For those of us who are, let’s say “old enough” to cast our minds back two decades, to 1997, we’d probably remember the world as an almost completely different place to what it is now.
The new South Africa was in its infancy with the late Nelson Mandela as its first democratically elected president, we were preparing to usher in a new millennium with the dawn of the so-called information age, and great strides were being made towards creating a free and inclusive South Africa.
An important element of building that democratic South Africa was, and still is, the establishment and maintenance of institutions that represent the needs, aspirations and expression of its people. One such institution, which was established during that promising post-apartheid period, is the National Arts Council (NAC). Over the past two decades, the NAC has evolved from being solely a grant disbursement entity towards providing support and ancillary services to a sector that had, by and large, in the past been neglected by means of exclusivity, cultural disenfranchisement and oppression.
The NAC’s evolution over the years could be characterised by the tireless efforts of those past and current staff and board members who are passionate about breathing life into the organisation’s full mandate and who, by extension, have only the interests of development heart. Although we cannot accurately quantify the difference the NAC has made in the lives of those participating in the arts, culture and heritage sector, we can safely assume that the sector enjoys greater exposure and vibrancy than it did prior to the NAC’s establishment.
One leading factor in this assumption is the NAC’s key deliverable of facilitating transformation, nation-building and social cohesion, as reflected in the 10-point plan of the minister of arts and culture. In real terms, this facilitation process has resulted in the creation of strategic, cross-cutting partnerships and the funding of flagship projects that educate, and assist in creating an understanding and mutual respect of South Africa’s diversity and cultural heritage.
In addition, the NAC has played its part in building a strong platform for exposing artistic excellence locally, continentally and globally. Over the years, our artists and cultural workers have travelled far and wide, not only to exhibit their work, but to learn from and impart their knowledge and techniques on others. In terms of investments, various formations have embraced the NAC and opened performance platforms for artists; and exhibitions, festivals and performances are funded regularly as a means of exposing artists to investors and audiences who would otherwise not have access to the arts.
Although we do acknowledge that the South African arts, culture and heritage sector is not currently performing to its full capability of stimulating meaningful economic stimulation, much work is being done by the national department of arts and culture, the NAC and organisations associated with it to forge ahead and position the sector in its rightful place within the economy, as well as to promote the sector as a viable means of education, growth and sustainability.
Over the next two decades and beyond, the NAC therefore intends to continuously reinvent and reimagine its role in the sector as a meaningful contributor and agent of change in an increasingly uncertain yet exciting world.
CEO, National Arts Council