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NAREND SINGH DISCUSSES KZN ARTS (article first published : 2003-11-24)

Mr Narend Singh, KZN Provincial Minister of Education and Culture is a clear-headed, refreshingly forthright and forward-thinking man. The object of my interview with him was to ascertain the status of the KZN Arts and Culture Council and the current progress in the granting of funds to those groups who had applied this year.

“We need to make distinctions as to the role and responsibility of the Council,” Narend Singh said. “Should it be an advisory body or a statutory organisation? How best will it serve the arts? I don’t want the Council taking over the role of the Department. There are grey areas existing between the two. “

The Minister recently met with the members of the KZN Arts and Culture Council to introduce to them the terms of office which have since expired.

“I will extend these terms of office untll we can bring in legislation. There are three vacancies on the council which I will fill in the interim period,” he said. “Any new legislation will not be passed before July next year as elections are coming up and it is not likely that Parliament is going to sit to discuss this matter before then but I will direct legislation through the Cabinet Portfolio Committee in the meantime. The new Parliament will have to bring in legislation as the Council’s constitution will have to be amended.

“This year’s grant applications will be considered this week. We only have a grant of R2m to dispense and this year we received 850 applications. By my own reading there is a lot of double-funding where organisations have already applied to the National Arts Council or the National Lottery Board. And there are some that only seem to exist on paper so the process is taking a bit longer as we are compiling a short list of bona fide organisations.”

The Minister intimated that arts organisations can also access funding through other government initiatives, such as conditional grants in respect of projects like supporting artists to be transported overseas to appear in festivals or the like.

"I would like to make the arts a tool for empowerment – to push artists out there. To support budding artists who have the talent. They need to expose their talents. We can give them the incentive.”

The Minister expressed a desire to meet with the arts community and spend a day in discussion and receiving criticism. “I’d like to see what we are doing as a department as a catalyst. If as regional government we provide seed funding, we won’t be able to see what the artists are going to develop into.”

Regarding the Playhouse, he stated that “I need to look at its structure and see if it is serving the wider context of KZN.”

He advocates the creation of township art centres and was extremely impressed by a visit to the EMAC Centre in KwaMashu where young artists are focused and already preparing for next year’s celebrations of the 10th anniversary of democracy.

He lauded the recent celebrations at the Point Waterfront to honour the arrival of the first Indians to Durban as an excellent example of all sectors of the artistic community working together to create an impressive major event. “It was a good step in the right direction,” he said.

After my meeting with Narend Singh, I felt that the arts of KZN are in the hands of a sure and competent man who believes that every single art form and cultural group, whether Eurocentred or grassroots, has a place in the sun. – Caroline Smart




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