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Understanding the value of the arts

The common misconception around art is that its value is reserved entirely for the wealthy and elite. This because, over the years, there has been a stronger emphasis on the intrinsic value of art that is consumed by few in private spaces, making it exclusive and out of reach for ordinary individuals to enjoy and even relate to. But art, when made accessible and located in the broader context of public culture, also has an instrumental value in that it has the potential to stimulate broad growth.

In a country such as ours where there are many competing interests, whether social, political, economic or cultural, it is important to appreciate the instrumental role art can play in creating platforms for understanding and mutuality. In essence, the underlying instrumental value of art is its ability to educate, and promote tolerance and innovation in the most profound ways. This instrumental role, of course, is when art, with its intrinsic value, enters the public realm and opens channels of discourse for broader social benefit.

It is for this reason the National Arts Council (NAC) takes a view of the arts in a multifaceted way, where we recognise and support the arts in terms of disciplines ranging from craft, dance and literature to theatre, visual arts and music. We believe that in order for the arts to take their rightful place in stimulating socioeconomic development, not only in South Africa but across the continent, their intrinsic and instrumental value must be articulated simultaneously, and supported and promoted effectively to realise their true potential to inspire innovation. Once this is achieved, we will notice the far-reaching implications for positive and sustainable growth.

When we view culture as the bedrock of national economic development, we open a world of possibilities for identifying opportunities and linkages that would, in fact, transcend national borders and allow us to fully capture the essence of what it means to be living in a “global village”. This is vital for the youth – especially since Africa is seen as a “young continent” with a growing population – in that recognising the importance of culture and locating artistic expression within it, not just for the sake of expression but for socioeconomic growth and development, would enable them to think more acutely about leadership through creativity and innovation.

Art promotes grit and perseverance, two key ingredients for effective leadership. In addition, the platform for critical thinking and interrogation provided by art encourages robust, considered and constructive responses to the many challenges faced by leaders. In this sense, participants in the arts gain confidence to lead as they present their ideas and concepts for interrogation and constructive criticism, while tacitly agreeing to be active and engaged listeners. In this mix, participants in the arts learn the very important lesson that achieving anything is only possible through working together and integrating thought and action for positive outcomes.

Once art is understood as a means of enhancing value chains, not only economic but political, social and developmental, we’ll realise its potential to forge a platform for unity and, in turn, regional and global integration that leads to widespread social coherence and a deepened understanding of our needs and aspirations. Hence, the returns of supporting the arts are immeasurable, not only in terms of financial or economic gain, but in the many intangible benefits they have for the present and the future.

In more practical and immediate terms, there is also a need to diversify African economies through the continent’s vast pool of artistic and cultural talent. In this regard, multidisciplinary art festivals such as the NAC-supported National Arts Festival in Grahamstown provide platforms for artists to showcase their talent to broad audiences and engage in the crucial mix of art as a multidimensional enabler for change and growth in the economies of commerce, ideas and innovation.

The NAC, through its mandate and enabling legislation as well as guidance from ground-breaking documents such as the National Development Plan and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, aims to enhance the intrinsic and instrumental value of art in a manner that promotes harmony and tolerance. A salient feature of our mandate and guiding principles is the creation of regional synergies and greater coordination between the creative and cultural sectors.

An integrated Africa, where there is a freer flow of ideas, information, knowledge, commerce and attractive investment opportunities, is the outcome of harmonised policy whereby the arts are mainstreamed as part and parcel of economic growth.

Good leadership should be part of our culture

As we enter a new year, it is important to think about leadership and how it, depending on its effectiveness, steers us towards growth, development and the fulfilment of our goals not only as organisations, but as individuals. I am often asked “what makes good leadership?” or “what are the characteristics of a good leader?” but I’m always hesitant to answer as there are no clear-cut answers, and standard definitions fall short in the way of describing the nuances and multifaceted nature of good leadership.

My primary focus when it comes to leadership rests within the arts and culture sector, not only in my role as CEO of the National Arts Council (NAC), but when looking at the sector as a whole and identifying the necessity for effective leadership to steer the sector towards playing a more significant role in the economy, and contributing more positively and with greater impact to society.

To me, effective leadership entails placing values at the heart of an organisation. Values which, in turn, are rooted in positive behaviour aimed at promoting growth, equality and strong, robust communities. Effective cultural leadership also entails the ability to recognise and embrace changing realities, and the ability to articulate vision and bring about change through working with peers and within networks.

The relevance of cultural leadership cannot be overstated as, now more than ever, South Africa (and I’d go as far as including the world) is in need of creative and innovative solutions that call for collaboration and greater networking. This is particularly important in an increasingly connected world where stronger networks and collaborative approaches enhance cultural diversity and a spirit of togetherness rather than conflict.

In this sense, effective cultural leadership calls for individuals to step up and be original and true to themselves. It reinforces the notion of understanding one’s talents and how they can contribute to the sector’s growth. Leadership, therefore, is not merely about rank but the ability to embrace all contributions and understand that leadership happens at all levels. This means active participation by all in finding solutions and contributing to socioeconomic progress.

Effective leaders listen attentively and are always ready to see things from different perspectives, learn, understand and be empathetic to the positions of others. Above all, good leaders understand that being in a leadership position does not necessarily make one a good leader. In order to steer individuals and organisations towards the achievement of impactful and far-reaching goals, effective leaders in the arts and culture sector place a strong emphasis on the individual to know who they are and act from a place of honesty and sincerity – this to yield best results in terms of focus, direction and the overall quality and impact of work.

South Africa finds itself in a state of flux when it comes to cultural leadership, especially since identity in a country with a history such as ours is fragmented to a point where many believe there is no such thing as a true South African Identity. Thus far, the closest we have come to articulating the notion of “South African-ness” is “ubuntu”. However positive this notion may be, it is difficult to implement, especially at a time when new technologies have imposed a global culture that is heavily influenced by the West and developed world, thereby limiting the appeal of and access to more localised, authentic and unique cultural expression.

With that said, there are South African cultural organisations, which the NAC has had the privilege of working with, that are being led by individuals who have a strong understanding of their place and roles as leaders. These include Lefika La Phodiso, the Umcebo Trust, Ifa-Lethu, Africa Meets Africa, Lalela and ASSITEJ, among others. All have succeeded in making unique contributions to cultural advancement against all odds to benefit the most deserving communities.

In 2017 and beyond, the NAC will continue its collaborative approach through identifying key partnerships that need scaling up. We plan to invest heavily in these partnerships, not only in terms of funds but through promoting our partners on all platforms available to us. It is part of our vision to see the arts take their rightful place at the centre of a thriving economy. There’s no doubt our country has enormous and unparalleled talent and potential. What we need to realise  is the coordination efforts in order to work to scale and implement good models to benefit the entire nation.

Cultural diplomacy: The power to change

While the term ‘cultural diplomacy’ has only recently been established, there is evidence of its practice throughout history. Explorers, travellers, traders, teachers and artists can all be considered examples of early cultural diplomats. The National Arts Council (NAC) believes that in our current social, cultural and economic context, it is important to formalise cultural diplomacy and ensure that it is embedded with a strong and clear strategy.

Since its inception in 1997, the NAC has played an important role in supporting art disciplines and artists in South Africa through the provision of grant-based funding. But the NAC’s mandate, as derived from the National Arts Council Act (1997), is inclusive but not limited to grant making. In addition to providing funding, the NAC is required to develop, encourage, promote, foster, uphold and facilitate the arts in a broad-based and inclusive manner. This implies taking action beyond merely providing funding.

In a quest to fulfil its mandate, the NAC has recognised the importance of cultural engagements at all levels. To this end, and in support of implementing its five-year strategy, the NAC will strategically identify regional, continental and international cultural engagements and exchange programmes that will best benefit the arts sector.

With the primary objectives of enabling cultural dialogue across the world, creating constructive relationships, improving communication and cooperation, preventing misunderstandings and reducing sociocultural conflicts and their consequences, the NAC’s approach to cultural diplomacy has the potential of creating a multipolar world where bottom-up cooperation is encouraged, and where ordinary citizens work together in addressing the stereotypes and myths that tend to undermine the possibilities of peaceful and meaningful coexistence.

In addition, we find ourselves at a time where the global economy is not in a healthy state. Cultural diplomacy can have a positive impact on economies worldwide by developing skills through cultural exchange programmes. National and regional economies can achieve great benefits through the boosting, financing, promotion and support of their creative and cultural industries.

Examples of how South Africa is responding to these economic challenges include the Department of Arts and Culture’s Mzansi Golden Economy strategy, which is focused on job creation in the arts and culture industry, as well as the NAC’s various cross-border projects such as the French Season, which has been unparalleled in showcasing the talents of South African artists and in embedding cultural diplomacy between South Africa and France.

Cultural diplomacy, when applied at all levels, possesses the unique ability to influence global public opinion and the ideology of individuals, communities, cultures or nations. In a world of competing interests, the fast-tracking and prioritising of cultural diplomacy will be essential to actively project South Africa’s image, values and cultures both domestically and abroad.

Cultural diplomacy is a long-term investment for any state as it creates a sense of shared culture, art and heritage. And as we celebrate Human Rights Month, let us take cognisance of the important role cultural diplomacy has to play in protecting, enhancing and advancing our rights to artistic and cultural expression. Success in cultural diplomacy will see us living in a very different world.

An arts education will solve problems

IT seems obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, here we are, the National Arts Council of South Africa, in a position where we find it necessary to campaign about the importance of the arts in our children’s education and its significance in the broader cultural landscape.

So-called conventional wisdom suggests that the arts are a luxury in an education environment where resources are stretched and budgets slashed. Since the publication last year of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, which controversially ranked the quality of South Africa’s mathematics and science education last out of 148 countries, there has been much debate about the need to improve performances in these important subjects.

While the Basic Education Department has correctly taken issue with the WEF report – it was not an accurate reflection on the state of education in South Africa, merely a reflection of the opinion of “business leaders” – the concern about mathematics and science nevertheless remains valid.

It is here that the arts could play a vital role.

Art, to paraphrase the Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, may not solve problems, but it will make us aware of them. An arts education, on the other hand, will solve problems. That’s a fact. An arts education is fundamentally linked to almost everything that we want for our children and expect from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, equitable opportunities. The whole nine yards.

Involvement in the arts –– be it music, dance, drama, fine art –– is directly linked to gains in not only mathematics and science, but reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills. It improves motivations, concentration, confidence and team-building. The innate pleasures and stimulation of the arts do more than provide enjoyment to an individual, they lay the foundation to build social cohesion and strengthen communities.

There is, after all, widespread recognition of Africa’s potential as an emerging force in global cultural affairs, as well as the political and economic arenas. Unlocking this potential depends on capacity-building, developing human resources and, above all, education.

 

The NAC takes the position that arts education is not merely taught for appreciation alone, but must be seen as a means to enhance learning in other subjects. This aspect cannot be over-emphasised.

Arts education is critical if we are to improve the overall standard of education.

Such an education is perceived as a universal human right for all learners, including those who are unfortunately excluded from mainstream education – a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further identified as such at Unesco’s first-ever World Conference on Arts Education in Lisbon in March 2006.

It would be naive, however, to ignore our own history – and its effect on the various and diverse cultures of our country. The South African landscape is one that still bears the ravages of apartheid. The inequalities thrown up by our divided past remain with us. Family structures, once dissipated by migrant labour and rapid urbanisation, went on to suffer the scourge of HIV-Aids which gave rise to child-headed households. Artistic practices within the context of a family environment became ever more difficult. In short, as the family unit went, so too did the culture.

So, there are challenges. But an arts education would nevertheless provide for a more fruitful and dynamic foundation with which to face these challenges. It is critical that learning environments develop emotional as well as cognitive skills. Often, too much emphasis is placed on the latter and this comes at the expense of the development of emotional processing, which is an integral part in decision-making and, more importantly, a conduit for sound moral behaviour.

For too long now the arts have been relegated to some Cinderella status in our schools, and it will take years and considerable investment and effort to turn things around. But the way ahead seems clear. At that 2006 Unesco conference in Portugal an arts education ‘road map’ was drawn up to emphasise the three primary aims of arts education: to develop human capabilities, to improve the quality of schooling, and the promote the expression of cultural diversity.

In a nutshell, it is simply this: there are three purposes to education – one, we’re preparing our children for employment; two, we’re preparing them for citizenship; and three, we’re preparing them to be human beings who can enjoy deeper forms of beauty.

The third is just as important as the other two.

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Challenging times call for new ways of thinking

I’m often asked what the difference is between financial management in the public service vis-à-vis that in the private sector. On the surface, it might seem like a simple question to respond to, since, as one would naturally assume, a financial officer operating in the public service has the added responsibility of being accountable to a broad base of taxpayers. Another obvious distinction one would draw is that in the public service, financial officers are not driven by profit. Instead, their core function is to ensure the sound management of funds allocated to their entities from state coffers.

But in an increasingly complex economic environment, where competitive forces in the private sector, locally and globally, greatly impact on the day-to-day operations of public entities, the response might not be as simple, or as easily simplified. Granted, public entities are in essence non-profit organisations, their sole focus being service delivery. However, much can be gained when private sector financial management practices are adapted to the public service and vice versa.

One example, which has become a strong motivator in my role as chief financial officer (CFO) of the National Arts Council (NAC), is the professionalisation of the finance team to fulfil best practice requirements in terms of qualifications and appropriate experience. This professionalisation process firstly entails gauging the latest trends in the accounting and financial management spheres and responding effectively to allow staff to position themselves accordingly. Secondly, part of professionalising staff would be to encourage them to become members of professional bodies such as the South African Institute of Professional Accountants. Such membership, of course, would have certain requirements, which staff would then strive towards fulfilling.

Lastly, a professionalised staff complement would naturally become more attuned with norms, standards and changes in corporate governance. This is especially relevant at present, with the next iteration of the ground-breaking King Report on Corporate Governance for South African Businesses (King IV). With this, we get a clear sense of the extent to which the finance team ought to be integrated into the organisation, specifically, and into the broader economy.

So instead of trying to find differences between financial management in the public and private sectors, it might be worthwhile to employ a new way of thinking to find feasible and prudent similarities. Herein lies convergence between the two spheres, where financial officers in the public service have a broader and more inclusive role to play than what they’ve traditionally come to understand. Rather than being the passive “processors” of organisational financial information, the challenging economic times have necessitated more agile and active public service financial officers who serve as enablers of sound business strategies and processes.

In this sense, as in the more “cut-throat” private sector, public service financial officers need to build greater efficiencies within their respective organisations – whether by means of effective oversight and involvement in the roll-out of infrastructure projects, or in terms of being integral to operational processes, the latter being of critical importance when identifying bottlenecks in business processes to effectively engage and manage them. This is particularly crucial in an organisation such as the NAC, where grant disbursement is at the forefront of the entity’s mandate, with the quality of internal operations having direct bearing on whether it delivers services effectively.

Hence, it becomes essential for financial management officers in the public service to adopt an approach whereby efficient business processes, and the identification thereof, become central to their day-to-day activities. This, in turn, speaks directly to accountability, something that we can all agree is of vital importance in the South African public service at present.

Taking these factors into consideration, especially when looking at financial management with a less polarised view in terms of “public” and private”, we can see that there is indeed space for entrepreneurship in government departments and public entities. It then becomes incumbent on public service financial management officers to drive this entrepreneurial spirit with the view of delivering essential services efficiently, within mandated parameters and guided by principles of accountability.

Being business savvy doesn’t mean ‘selling out’

In navigating an arts and culture landscape characterised by exclusion and privilege, emerging South African artists need to acknowledge that developing entrepreneurial skills and positioning themselves as economic players is as integral to their practice as making art, writes Julie Diphofa

Over the years, artists have developed a reputation of not being ‘business-minded’ or not being concerned with matters relating to finance or commerce. But, as the global economy has developed, and careers and vocations have evolved, so has the need for artists to become attuned to all factors that contribute to a successful art practice, which includes the need to be entrepreneurial and business savvy. It is, therefore, important for artists not to view being business savvy as ‘selling out’, or compromising their artistic integrity.

South African artists have the added burden of coping with the legacies of racial oppression, marginalisation and socioeconomic deprivation. Not only do they need to equip themselves with the skills necessary to compete globally, they must learn how to navigate a local arts and culture environment characterised by exclusion and privilege. As such, emerging artists in South Africa face many barriers when it comes to professionalising their trade, as they have, unfortunately, inherited the harsh legacies of apartheid where opportunities are scarce and avenues for development are limited by tough economic conditions.

The National Arts Council (NAC) is mandated to, among other things, seek redress for previously disadvantaged individuals in the arts, culture and heritage (ACH) sector, and provide financial and non-financial assistance to develop previously disadvantaged artists. Part of the NAC’s mandate is, therefore, to contribute to transformation, nation building and social cohesion towards creating an inclusive ACH sector that adequately reflects South Africa’s diversity. Over and above the council’s grant making function, it is involved in projects and programmes aimed at developing artists and providing them with the necessary skills and opportunities to compete more effectively and showcase their talent to broader audiences and markets.

In this regard, the NAC has formed partnerships with various organisations to assist artists in gaining the associated skills they need to market themselves appropriately and position themselves in a manner that renders their practice financially and economically viable. These skills include arts management through management training courses; proposal writing; and the planning and conceptualisation of projects, events or exhibitions. For artists, acquiring these associated skills will serve to professionalise their trade and assist in exposing their work to a diverse range of audiences and markets.

The Arts Incubator, a partnership between the NAC and Tshwane University of Technology, aims to stimulate the establishment of arts-based start-up enterprises to assist emerging arts students in gaining access to mentors, training, shared space, professional assistance, capital, and other services to ensure the successful development of their business ideas.

The incubator provides useful skills development opportunities such as entrepreneurship development seminars; business assistance through a network of business volunteers, mentors and other members of the business community; and assistance in developing business plans, reviewing marketing presentations, understanding financing options, and developing products to obtain funding or attract investment.

The Arts Incubator is but one example of the resources available to artists who wish to enhance their practice by gaining business and management skills. It is up to emerging artists to identify the most relevant institutions or programmes and approach them. Ultimately, what an arts practice that is enhanced by business and management skills means is a diminished need for grant funding, thereby arresting a culture of dependency, and the mainstreaming of the arts and culture sector in the broader economy towards contributing to socioeconomic growth and development.

Diphofa is the NAC’s arts development manager

FACT BOX: 5 TIPS FOR EMERGING ARTISTS

  • Identify institutions that provide arts business and management courses
  • Make enquiries with these institutions to determine whether their courses are appropriate to your practice
  • Apply for enrolment for the most relevant courses
  • Approach funding organisations such as the NAC for bursaries
  • Incorporate the skills acquired in courses into your practice to make your work presentable and marketable

Know thyself this Heritage Month

Often when engaging in matters relating to the creative fields, we mention the phrase “arts, culture and heritage (ACH)” without paying much attention to the “heritage” part of the phrase. In a sense, the “H” in the abbreviation has become redundant and somewhat of an ornament in our everyday parlance, superficially incorporated into our jargon and lists of catchphrases. This is surprising because heritage and the awareness of it, to me, is at the very core of many, if not all, forms of artistic expression. By implication, in being at the core of artistic expression, it becomes central in shaping our culture and identity.

 

In this regard, the National Arts Council (NAC) finds itself in a strong position to leverage off and collaborate with its sister organisations towards incorporating support for heritage initiatives into certain areas of fulfilling its own mandate. Along with the NAC, other implementing agencies of the Department of Arts and Culture, such as the National Heritage Council (NHC), the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and Business Arts South Africa (BASA), are in place to adopt collaborative and holistic approaches to socioeconomic development, nation building and social cohesion.

 

An example of this can be seen in the recent creation of the Development Agency Forum, which includes the NAC, the NHC, the NFVF and BASA. Not only has this forum already identified  a few projects for collaboration, its creation serves as a means of opening dialogue in the heritage sector in order to identify efficient methods of preserving our heritage. This, in turn, will contribute towards mainstreaming the heritage sector into the broader economy and opening a path of growth for employment. Another example is the NAC’s involvement in supporting 19 writers to develop manuscripts in indigenous languages.

 

But conceptualising ‘heritage’ and the broader economic development imperative that underlies enhancing the heritage sector can only be served practically and appropriately from the grass-roots level up. As the primary drivers of what it means to be South African, the youth should play a critical role in identifying the most salient features of our heritage that need to be preserved and celebrated.

 

But for South Africa’s large youth population to begin appreciating their heritage, they need to be educated accordingly and made aware of the benefits of staying true to themselves and their past. This in the context of a globalised world where culture, especially youth culture, has by and large become generic and homogenised in favour of the developed world, which has had the means over centuries to impose dominant artistic and cultural modes and, in essence, the celebration of a certain eurocentric or Western type of heritage.

 

It is for this reason the NAC adopted the message “know thyself and you will never sway” this Heritage Month. As an agency mandated to support and develop arts and culture in South Africa, and by implication preserve and uphold the country’s heritage, our central role is to develop people, especially the youth. It is also our responsibility to foster a sense of respect for our dignity as Africans, as well as restore and uplift our people, through artistic expression in recognition of our past struggles, from centuries of exploitation and oppression. It is therefore in our best interest, in looking ahead towards the future of South Africa, to inculcate a sense of belonging and the spirit of togetherness among our youth, as it is only through belonging and togetherness that their susceptibility to negative influences will be diminished.

 

As an advocate for arts education, the NAC constantly strives towards finding innovative, cross-disciplinary and intersectional solutions that integrate the arts into practical methods of instruction. To this end, the NAC is currently in the process of exploring an exciting partnership with an NGO which consists of a team of visual artists, mathematicians, historians, architects and writers to develop teacher’s guides for training and learner workbooks. The tremendous impact of this kind of innovative approach to arts and education will only truly be realised in generations to come, where we’ll see the young children of today grow up to be creative, holistic thinkers in whatever professions or vocations they find themselves in.

 

A more meaningful acknowledgement of heritage in our discourse and efforts would certainly go a long way towards establishing a distinct South African identity. Constant monitoring and evaluation of our programmes and initiatives will in time render a body of knowledge on which more in depth research can be undertaken to create a clearer picture of the potential the heritage sector, and South African heritage in general, have for our country’s development and advancement.

Art as collision

Despite being more connected than we ever have been, today’s world is, arguably, more fragmented than it has been since we entered the era of the global village. We can track the shift: think Brexit, Trump and the raising of imaginary walls in what seems like a regression to Cold War-era isolationism.

But let’s not be too quick to become despondent. I believe the fault lines we’re seeing emerge are probably the last hurrah of old, staid ways of thinking. Traditional power is in a corner, and right now it happens to be screaming the loudest. The more people feel their way of life is under threat, the more likely they are to retreat into siloes in which all ideas are familiar and comfortable.

That’s where the artist comes in: to challenge, to disrupt, to interrogate what makes people uncomfortable, and push all of us towards understanding it more fully. Good art is often not born out of comfortable spaces, but from conflict and collision – and it’s not until there’s difference that people collide. Through collision there’s an exchange of ideas and perspectives, and through that exchange, if those involved are really listening and applying themselves, art, as well as the acknowledgement of a shared humanity and connection to the planet we live on.

“Every culture has its origins in hybridisation, interaction, confrontation. In isolation, by contrast, civilisation dies out. The experience of the other is the secret to change,” writes Octavio Paz in an essay on art and culture.

Young people today feel less defined by national borders, and increasingly see themselves as global citizens. Modern technology and media connects us all. We are increasingly becoming aware of “the other”, of how their difference manifests in their perspective, and we are learning to listen. If we accept our role as artists and take responsibility for creating art that grasps at truth, we can tap into the collision and the difference, experience others, and challenge each other and our audiences. Art is, after all, confrontation. We can become a collective made up of a kaleidoscope of culture that pushes new modes of expression.

But to do this, we need to think outside the box. We need to go outside the box if we are to collide. We need to be curious, raise questions, and be happy even if we find no answers. We need to think differently about booking art, making it, marketing it, curating it and selling it. We need to dismantle traditional ways of thinking to build newer, more nimble models that adapt to the world’s changing dynamics and reflect our myriad truths through our practice.

This work is already happening in museums, in art centres, in hospitals, in academia, in businesses. It’s happening everywhere, in all the spaces in which there’s tension, where we push ourselves in new and potentially unknown and brave directions. I like to call our generation, especially the youth of today, the “slash” (/) generation because we’re not afraid to throw caution to the wind and try our hands at new and exciting things. Today’s artists, myself included, wear many hats.

Too often I hear people say they “can’t”. “How?” they ask, and they get so bogged down by that question that they don’t even think about the what. They don’t realise that the closer they get to the what, the clearer it becomes, the more the question of how begins to fall away. When I hear an artist say, “I can’t”, I ask: How do you work in a field of imagination, of dreams, of access, and say it cannot be done? You are here, in this field where we have the privilege of engaging with ideas and expression, and with that comes responsibility. You must speak your truth. You are a thought leader. Discover what you have to offer, acknowledge it, and let it radiate from you. You’re here, you have power, and you’re in a position to make a change.

In addition to my roles as theatre-maker, educator and international arts advocate and consultant, and underpinning all of them, I’m a connector. I’m curious about people and I want them to be curious about one another. I’m fortunate enough to be able to facilitate the exchange of ideas and practices through programming conferences and hosting long tables where the art elite sit alongside young cultural innovators. These forums are vital sites for disruption because artists are the real cultural diplomats, as their creations speak to people, their audiences, the loudest, and make further linkages possible.

There’s a dire need in art, and the world today, for voices to speak, limbs to tweak, brushes to streak from the Global South. South Africa is a particularly fertile ground for the creation of art. Your country is rich with people from all walks of life. It’s an ideal space for collision, for learning, for artistic expression. Don’t pigeonhole what culture should be. Don’t build walls around your traditions. Allow yourselves to engage and collide with all the “others” around you, and march to the tune of a future that’s pregnant with potential. Tap into your moment of political and ideological fission to create art that does not shy away from difference or shirk uncomfortable questions. Talk, engage, create. The world is your audience.

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