Following from one of the most successful national arts festivals to date, Getnews talks to Tony Lankester, the festival head about the festival and his views on the Eastern Cape.
Tony: I was born in Kimberley, attended high school in Port Elizabeth (Grey High School) and went to Rhodes University. I then moved to Johannesburg where I worked for SAfm for seven years, after which I went to Cape Town and worked for Old Mutual before taking the Festival job.
GetNews: Tell us about your current role at the Arts fest. How long have you been in it? What is the organisation’s recipe for success?
Tony: I took over as CEO in December 2007. At the time, it was a new role the Board had created to oversee the business and long-term strategy side of the Festival.
There are a couple of things that make the Festival a success:
(1) Passion – the passion of the people who work for it, and the passion of those who, year after year, flock to Grahamstown to take part in it either as performers or as audiences;
(2) Focus – the Festival is a celebration of the Arts. That has been our focus and, as long as that’s the case, it means everything else becomes secondary. Too many organisations try and be all things to all people, and to try and fix things that are out of their control. We just keep our heads down and do what we do, and try and do it well.
GetNews: What is the Eastern Cape’s best kept secret?
Tony: The fact that it is possibly the world’s finest tourism destination – apart from the scenery it is also home to the warmest, friendliest and most authentic people on the planet.
GetNews: If there is one thing you could do to improve the province, what would it be?
Tony: Infastructure – roads, houses, schools and hospitals. If government were to take its entire budget and spend it on nothing else for a year I think we would leap to the front of the country as the most economically viable province with the happiest population…and from there we could grow to be Africa’s powerhouse.
GetNews: If you were to ask a potential investor to invest in the province, what would be your motivation for such an investment decision?
Tony: The partners any investor will find locally will be the easiest to do business with. Sitting around a boardroom table with them is easy because they are direct, hard working and passionate.
GetNews: What, in your opinion are the Eastern Cape’s competitive advantages and its unique selling points?
Tony: Its competitive advantage is its location. It has access to a sea, road and rail infrastructure that makes logistics easy. The big cities have plenty of affordable, easily accessible office space, and it is relatively easy to access all corners of the country from one hub.
GetNews: Who has been your inspiration throughout your career?
Tony: Difficult to name one person. I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing people – from Jack Mullen (SAfm) who gave me my first job, to Peter Matlare (SABC) who steered an impossible ship through stormy waters, Stephen Bowey (Old Mutual) who taught me that business can be a pleasure if you’re following your passion. Throughout it all, though, I’ve worked with amazing support from my wife and family – who inspire me constantly and teach me things about myself every day.
GetNews: If you could name the province’s greatest failing, what would that be and why?
Tony: The fact that it has struggled to leverage its gems to create economic growth.
GetNews: If you could name one person across the socio-economic-political landscape who is the Eastern Cape’s best friend? Why?
Tony: The first name that springs to mind is Jacko Maree – the Chief Executive of the Standard Bank Group. Through his passion for the Province we have been on the receiving end of huge amounts of investment from the bank, not just at the Arts Festival but beyond.
GetNews: Where do you holiday in the province?
Tony: Kenton, Morgans Bay and Hogsback.
GetNews: Do you support an Eastern Cape musician? Who and Why?
Tony: A couple – Marcus Wyatt because he is an extraordinary musician and jazz trumpeter; Zim Ngqawana, obviously; Meri Kenaz who is working hard at becoming a nationally recognised name; and there’s a really cool band from PE I discovered this festival, the Shoelace Rockers Soul Band, who I think, with time and nurturing, could go on to great things.
GetNews: What would you say are the top three reasons for living in the province?
Tony: The climate, the people and the lifestyle.
GetNews: What do you think the province can do to improve its profile?
Tony: Better marketing and better infrastructure – they need to work hand in hand and then I think the Eastern Cape will be a force to be reckoned with.