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Sophiatown Arts Festival


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Our festival team consists of residents of the suburbs in all of its stages, artists, and activists. Together, we shape the face of the festival, its look, and its programming.

We have been working on a year-long Community Curated Arts Festival process in Sophiatown, organising monthly pop-up sessions in the Sophiatown park and are now ready to embark on the greatest event of the year: The first-ever Sophiatown Arts Festival, held from 29 November - 1 December 2019!

We are looking forward to bringing art, music, food, archives and love back to the public space in Sophiatown: Free of charge, and welcoming everyone!

The team is looking forward to presenting music, archives, local talent and food to invite Joburg into the suburb to share its history through a diverse mix of performances and experiences, which will take place over a weekend-long festival!


The Sophiatown Arts Festival is imagined as an annual heritage and contemporary arts and festival that aims to bring people together in the Johannesburg suburb of Sophiatown.

It is an initiative of residents past and present of the suburb, and of artists, researchers and curators, who have a strong relation to the suburb, be it intellectual, artistic, familiar, or just recreational.

The festival idea grew in a community of people who share a project history. From 2012 onwards, a project team of the University of Johannesburg-affiliated researchers and enthusiastic residents from different stages of the suburb initiated multi-layered historiography of the neighbourhood through multiple methods: photo-projects, story-telling, mapping exercises, collective curating.

The Sophiatown Festival wants to tap into the rich, under-explored potential of the complex and complicated heritage of the suburb of Sophiatown.

It builds on an archive of images and stories that had been collected by researchers based at the University of Johannesburg (2012-2015), yet never been 'brought back' to the suburb. In a year-long collective process, the material will be engaged with - by residents past and present, invited artists and healers and researchers.

A peak moment is the Sophiatown Arts Festival, which premieres in November 2019 and from then on will show the potential of the suburb's multi-layered stories each year with a different theme.

The theme in the first edition of 2019 is: Bring Back The Archives!



What emerged in these years was a layered archive, a collection of stories, images, narratives and visions for an iconic place. This archive is the foundation of the community-driven initiative.

Together, the team intends to invite the public to speak back to the repeatedly told story of Sophiatown in a conventional, multi-cultural sense of heritage. The project wants to dig deeper and investigate what might emerge as new visions from the heritage of a very special place - as the poet laureate of the festival, Don Mattera puts it: "But there remains that unwritten manuscript". Consequently, the first edition of the 2019 Sophiatown Arts Festival demands: Bring back the archives!

Rewriting the history of the place as a story of and for the future is a collective effort requires careful curation and a community-driven process.  To ensure attention and care, every month from March 2019 onwards, the committee has presented pop-up event s in the public space of the suburb that will be used as the main festival location, the Sophiatown park.

Not only local artists are invited to respond to the archive but also international musicians, poets, and fashion designers. This curatorial move indicates that Sophiatown was never a national place; it always belonged to the world, both in its grandeur and sparkling creativity, as well as in its symbolism in relation to greed and exclusion.

The Sophiatown Arts Festival is open for contributions.

  • We are looking forward to inviting the larger Johannesburg public into the suburb as a way of building on the cultural and historical map of the city.
  • Artists that have been involved in workshops and pop up events with the local community will be able to showcase their work at the festival and get paid for performances.
  • Local markets that have been slowly developing will be better supported.
  • We would be able to engage the public in a weekend-long program and be able to offer a stipend to local facilitators and venues.
  • We would create a platform for local artists and producers. Other invited artists and cultural workers would be encouraged to volunteer/donate/contribute to building the festival as an annual event.
  • The festival events would take place mainly on Saturday 30 November 2019.


  • Pledge R100 = Reward #1! Name on Our Wall!
    • A small contribution to say Thank You, and YOUR Name gets onto our Festival Thank You Wall!
  • Pledge R500 = Reward #2! Beaded Festival item!
    • Noxolo the famous East-side Bead Queen, will make a beaded festival item for YOU! Funky beaded festival merchandise + Festival Tote Bag!
    • It also includes YOUR name on our wall of Thank You's!
  • Pledge R1000 = Reward #3! Festival Tote Bag + Extras!
    • Shower us with YOUR Money and get a Festival Tote Bag + fabulous Festival Beads + YOUR Name on our wall of Thank You's!
  • Pledge R5000 = Reward #4! Jozi Gold!
    • Meet the Best of Sophiatown! Meet famous artists living in Sophiatown for a sundowner with a view!
    • This also includes a Festival Tote Bag, fabulous Festival Beads and YOUR Name on our wall of Thank You's!
  • Pledge R10000 = Reward #5! The Real Blesser!
    • Night at the Museum!
    • YOU get to meet the Sophiatown Arts Festival Team for an EXCLUSIVE Tour through the Museum at night!

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Project FAQ

Who are we?

  • Earlier in 2019, relatives and residents of Sophiatown, an iconic suburb in Johannesburg, came together to recapture the past experiences of Sophiatown: exhibitions, mappings, conversations.
  • Together, we felt: This is not enough. We need to bring archives and art back to these streets. And just like that, the Sophiatown Arts Festival was born.
  • Please see further information about the Sophiatown Arts Festival Team here

Where are we based?

  • Sophiatown, South Africa

Why Crowdfunding?

  • The festival is a collective effort and community-curated.
  • We want to be connected with those who show their support in so many ways.

What is the plan once 100% funding is received?

  • To action our 3 Day arts Festival in Sophiatown - free and accessible for everyone!