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ARTS & CULTURE STAKEHOLDERS FORUM (article first published : 2004-08-12)

If - or when - KwaZulu Natal has its own major, Grahamstown-style, Arts Festival, will it be in Howick? That was the only town named by Minister of Arts, Culture and Tourism Narend Singh when he talked about his proposed KZN Arts Festival. Singh was speaking at the Arts and Culture Stakeholders Forum held yesterday at the Playhouse in Durban.

One of Singh's reasons for calling the forum, which was well attended by arts practitioners and administrators from various disciplines, was to introduce the department to its constituents. Before this year's election, arts and culture was part of the education portfolio while tourism fell under economic development. Singh insisted that he wanted to put a stop to perceptions that his new department is just the "entertainment, song and dance component of the government" and show that it can create jobs and encourage tourism.

Although Arts and Culture will only receive R34 million from the department's budget of R110 million, Singh outlined ambitious plans, including the festival, and a project to lure former KZN artists - he mentioned Letta Mbulu, Sibongile Khumalo and the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo - back to their home province for a big concert to celebrate local talent.

Later, in the Arts and Culture group session, several speakers suggested that to give the new festival a unique flavour, the concert and festival should be part of the same event which could be given a KZN flavour by focusing mainly on home-grown talent.

Singh also stressed the importance of arts education in schools and suggested setting up a School of Excellence in the Arts for pupils who display particular in any branch of the subject. Other areas of attention for the new department would be rural empowerment, marketing of art and craft and developing and promoting regional art centres.

After Singh had outlined his plans, the forum broke into smaller groups to focus on six areas - arts and culture, visual arts, training and development, language, archives and libraries and museums and heritage. Although the last two areas are not currently handled by the new department, Singh suggested that, once current negotiations had been completed, they would be.

Discussion in the arts and culture group showed wide enthusiasm for a "Proudly KZN Festival", and suggestions were put forward that it should take place within a year and be as representative as possible of the artistic talent of the whole community.

On a less positive note, several speakers reminded the group that the majority of artists in the province cannot make a living out of the arts. The difficulty of accessing what funding is available was raised, along with the perennial problem of cultivating an audience that is prepared to pay to go to theatres.

The general feeling of the forum seemed to be that Minister Narend Singh has made a positive start to his portfolio by asking the arts community to give him their input. To ensure that something concrete comes out of the initiative, it was suggested that task teams be created to follow up on yesterday's suggestions. - Margaret von Klemperer (Arts Editor, The Witness)




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