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Empowering artists through education and training

The BASA Education Programme is the result of the organisation’s commitment to the development and support of the arts with a view of growing a sustainable South African arts sector.

Through the BASA Mentorship Programme, business practitioners are paired with arts organisations to improve their general business skills which include marketing, audience development, financial planning and cash flow management. Through these mutually beneficial mentorship relationships, arts organisations are able to gain new skills and alternative perspectives on their operations, while business professionals gain access to creative organisations.

The annual BASA Awards also specifically recognise the long-term contribution of volunteer business mentors in this programme thanks to its Mentor of the Year Award.

In BASA’s capacity building workshops, held during the year throughout South Africa, the focus is on specific business areas most arts organisations need to address for sustainable and efficient operations. Covering themes from project management to fundraising, marketing and PR to financial management, the content is tailored to inform and affect the day-to-day operation of delegates.

For arts organisations and individuals wanting to start either for-profit or non-profit ventures, BASA Basics is a three tiered education programme that introduces them to legal registration options and guides them through the steps of building a workable business model to get started. A series of workshops, held over six months, guide participants from positioning their organisation to developing strategies and building sufficient networks.

Lastly the BASA Boardbank pairs not-for-profit arts and culture organisations with skilled business professionals who voluntarily serve on their boards. These reciprocal relationships help organisations to secure the necessary expertise on a strategic board level and comply with their governance requirements, while providing individuals the opportunity to expand their Social Investment exposure in the arts sector.

BASA’s aim to advocate an arts culture in society makes it the ideal NAC partner, supporting the council’s endeavours to leverage partnerships and resources and to develop, support, promote and advance the arts in South Africa.

Says NAC CEO Rosemary Mangope: “At the NAC we are committed to changing the landscape of South Africa’s creative industries. Key to this transformation is not only supporting SA’s existing centres of arts excellence but also to identify and foster emerging talent nationwide – it is these individuals and organisations that will be our future standard-bearers for the arts, both nationally and internationally.”

For more information regarding BASA’s education programmes, go to http://www.basa.co.za/?page_id=384

Umcebo’s Bulwer Park Community Public Sculpture Project takes flight

The sculpture was assembled by Robin Opperman and Ujala Sewpersad from Umcebo Design along with sculptor George Halloway and a group of local crafters. The seven metre wide by five metre high artwork is constructed around a galvanised steel frame using upcycled materials such as electric plugs, cables, scissors and plastic combs. The materials used in the sculpture are mostly non-compliant consumer items that may otherwise have entered the local market.

Upcycling has become more than just a buzzword over the past few years. Also known as creative reuse, it is the process of transforming waste materials or repurposing unwanted products into new artefacts, thus cutting down on waste. In the arts, upcycling has become a sustainable alternative to using traditional sculpture materials, converting old or discarded objects into beautiful expressions of creativity, instead of it ending up in city landfills or illegal dumping sites.

Umcebo Design, one of the NAC’s beneficiaries, is leading the charge locally. Based in Durban, Umcebo (isiZulu for “treasure”) makes hand-made to-order decor items inspired by South Africa’s natural animal and plant wonders. They also conduct workshops with school children and local communities, in which they advocate the advantages and importance of recycling and the repurposing of discarded materials.

Opperman believes recyclable material is a viable art medium: “People think making art and items from recycled materials is a lazy option but it is actually harder to do. Very often clients buy recycled goods from non-profit organisations not because they love what they see, but from pity. We need to change this perception.”

Sparked by his work as an art teacher at the Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped during the 1990s, Umcebo is testament to Opperman’s long-standing history of working with marginalised communities and people of varying abilities. Umcebo provides an inclusive studio workspace where the community and people with special needs are assisted in developing their artistic talents. Stemming from Opperman’s vision to transform community-based arts and crafts initiatives into viable income-generating business models, the studio also helps artists and crafters to generate income from their creative handiwork.

The Umcebo Bulwer Park Community Public Sculpture Project focused on depicting a vulturine fish eagle as this rare bird is synonymous with the birding ecotourism that KwaZulu-Natal is known for and to steer away from the clichéd depiction of the big five. Apart from the bird’s significance to the province’s ecology, its natural habitat – the Ilala palms’ leaves – have a cultural significance as they are used by the isiZulu in basket weaving.

The Bulwer Park sculpture project is the result of mutually beneficial partnerships producing engaging and informative public art by means of creative collaboration. Through the communal exchange of skills and ideas, Umcebo provides the platform for participants to develop mutual understanding and awareness of other collaborators. With its commitment to skills development and broader education, Umcebo believes that “personal empowerment and improved self-awareness is brought about through art, craft, creativity, learning and teaching. It is this collaboration that works towards inclusion of participants in the fullest sense”.

This approach has proved a winning formula. Apart from being a finalist in the inaugural eThekwini Art Prize competition and having undertaken various public art commissions, including those now found in Durban’s City Hall and King Shaka International Airport, Umcebo Design’s work also takes pride of place in the personal collections of notable celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Rita Marley as well as the royal collection of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The Knysna Literary Festival stimulates and educates

Where possible, support services are sourced from within Knysna and festival venues are selected with the purpose of showcasing the town’s hospitality infrastructure and celebrated natural settings. The festival donates approximately 30% of its revenue from ticket sales to local charities that focus on childhood development and education, a percentage they look to grow in future.

Now in its seventh year, the festival aims to promote South Africa’s rich literary heritage thanks to a diverse programme that includes current affairs, politics, history and adventure literature. The festival has grown rapidly in recent years as has its commitment to education. Unique literary experiences offer attendees and the community various opportunities to engage with authors and experts on both popular and scholarly topics, by means of workshops, presentations and informal discussions.

In 2015 nearly 1000 learners attended the Children’s Theatre performance while the Young Writers’ Competition – which attracts entries in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa from rural schools – has increased in support.

Important components of the festival’s outreach programme are the FundZa writing workshops and a mentoring programme funded by the National Arts Council (NAC). A non-profit organisation, FundZa is dedicated to fostering a culture of reading and writing among underprivileged South African youth, ages between 13 and 25, from under-resourced communities.

With a mission to build a culture of reading and writing, FundZa develops the country’s future writers by exposing communities to quality content in unconventional mobile media, enabling prospective writers to publish their stories while facilitating dialogue and communication.

FundZa’s mobi network has a reach of more than 350 000 youngsters with participants posting more than 100 comments daily, indicative of a highly engaging platform.
As there are very few books that reflect the reality faced by youths in under-resourced communities, FundZa doesn’t use texts that are unappealing to potentially reluctant readers. Instead, they facilitate the creation of locally produced content that is relatable to the audience and stories that reflect the issues and ambitions that many young people face.

In the Mentoring Our Future Writers Project, young writers are paired with experienced authors with each pair having to write a set of short stories that are linked to one other in some way. Both parties give feedback to one another on their stories, with young writers gaining support, while mentors gain insights from younger and often trendier mentees.

According to the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 43 percent of South African Grade 5 learners’ reading skills were lower than that of the international expectation on a Grade 4 level – a finding that ranked the country as the lowest of all participants in the study. Within this context organisations such as FundZa, who approach literacy issues in an innovative manner, are essential to improve national proficiency in reading and writing.

This NAC funded collaboration with FundZa is a boon for the Knysna Literary Festival, adding gravitas to its commitment to education and training of the local community, where other similar ventures are more focused on the bottom line and corporate sponsorships.

The seventh annual Knysna Literary Festival will take place from Thursday, March 17, to Sunday, March 20, 2016. More information at http://www.knysnaliteraryfestival.co.za

Home Is Where The Mic Is: Capturing SA’s Spoken Work Movement on Paper

Their latest publication, Home Is Where The Mic Is, highlights the work of the growing Spoken Word community in South Africa.

Spoken Word combines innovative ways of using English, particularly by those for whom it is a second language, with rich performance styles that include everything from stark hand movements to strutting and dancing. Put another way, it is presenting poetry as theatre and celebrating the performer’s intellectual engagement with his or her subject.

“Our criterion for selection for publication in Home Is Where The Mic Is was simple: it must work both on the page and on the stage,” says Allan Kolski Horwitz, who co-edited the collection with fellow poet Mandi Poefficient Vundla.

“Between the two of us, we saw everything included in the book being performed, and Mandi was a key guide, as she is very much a part of the scene locally.”

Horwitz adds that the publication will hopefully help many of the featured Spoken Word poets, make a breakthrough, as it is – thanks to the NAC funding – a bigger and more saleable product than publications or recordings that the individual artists can put together on their own.

“Poetry as a printed genre would die without funding. The support given by the NAC and other funding agencies is critical. Botsotso is one of the four main publishers of poetry in South Africa, and we use this money not only to produce quality publications, but to maintain our focus on reaching the widest possible audience.”

Horwitz underlines the importance of Spoken Word poetry in terms of helping audiences to process what is going on around them.

“Spoken Word is very much about the zeitgeist,” he explains. “It presents the issues of the day to listeners or readers in a way that they can relate to. In Home Is Where The Mic Is, there is a large focus on issues of black identity and the new empowerment of black people. There is also work that helps South Africans connect perceptions with reality, showing them that our ‘paradise’ is on a knife’s edge. It’s an important message, as our current bureaucrats are still in the ruts created by the old regime, and the problems with that situation need to be brought into the light.”

Horwitz reiterates that the continued publication of such books and collections of work from different artists with varying perspectives is an important mark of cultural health and sees the publications as ways to expose new talent – Home Is Where The Mic Is brings a new generation of poets to a wider audience – and to also encourage artists to edit or publish books as platforms on which to highlight their creativity.

Bruce Dennill

A Word from the CEO

In terms of advancing arts promotion, I believe that we need to use cultural engagement as a rallying point to unlock resources and leverage partnerships as we find ways to augment government funding.

Combining old-fashioned values with a new vision means that 2016 holds exciting promise. Passion, dedication, commitment and hard work are just some of the drivers for achieving the results we want to achieve.

The NAC aspires to provide arts and culture leadership that takes into account the changing realities of today’s world. This is fundamental for ensuring that arts and culture is seen as a pillar of social development in the 21st century.

We are looking to work with partners who can add leadership and provide both the strength and vision to help us choose the right direction. Traditionally, the concept of leadership has been associated with the top-down approach, where leaders were found primarily in key positions in government and/or big national and international organisations.

While the role of government remains essential, a network society brings fundamental change to the perception on the role and nature of leadership. Leaders can no longer be identified solely based on their positions in governmental or governance structures but rather on their ability to articulate vision and carry out change.

In order to understand the changing roles of various stakeholders, it is crucial to affirm the roles of artists, leaders of networks and advocacy groups as well as civil society or professional organisations at local and international levels, all actively debating and proposing solutions for the contemporary challenges of today’s society.

There is much to do and we look forward to achieving our aims and goals. All hands on deck!

Rosemary Mangope
Chief Executive Officer
NAC

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