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National Arts Council awards over 100 study bursaries

In keeping with its mandate to support and develop South Africa’s arts, culture and heritage sector, The National Arts Council (NAC) has awarded 117 bursaries to arts students and tertiary institutions for 2016 through a fund allocation of over R5 million, a 10% increase from the last financial year. The bursaries will support both undergraduate studies at institutions as well as post graduate individuals across disciplines, signaling the NAC’s holistic approach to funding as a means of development.
National Arts Council awards over 100 study bursaries

The bursaries have been awarded to students and institutions in five provinces (Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State), in the fields of craft (11), dance (5), literature (13), multidiscipline (14), music (24), theatre (17) and visual arts (33).

Some of the supported institutions include the University of the Free State, the University of the Witwatersrand School of the Arts, the University of Johannesburg, the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Tshwane University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Funda Community College, Oakfield College, Moving Into Dance Mopatong and LISOF. The full list of bursaries awarded can be accessed on the NAC’s website.

As a state-owned entity operating under the auspices of the Department of Arts and Culture, the NAC is aware of and responding to government’s broader priority of providing affordable, quality higher education to South Africa’s youth.

“It’s not only about disbursing grants. The NAC is undergoing constant and unrelenting transition to cater to all the needs of arts and cultural workers and their development. And what better way to do this than by providing support to students who will go on to participate in and contribute to the arts and culture industry. Our aim is for them do so in a meaningful and sustainable way,” says NAC chief executive officer Rosemary Mangope.
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Jailhouse rock

Reggae’s most transcendent and iconic figure, Bob Marley, once said – “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”. This rings true for many prisoners in South Africa who have been moved by the Poetso Music Project.
Jailhouse rock

Poetso Music Project is a prison outreach programme founded by Trevor Smith in 2005, focusing on empowerment and upliftment through music. The project began with a call for a theory teacher to work at Leeuwkop Medium C correctional facility for men on a voluntary basis, training students in theory. Smith’s involvement at the prison led to his observation of the rehabilitative and restorative effects of music on people in prison.

“There is no right or wrong in music, so there is no judgment. There is only encouragement, and from there an increase in self-esteem and confidence to pursue not only music, but perhaps other areas in one’s life,” he says.

Smith, a trained musician, went on to register Poetso Music Project as a non-profit organisation in 2013. Apart from continuing to train prisoners in music theory, Poetso assisted some prisoners in starting a band at Westville Prison in Durban.

Enter the National Arts Council (NAC), which, in 2015, approved funding for the project. According to Smith, funding from the NAC has assisted in all spheres of the project’s activities, from the educational element of formal music theory examinations and music production training to songwriting workshops and even a recording of the band’s performance for the Department of Correctional Services and family members of the prisoners.

Funding also enabled Poetso to purchase music composition software, which was loaded on to the prison’s computers for the band to continue creating music once the project had seen its completion. In addition, travel expenses, tutor fees and other practical resources required to see the project through were covered as a result of the NAC’s funding.

Poetso’s prison recording project is in the final mixing and mastering phase, after which the recorded songs will be packaged and distributed to the participants and their families. A backing CD will also be produced so that the band can continue to perform their songs at events the Department of Correctional Services holds throughout the year.

Commenting on the highlights from the recording project, Smith says: “While we were [at Westville], we experienced the wardens opening each morning with a prayer and a song. We asked the female wardens if they would like to sing backing vocals on a couple of the gospel tracks, to which they agreed. It was wonderful to see the collaboration between the juveniles and those who oversee them … a breaking down of barriers to create something special together.”

Another highlight, according to Smith, was witnessing the transformation of one of the juveniles, who had initially wanted to drop out on the second day. By the end, he had become the top participant in the group, scoring the highest marks in his theory examination, writing lyrics for the first time, and featuring first in the hip-hop track.

To illustrate the Poetso Music Project’s impact on prisoners’ lives and its ethos of being a lasting, positive influence on prisoners, Smith reflects on another highlight of the project: “One of our old participants who had been released from prison a few years ago also joined us in the project at Westville, and from his own experiences and success was able to really offer a testimonial on the positive impact music can have on those physically and mentally imprisoned.”

Strokes of genius

About 20km out of the Cape Town CBD, nestled between Grassy Park and Muizenberg, is the community of Vrygrond – the side of the city that you won’t see on picture-perfect postcards. It’s a place where gangs rule and drug abuse is rife; where health care comprises little more than a plaster and a Panado, and children are often left with no option but to be the heads of households.
Strokes of genius

But there’s been some colour of late against the grey, depressing backdrop that is Vrygrond. The Butterfly Art Project, which, as its web portal explains, aims to change the face of Vrygrond by “encouraging creativity and healing through art … one brush stroke at a time”. The safe, nurturing environment the project creates is a far cry from most of its participants’ harsh realities. The project was started because its founders “believe art is a medium that promotes healing and gives skills for creativity in all of life”.

Traumatised children often have greater difficulty reaching their potential, but the project “encourages them to express themselves through mediums of colour, independent thinking, creativity, and simply providing a positive space for them to adapt and take back home”. It aims to expand each of its members’ capabilities to learn, and create a positive influence by broadening their horizons of experience and creative or independent thinking.

The project however, isn’t limited to children. It’s open to anybody who wants to join. “We also run a ceramics and pottery class for unemployed members of the community. They are then given the opportunity to sell the ceramics they make at our end-of-year exhibitions,” says Zaid Philander, the project’s arts outreach manager.

Philander’s role in the project is to facilitate access to the arts for the community by setting up classes. “My biggest highlight is seeing the progression of each child and adult at the end of the year, not just in terms of skill and art techniques, but seeing them grow into confident, creative and inspired individuals who learn to know more than just the township that they reside in. It’s very fulfilling to see someone who thought there wasn’t much more to life learn to be creative, and use that to explore themselves and further themselves as individuals,” he says.

Founder Angela Katschke started the project in late 2010. For a while, she ran it from the boot of her car. But her brainchild has come a long way since then. Today, the Butterfly Art Project has as many as 750 beneficiaries per week, according to Philander. And there are plans to expand. “We plan on expanding the community in creative output programmes that they can use and adapt as a skill that can become an entrepreneurial venture. For example, we have started rolling out sewing and gardening programmes. We have also started a street art course for younger members of the community that could help them understand the difference between vandalism and art, and also match their creative output with their freedom of expression,” he explains.

The National Arts Council approved funding for the project in 2015, which, according to Philander, will mainly be used for materials such as clay for the project’s ceramics and pottery courses, art materials for the project’s street art course, and to provide stipends for the project’s art facilitators’ course. “A portion of our funds are also assigned to the maintenance and running costs of our Butterfly Art Studios in Vrygrond,” says Philander.

Are we about to see graffiti in Cape Town becoming more refined, expressionistic even? Possibly, but what’s clear is that this project doesn’t only provide an artistic outlet for members of a neglected community. It builds them into “strong, resilient and passionate beings”, according to Philander, and gives them the safe space they need to grow and heal in an otherwise turbulent world. And there’s little doubt that Vrygrond, like many of South Africa’s more marginalised communities, could do with some healing.

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.

A word from the CEO, Rosemary Mangope

South Africa has such a unique landscape and requires an equally unique formula when tackling its social, cultural, political and economic issues. For this reason, over the coming years, the National Arts Council (NAC) intends positioning itself appropriately in order to adapt to the constantly evolving South African and global arts and culture environment.
A word from the CEO, Rosemary Mangope

The NAC has adopted the overarching philosophy of “collaborative strategy execution”, whereby it recognises itself as existing in an arts, culture and heritage (ACH) ecosystem in which it’s necessary to find means of strategic coherence between ACH sectors at the national, provincial and local levels.

This is crucial in order for there to be alignment with the arts and culture industries on the regional, continental and international levels. We do not operate in a vacuum. We must work with partners to leverage available funding and knowledge for there to be meaningful developments and exchanges.

Surviving, participating and thriving in this ecosystem comes down to collaboration across the board and finding strong, strategic links to fully realise the NAC’s mandate of proactively engaging in the ACH sector rather than merely serving as a grant-making agency.

In this regard, the NAC intends living up to its full mandate of providing proactive assistance and support to, and linkages between, arts and culture workers and organisations. We are undergoing constant and unrelenting transition at both operational and strategic levels to make sure that our approach is more holistic and geared towards developing those who operate in the arts and culture sphere.

Part of this entails engaging in activities that foster social cohesion and nation building, as well as supporting the Mzansi Golden Economy, a strategy of the Department of Arts and Culture focused on job creation in the ACH sector. In order to accelerate our support for organisations that have nation building, social cohesion and job creation agendas, we are currently in the process of debating our funding model to so as to develop artists and cultural workers, as well as to develop a sustainable industry.

To signal this shift in focus, the NAC has recently partnered with the Paleontological Scientific Trust (PAST). This partnership is one of our flagship projects and is an excellent example of how the NAC is tangibly involved in nation building and social cohesion, not only locally but globally, as the PAST project has far-reaching implications in terms of who we are as human beings and how we’re all related.

I cannot place enough emphasis on the importance of the NAC fulfilling its mandate. This is a key driver in the organisation reinventing itself and staying relevant. Our strategic intention for the foreseeable future is to develop and provide value-adding products and services targeted at all stakeholders, communities and artists to create a meaningful platform for cultural and economic engagement.

So as part of the NAC’s contribution to shaping artistic and cultural discourse in South Africa and beyond, we can expect a drive towards greater and broader collaborations, strengthened cultural platforms, and the development of a generation of artists and cultural workers with an entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s an exciting time in which we will see more than just the creation of art for art’s sake. We’re entering a period where artists will soon be encouraged to package their skills appropriately, which will in turn put South Africa on the arts and culture map and remain topical. There is a need for the sector to take on a new paradigm, and I think as the NAC evolves and reinvents itself, it will be at the forefront of this new paradigm.

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