Corneli van den Berg

Director of the Vrystaat Arts Festival

Congratulations to the Vrystaat Arts Festival for celebrating its 21st birthday this year!

We celebrate this exceptional milestone with the theme “Young at Art”. The festival has grown and developed in wide-ranging and diverse ways over the previous 21 years and has undergone various transformations. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has not made it possible for us to host the festival for the past two years, the core of this winter festival, with its superb arts and crafts market, excellent theatre-music-and-dance productions, and visual art exhibitions, is in many ways still the same. The heart, atmosphere, and character of this Free State-based festival continues and thrives.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, it is still not possible to host a physical arts festival. We had to quickly adapt due to the pandemic and we developed several successful online initiatives.

A key initiative that we continue this year, and one that we are very excited about, is our Snelstroom programme. Snelstroom, which is further divided into the Hoofstroom and Vrystroom programmes, involves our online artistic programme and includes all kinds of digital offerings.

The arts festival presented an exciting capacity development initiative, the Creative Practices Laboratory, earlier this year in collaboration with the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief (NATi). The Laboratory provided Free State artists and creative practitioners with the opportunity to develop experimental and interdisciplinary art-in-performance practices.

Since March, the Vrystaat Literature Festival has been in full swing, presenting captivating book and poetry conversations, including a Flemish week in collaboration with Literature Flanders and the General Representative of the Flemish Government in Southern Africa. Feel free to visit the newly created literature festival group on Facebook to stay up to date with all manner of book activities.

Another festival initiative, PACE, the Pan-African Creative Exchange, will also host an online Laboratory this year: the PACE+ Dramaturgical Laboratory, supported by the Dutch Embassy in South Africa. Another exciting online workshop that the arts festival launched this year is Telematic 360 – a project developed for the festival’s Pan-African Telematic Art Project, or PATAP, and generously supported by the National Arts Council.

Later this year we will present the second installment of the mini classical music festival, Vrystaat Klank en Klassiek. Bloemfontein local, as well as national classical musicians, will participate in this programme. Keep an eye on the press and our website and social media platforms for more information.

In close collaboration with the arts festival’s customary arts and crafts market, the festival nowadays also has an online store, the Wolkewinkel, where all kinds of handmade products are for sale throughout the year. Feel free to support our Wolkewinkel and find all the delightful products for sale at the art market, all in one place and easily accessible from the comfort of your living room.

My sincerest gratitude to all the sponsors and donors of the Vrystaat Arts Festival who have made it possible to present this remarkable and innovative festival in the heart of the Free State for the past 21 years. Many, many thanks to Media24, our founding sponsor, and Netwerk24 and the University of the Free State as festival partners, and all the arts festival’s programme partners, and countless collaborative project partners.

And to every festival attendee who has supported us over the past 21 years – I salute you and I invite you to the next 21 years!