Towards the end of next week the curtain will rise on South Africa's National Arts Festival – a jewel in our country's artistic crown and the pride of our Province.


I urge all our residents to embrace the Festival, and to make the most of the opportunities that it offers.


Writing in the recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on the Creative Industries, the organisation's Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, noted the importance of the creative sector in the global economy:


"The creative economy has both commercial and cultural value," he wrote. "Acknowledgement of this dual worth has led governments worldwide to expand and develop their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate economic growth, prosperity and well-being."


With this as our starting point we can see how critical an event like the Festival is to the Province. Not only does it stimulate our economy by over R377m, through tourism, hospitality and visitor spend, but it is a significant job creator for our people – both inside and outside of the arts sector.


While its local contribution is significant, in our context, its potential is even greater. The same UNCTAD report states that while the global market for creative goods stands at $509 billion, South Africa commands just 0.12% of that market.


It is to further unlock that potential that the Provincial government – both through my department, the Provincial Treasury and the Office of Premier – pledge support to the Festival each year. As celebratory and exciting (or, in their words, "Amazing") as the Festival is, it has a deeper purpose and role to play in the economic life and future wellbeing of the Eastern Cape that cannot be denied.


So how to realise that potential? Festival organisers often talk about how they prepare the stage and lay the table from which others come to feast. And their planning and preparation is world-class. All that planning counts for nothing, though, unless our people step up to the table and ask how they can take advantage of the opportunities the Festival offers. With the influx of visitors there is an increased need for small business to play a role – not just in terms of providing accommodation and meals to visitors, but a whole host of other services, from car washes, babysitting, selling craft and mementoes, running historical tours and taking their artistic endeavor to the stages of the Festival. All of this plays a role in improving the experience of our visitors and, at the same time, helps build local business and economically empowers our people. And as the Festival grows, so too will its stature. More and more international producers and arts and crafts buyers from other countries will visit, providing yet more opportunity for our creative sector. It's a mutually beneficial ecosystem in which we all play a role.   


But there is a deeper purpose for the Festival, again captured in the words of Kituyi: "Creative work promotes fundamental rights, such as respect for human dignity, equality and democracy, all of which are essential for humans to live together in peace. Its potential to make a significant contribution to the achievement of the sustainable development goals continues to gain international recognition and support."


It is my utmost desire to ensure that the arts festival grows to be more inclusive and for it to be a platform accessible to all artists from different walks of life in particular those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. As the department we commit to provide the necessary support that will see the work of  young artists and short films from across the province being showcased at the festival.


And so, as we approach the Festival we do so knowing that we are not just helping feed our stomachs, but we're also our souls. We're reaffirming our Africanness and reclaiming our dignity. And for this we thank the artists who work so hard at their craft – we are in awe of their talent and their contribution to our shared humanity.

On 27 June the Festival will begin. With our visitors we will laugh, cry, sing, dance, celebrate, mourn. We'll get inspired and we'll get angry. We'll gasp and we'll clap. And, after our visitors have left, we'll have played a role, as hosts, to make our world a slightly better place.