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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ART MATTERS (article first published : 2008-02-20)

The City last week made overtures to the visual and performing arts structures to give input into re-examining the city’s arts policy in the context of updating Ethekwini’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) before June this year.

An events-focused city the magnitude of Durban needs a vibrant arts policy. Forward-thinking arts practitioners have been nudging the city into updating and re-examining their policy for ages. This week a significant step towards realizing this goal was made when Eric Apelgren – head of International and Governance Relations for the City – invited the executives of two key civic umbrella organizations, PANSA (the Performing Arts Network of South Africa) and sister organization VANSA (Visual Arts Network of South Africa) to an informal brainstorming meeting.

Apelgren – who has always been a great ally of the arts – explained that Plan 6 of the IDP focuses on “Celebrating Our Cultural Diversity”. He rather candidly hinted that the existing policy was “boring” and encouraged the civic structures to engage with the policy-makers to make a meaningful contribution into re-examining the existing policy.

Before we get too excited – we need to remember that this is not the first time that this invitation has been made. Last July his department together with the barely-functioning Durban Arts hosted a presentation on this very topic in the Playhouse Grand Foyer. The idea was to begin to panel-beat the existing policy to make it appropriate for 2010. Nothing much happened at the meeting and certainly the arts community hasn’t heard anything from either the city or Durban Arts in this regard since. Still, Apelgren is one of the precious few city officials who is always eager to engage and debate arts-related issues with the arts community – so we are always grateful for the opportunity to work together with him in this regard.

“We need an action-orientated document,” enthused Apelgren. The city’s formal goal for celebrating our cultural diversity is to “create the conditions under which sports, arts and culture and heritage opportunities can be realized for personal growth, community solidarity and economic advantage.” The document certainly seems to want to “provide opportunities for artists in all disciplines to develop their art and to create complementary activities to promote an environment that nurtures and develops an awareness of arts and culture,” Great on paper, but we haven’t seen much evidence of these noble ideas in action. Thankfully, that is what Apelgren wants to address.

Starting points for some creative ideas evolved throughout the meeting – the need to beautify the city and constructively use the creative spaces for arts projects; the need to further develop the various cultural precincts and activity nodes throughout the city and surrounds; to look at creative ways of managing graffiti and illegally-pasted bills and posters; ways of taking exhibitions out of the formal galleries; formalising busking; working hand-in-hand with eventors to ensure that there is an arts component to the major events and conferences; making a user-friendly arts-map, and ways of integrating arts into the beachfront precinct.

There hasn’t been much history in this city of enlightened arts and culture policy making – and more to the point, in putting these policies into action. And let’s face it – there are some potentially great ideas on the table…

So, the challenge has been made. The information on Plan 6 of the city’s IDP is readily available in document form and on the city’s website. Mr Apelgren is publicly encouraging a process of active engagement and wants to pursue opportunities for city officials and councillors to begin to share ideas with arts practitioners.

If there are policy-makers, arts practitioners and interested people who want to give input or ideas into the process – feel free. Drop me a line and I can hook you up to the right people - illa@pubmat.co.za or visit www.pubmat.co.za

I just fear that working within existing structures, one senses that to action some of these great ideas are like pushing a boulder up hill. But I suppose we all still have a bit more energy left for boulder pushing. Let’s hope it’s worth it this time. - Illa Thompson




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