled to be held at Hilton College from September 15 to 19.

To view the video go to or follow the festival on  Facebook – @Hiltonartsfest, Instagram – hiltonartsfest, and Twitter @HiltonArtsFest The click to donate button is highly visible and easy to use.

No amount is too small …or too large!

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