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Taking the arts, culture and heritage sector into the future

Until now, the arts, culture and heritage landscape has been shaped by the 1996 White Paper on Arts and Culture, which sought to redress the legacy of apartheid through nation building.
Taking the arts, culture and heritage sector into the future.

However, since the adoption of the white paper almost two decades ago, the South African economic context has changed and we are now seeing disparities between transformation in the arts, culture and heritage sector and government’s policy of radical economic transformation. This has highlighted a need for intervention from the Department of Arts and Culture to bring transformation in the sector in line with government’s transformation imperatives.

In this regard, the department hosted a sector indaba in Johannesburg from 26 to 27 November 2015 that was aimed at developing a revised white paper on arts, culture and heritage to take the sector into the future.

The indaba provided a platform for the Minister of Arts and Culture Mr Nathi Mthethwa to present sector representatives with the Policy Position Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage. The position paper recognises “significant transformation and development” in the sector over the past 20 years both locally and internationally, but emphasises the need for further transformation to fully recognise the importance of arts, culture and heritage in socioeconomic development.

Delegates and sector representatives were requested to actively participate in commissions during the two-day indaba and make suggestions on the future of the sector. A newly appointed White Paper Reference Panel was also introduced, with former National Arts Council (NAC) board member Professor Gessler Nkondo as part of the panel.

The programme for the indaba was structured around five commissions, which aimed to discuss five key aspects of the arts, culture and heritage landscape, namely: preservation, protection and promotion of South African arts, culture and heritage; the role of the arts, culture and heritage sector in nation building and social cohesion; radical socioeconomic transformation of the arts, culture and heritage sector; accessibility of arts, culture and heritage; and sustainable livelihoods of and within the arts, culture and heritage sector.

Day one of the indaba saw the commissions unpacking issues around defining “who we are” in terms of the various subsectors and their elements, “where and what we want to be” in the next 20 years, what the core values and principles of the sector should be, and identifying fundamental policy challenges and proposing solutions.

On day two, the commissions looked at institutional arrangements within the sector in terms of how the department and its entities, including the NAC, and the sector should be organised both individually as well as in relation to each other; how funding for and within the sector should be structured; the current state of affairs regarding funding in relation to “where we want to be”; and the state of arts, culture and heritage infrastructure.

The issue of how skills development, education and training should be dealt with was also addressed on day two, along with other issues such as: research and development in terms of how it contributes to realising the sector’s vision; how cultural diplomacy should be introduced and structured such that it helps the sector leverage off international relations; how language diversity should be used as a strength to achieve the proposed vision; and how business, media and society can contribute to and partner with the sector to realise its vision.

The department indicated that further engagements will take place and refinements will be made to the policy position paper. Thereafter, the new white paper will be presented to Cabinet for approval by March 2016.

International dance connections sparks local innovation

Contemporary dance is counted among one of South Africa’s most valuable, and politically aware, performing arts sectors – forging innovative ways to express the new freedoms and cultural diversity of post-apartheid South Africa.
International dance connections sparks local innovation

Established in 2003, with the aim to manage various developmental aspects of the professional and non-professional contemporary South African dance industry, the Dance Forum has become a vital and integral driver for training, development and innovation in local contemporary dance and choreography. With a unique industry- wide focus it acts as a catalyst between existing contemporary dance initiatives and provides much needed skills transfer and vocational training opportunities, and the ability to manage and facilitate a number of developmental programmes in the Southern African region.

One of the Dance Forum’s central endeavours is to develop a culture of excellence within the dance industry, both locally and internationally. Central to this aim is the management of a number of initiatives like workshops, contemporary choreography residency programmes as well as the annual Dance Umbrella Festivals. Now in its 28th year, The Dance Umbrella has established itself as the main international springboard for local choreographers, and counts world acclaimed choreographers like Robyn Orlin, Gregory Maqoma, Vincent Mantsoe and Boyzie Cekwana among its alumni.

In 2015 the Dance Forum hosted a number of dance residency programmes at the Dance Space in Newtown, Johannesburg. The dance residency programmes provided local talent the opportunity to connect and collaborate with international dance-makers. Funded by the National Arts Council (NAC) to the tune of R 150 000 the Connections residency programme focused on developing professional South African contemporary dance practitioners through master classes that stimulated discussion and invigorating debate. The residency provided a supportive environment for local dance practitioners to create, perform and diversify their creativity and professional skills, and specifically set out to:

  • develop artistic direction and the creation of outstanding dance
  • enable the sustainability of free expression through contemporary dance performance by the selected young and established choreographers by building capacity for the Contemporary Dance community
  • give dance practitioners from the contemporary dance sector in Southern Africa an opportunity to work within a creative and secure structure and network and work with international artists.

In June 2015 the Connections Residency programme hosted a one week HIGH FIVE residency programme with the Geneva Ballet Company and five local choreographers resulting in performances showcased at the Soweto and Wits Theatres. This was followed in August, by a collaboration between Dance Forum and ISH Dance from the Netherlands, which brought together Fana Tshabalala and Thulani Chauke with Dutch choreographer Anna Maria Suijkerbuijk. The resulting collaborative piece was presented at the Soweto Theatre, Johannesburg before travelling south to Cape Town’s Artscape and the Voorkamerfees in Darling. The third residency was a collaboration between Sonia Radebe and Teresa Mojela and the final involved a site-specific contemporary dance work by Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Inspired by the South African Labour Migration and migration at large the piece was created with the Workers Museum in Newtown, Johannesburg in mind.

The outcomes of the Dance Forum residencies programme will be shown at the 2016 Dance Umbrella festival held from February 25 until March 6 in various venues across Johannesburg – Dance Factory, The Market Theatre, Soweto Theatre and the University of Johannesburg Theatre & Arts Centre Theatre.

For detailed Dance Umbrella programme information, visit:

NAC Flagship project profile: Madi a Thavha

NAC Flagship project profile: Madi a Thavha

Arriving at Madi a Thavha just outside Makhado, in the lushness of Limpopo’s mountains, lakes and forests, one is immediately taken by the traditional sculptures and artworks placed all over the grounds of this unique guest house and art centre.

Heading out from here one will encounter the mythologically potent Lake Fundudzi, ancient spiritually important forests and a belt of Venda woodcarvers celebrated the world over – Jackson Hlungwane, Noria Mabasa, Johannes Maswanganyi, Samson Mudzungu and others. This generation of spiritual sculptors turned the South African art world on its head. Work some regarded as craft was viewed by critics and historians as the fine art it is. The problem was that as the sculptors grew older, fewer and fewer learned their trade. Limpopo, meanwhile, began to grow as a tourist destination and the nearby administrative capital Thohoyandou began to bustle. Here is the perfect place, rich with heritage, to grow the existing craft market.

The National Arts Council (NAC) Craft Panel recognised this opportunity to develop skills in a culturally unique craft sector, grow employment in a geographically remote region, and facilitate entrepreneurs, artists and artisans gaining easier entry into the market.

This is where Madi a Thavha fitted perfectly into the plan. Through sustainable practice and a trusted bond with a network of local artists and handcrafters for a decade already, Madi a Thavha is also home to a gallery showcasing local masters and emerging artists working in and reinterpreting the traditional design patterns and art forms of the VhaVenda and VaTsonga people – notably through wood carving, beading and textile design.

A fair trade tourism destination, Madi a Thavha which means ‘water from the mountains’, was beginning to attract more and more foreign buyers and facilitate a meaningful exchange between the local and international art communities – one that is facilitating a broadening flow of business.

At the picturesque art centre, a craft workshop and craft store became new additions. Local women are employed at the Madi a Thavha textile and design studio, a business that produces homeware from Venda fabrics decorated with traditional Tsonga beading and embroidery. Visitors are also taken on guided tours of the studios and workshops of local crafters and sculptors.

The NAC chose Madi a Thavha as a flagship Craft Initiative Project, collaborating to align master crafters with talented handcrafters in training and development programmes.

The initiative culminated in CraftArt, an exhibition that showcased work from 48 of Northern Limpopo’s finest established and new artists and crafters. The NAC-funded exhibition’s theme centred on the traditional motifs and designs used to adorn local homesteads. It showcased local craft to a broader audience – from tourists and visitors to gallerists and interior decorators, government to museums.

But the process was even more important than the outcome.

Through the NAC Creativity in Craft Training programme, potential craft talent in the region was spotted and nurtured. Participants were encouraged to experiment with new processes, colour and texture combinations. This skills transfer and the dialogue between artists and crafters resulted in innovative new products and ranges – traditionally inspired contemporary jewellery pieces, beaded baskets, glass weaving artifacts and beaded-and-embroidered fabric and textiles. Handmade recycled glass beads, indigenous seeds from Marula and Baobab trees were also incorporated as new materials into some of the new ranges.

In the process, business skills were passed to the community, as well as a new knowledge of production processes and a focused consideration of sourcing and the use of raw materials.

For the project, various communities played host to workshops in market support, technical and product innovation. There were training and mentoring programmes across the Northern Limpopo region in Thohoyandou, Elim and Giyani. People living with disabilities and people living with HIV/Aids were also included.

In 2016, the promotion and the sustainable expansion of the market in this culturally rich region will continue. This NAC project aims at perfecting successful products from the previous year, while building proficiency and also sourcing alternate raw materials for new craft ranges. New life has been breathed into an ancient practice here, providing both jobs and the preservation of heritage.

Celebrating our collective PAST

After recent outbursts on social media, the issue of racism was again placed on the forefront of the national agenda, with government and the national assembly taking a firm stance against it.
Celebrating our collective PAST

As a country, we seem to battle to shake the burden of our colonial history, which casts its shadow over the present, marring efforts to bring about social cohesion.

Now, more than ever, the arts offer many benefits for both individuals and society ranging from symbolically representing our lived realities, expressing our dreams and aspirations, to bringing individuals and communities together.

For cultural workers art offers the most important tool to communicate across audiences and differences, thereby bringing about social cohesion.

When the future of our much vaunted national miracle looks set to dim under such circumstances, it is our PAST – the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, that is – that provides us with a glimmer of much needed solidarity.

Promoting social cohesion is an important aspect of PAST’s mandate, and the All From One campaign is central in this pursuit. Launched on 10 November 2015, the campaign and accompanying exhibition celebrate Africa as the birthplace of humankind.

“The scientific fact is humans are 99.9% alike, with just a few genes making for the differences in skin colour” says Prof Robert Blumenschine, Chief Scientist at PAST. This is one of the scientific facts that was addressed in art-form in the All From One exhibition, where scientific data around humanity’s shared ancestry was transformed into works that are coherently accessible to a wider audience.

“When we use science as our guide, it is clear that the racial distinctions that began to appear only as recently as 50,000 years ago as our ancestors populated the world from the African homeland are superficial and have no bearing on our capabilities or character,” adds PAST CEO, Andrea Leenen.

The campaign is also supported by the Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project, an arts education initiative that harnesses the power of theatre to teach science. Aimed at learners and educators on a secondary school level, workshops feature a physical theatre production that illustrates how life on Earth evolved from the beginning of time to the present day, inspiring learners to realise, contemplate and treasure their age-old African origins.

The All From One exhibition moved to the Soweto Theatre in February 2016 as part of the Zindala Zombili African Music and Dance Festival – South Africa’s premier indigenous cultural festival. The NAC is a key partner for the Soweto leg of the exhibition and a strategic supporter of initiatives like PAST’s Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project, which staged a performance at the opening event. Since 2002, Walking Tall’s mobile, cost-effective model has enabled it to reach over one million learners and educators in South Africa, as well as audiences as far afield as Namibia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Belgium and Sweden.

Mandated to foster the expression of a national identity and consciousness by means of the arts, the NAC has appointed PAST as its institutional partner for social cohesion – a union that also strengthens its ability to promote and facilitate national and international liaison between individuals and institutions in respect of the arts. The NAC will help to fund the Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project future arts education initiatives in association with the All From One exhibition.

“We are proud to be a key supporter of an initiative that breathes to life one of our strategic objectives which is to utilise the arts to drive nation building and social cohesion. It is through partnerships such as this one that we can actively encourage and foster nation building and social cohesion within our various communities. This initiative drives home the basic truths of our shared origins and drives a message of tolerance and acceptance, which are key steps to social cohesion and nation building”, says NAC Chief Executive Officer, Rosemary Mangope.

PAST, the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, is a Johannesburg-based public benefit organisation whose mission is to protect, preserve and promote the scientific evidence for humanity’s shared origins in Africa. By bringing together scientists, academics and education professionals with government and private enterprise, the organisation aims to inspire scientific curiosity, develop African leadership in science and instill pride in the continent’s ancient heritage.

A Word from the CEO – Partnerships and collaboration are a key focus for 2016

It has been close to two decades since the National Arts Council (NAC) was instituted, and in that period, we have seen how the local creative community has come together to form a dynamic industry. In this, the NAC has been a key roleplayer that has solidly stuck to its mission to develop and promote excellence in the arts. However, we realise that to fulfil our mandate, we cannot focus on the grant awarding but that we also need to leverage strategic partnerships and resources to offer our beneficiaries value adding services that will develop, support, promote and advance the arts.

These strategic partnerships can be viewed as different parts of a robust machine in the arts sector. A machine is unable to function without critical parts and furthermore, prolonged operation without key components will threaten to bring the system to a halt. Similarly, without key strategic partnerships and collaborations, the promise of what we set out to achieve may be threatened. As an organisation, the NAC is a vital component in the machine that drives the development of the arts sector. On a national, provincial and local level, we have supported various projects to enable artists and arts organisations resulting in numerous of these projects growing into vibrantly collaborative partnerships. This year, the NAC will strongly focus on facilitating strategic national and international relationships to foster cooperative agreements between individuals and organisations in respect to the arts.

Our partnerships and engagements with the likes of the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA), participation at the NEPAD Regional Conference on Arts Education in Africa and the NAC’s cultural engagements with Canada and France demonstrates the importance and the benefits of collaboration in taking the arts sector forward. Collective action is the keystone to success. For us as the NAC, building strategic relationships is merely the beginning. We need to ensure that that we forge strategic partnerships that are not only meaningful but translate into positive action and value for our sector.

Strategic partnerships should assist us with advancing the arts but more importantly give us the opportunity to highlight the importance of arts and culture in society. Through collaboration we can gain insight through research and an understanding of global best practices. We can work together in finding solutions that deal with global issues such as environmental sustainability and how the arts can play a role. Furthermore, such partnerships enable us to position the arts and culture sector as a key driver for socio-economic growth.

The support, development and promotion of the South African arts sector, both locally and internationally, is not a solitary action; and as a whole, the creative industry cannot operate in a vacuum. In the same manner that creative processes are driven by the need to connect the seemingly disconnected, finding solutions and innovating where others don’t see opportunities. We continuously need to look for new partnerships and opportunities for collaboration, thereby strengthening the arts and culture sector and the country in its entirety.