‘Disgruntled FynArts supporter’ is not alone in thinking that something was amiss during the festival this year (Where did all the festivalgoers go? The Village NEWS, 19 June).  

Out for an early supper on the first Saturday, I was struck by how much the CBD resembled a ghost town. Then I remembered seeing, earlier, the stream of cars heading towards Curro School for the Big Event of the evening. As we neared Sandbaai at about 9.30pm, all those cars were streaming out again and, presumably, also heading for home. 

So, far from bringing a large mass of people together to enjoy the main event in the context of bringing life to Hermanus during a notoriously quiet time of the year, everyone was funnelled out of town. That’s where all the festivalgoers went!

One would have thought that after last year’s troubles, the organisers might show some sympathy for the town that otherwise might enjoy some relief from the increased activity FynArts is supposed to bring at this time of the year. Alas, none in my acquaintance noticed any particular increase in activity, let alone a sense of occasion.

It seems that FynArts has become a ‘thing-in-itself’. Surely it is time to think again and remember what the festival is about, how it is presented, and how businesses participate. Does it achieve what it claims to, and what gives the current approach the right to call itself a “festival” at all?

FynArts Festival Director, Mary Faure responds:

All of us working for FynArts appreciate feedback from businesses and festival goers which we take seriously and address as possible. 

The purpose of FynArts is to develop a ten-day top quality arts festival structured for entertainment (concerts and exhibitions) and as a winter school (workshops, demonstrations, talks, wine tastings). The rationale is that a varied and busy arts festival programme will bring ‘new’ people to Hermanus in winter to spend more than one day. The longer visitors stay, the more likely they are to spend and eat out. 

The opening weekend this year contained two large concerts conducted by Richard Cock. The Opening Concert was held at the Dutch Reformed Church. On the Saturday night referred to by Another disgruntled FynArts supporter, we presented the largest concert yet brought to Hermanus by this festival at Curro  – 45 orchestra members, 8 dancers, 3 soloists and a conductor. Hermanus has no other venue that can host an event of this size, nor seat anywhere near the number of people needed to make such a concert viable. A concert of this size generates pre- and post-event interest, marketing and excitement not only for the event, but also for the eight days ahead. 

When Richard Cock asked the audience at this concert to raise their hands if they had travelled to Hermanus especially for the festival, approximately a third of the audience of 820 did so – a large proportion indicating they had travelled from Gauteng. This is in stark contrast to the ‘large’ weekend concerts of the early years when a scattering of hands was raised to the same question asked of those 200 – 300-strong audiences. 

To shed the ‘ghost town’ image, restaurants need to stay open later during festivals. However, this brings its own financial challenges to owners. Open galleries could work as well – and are likely to face the same challenges. More evening events will be programmed as the number of festival goers increases – to ensure that audiences are not split between two evening events, thereby jeopardising ticket sales and an event loss for either or both events.  

This year the number of ticket sales increased by about 17% – very good growth considering the current economic climate. In addition, a greater number of visitors stayed in Hermanus for 3 – 10 nights.  

Festival lighting at night and bunting will create a buzz – especially the former. However, both of these require a financial outlay and FynArts is not yet financially viable. Every cent spent which cannot be recouped, or does not have direct benefit, such as the sound quality at events, must be very carefully considered each year. 

Any, and all, financial or in-kind sponsorships or ideas by local businesses will contribute to the sustainability, growth and ‘feel’ of the FynArts brand. Please contact me on 084 600 7058 if you would like to offer suggestions, support, advice or any other feedback.

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