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VISUAL ARTS CONFERENCE (article first published : 2006-03-18)

The Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA), a three year old umbrella body aimed at promoting the interests of visual arts practitioners, held its first major event in February in Cape Town - a conference on visual arts entitled Transformation-Growth-Opportunity. The delegates and organisers have called it a resounding success. This is the first dedicated visual arts conference in South Africa since the State of the Arts Conference in 1978.

While visual arts in South Africa has been the subject of a number of events like the biennales, never has such a diverse grouping of people spanning every province, visual arts discipline, race and gender, rural area and urban centre gathered together to discuss the state of the visual arts sector and look to its future.

Although Joseph Gaylard, the Networks General Secretary, joked that organising visual artists, who are trained usually to be individualistic was akin to “herding cats”, there was a strong collaborative atmosphere during the conference. Delegates engaged in debates and attended sessions related to the visual arts economy, promotion and display, education and training and the role of arts in the broader public sphere. Also discussed were subjects such as art criticism and the media; creativity and new directions in the visual arts; job creation and training; race and gender in post-apartheid South Africa’s visual arts sector, and connections with Africa.

Over 40 speakers participated, including prominent South Africans such as David Koloane, Sue Williamson, Clive Van den Berg, Bongi Dhlomo-Matloua as well as international delegates; Susannah Silver (Artists Network (A-N), UK), Hilario Gemuce (Mozambique) and Michel Ritter (Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris). Silver’s input in particular raised major interest in ways which artists can organise highly professional and sustainable support units with the example of A-N which grew exponentially in its 25 years of existence.

The conference was supported by Cape Town Partnership, Business Arts South Africa, The British Council, Pro Helvetia and through the funding efforts of the CAPE Africa Platform, with its key sponsor being the government through the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC).

The DAC’s Lindi Ndebele put forward the government’s plans to enter into dialogue with the sector, to develop policy for the sector in the interest of promoting excellence, as well as examine the social and economic impact of the visual arts. A commissioned survey on the sector was announced as well as plans to grow the DAC’s capacity in overseeing the visual arts.

It is estimated that the UK visual arts sector contributes £3.5 billion in revenue to that economy, employs 37,000 people and generates some £629 million in exports. It is hoped that the huge demand in South African visual arts can open the floodgates to our unique contribution to the global image industry.

As a network VANSA has formal representation in four provinces and one of the conference’s aims was to build the network to assist in better lobbying and support for the sector. Zayd Minty, the conference convenor urged delegates to “ask not what your VANSA can do for you, but rather what you can do for your VANSA,” calling on visual arts practitioners to become part of this growing network.

The conference ended with a formal adoption of the organisations constitution, its five-year plan focusing on visual arts and social development, and the election of its chairperson and deputy chair: Moleleki (Frank) Ledimo (currently heading up the Bus Factory in Newtown – an arts and crafts development and presentation venue, and an artist in his own right) and Khwezi Gule (a curator and artist based at the Johannesburg Art Gallery).

For more information, email info@vansa.co.za or visit www.vansa.co.za




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