Address by Director-General Xaba on the occasion of the Visual Arts Indaba

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25 Oct 2012

epresentatives of visual arts institutions
Visual Artists
Providers of various services to visual artists
Honoured Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to welcome all of you to this Visual Arts Indaba: Towards a Visual Arts Policy Framework
Indeed as a young nation we are justified to celebrate that we have a vibrant, dynamic and ever changing society. The values that define our society are enshrined in our democratic Constitution.
We must celebrate that we have well-established institutions and individuals that support democracy and protect the rights of our citizens.
Our Constitution, which is a product of freedom and democracy, guarantees among others the freedom of cultural expression and of creativity. An issue that has recently been controversial in the Visual Arts fraternity.

The department commissioned a team of researchers to do an assessment of the Visual Arts Sector in South Africa. The primary purpose of the research project has been to present as accurate as possible a picture of the current position of the visual arts in South Africa, and to identify opportunities for growing the artistic, social and economic contribution of the visual arts in the society and economy.

The report gives equal weight to the importance of each of these dimensions of the visual arts – while the research found that the visual arts plays a significant role in addressing the mandate of government in the social and economic realm, this contribution is predicated on the existence of an environment in which the exercise of the imagination and creative independence is nurtured and promoted.

Aside from the important real and potential contributions that the visual arts make in, for example, education, public health and urban development, the core contribution of the sector revolves around the generation of compelling representations and propositions related to our understanding of who we are in a complex and rapidly changing world.
The capacity of the work of artists to challenge our familiar and established patterns of perception and attitude, and to invoke both wonder and critical reflection, is fundamental to understanding the importance of the visual arts in a society composed of multiple identities, realities and ways of being in the world. Needless to say that this speaks directly to social cohesion and nation building – an issue that the department is focussed on.

The research project is providing the basis for interaction with stakeholders in formulating a policy and strategic framework for growing the visual arts as a critical sub-sector of the cultural industries. This process involved stakeholder interaction across all the visual arts disciplines. The report notes that:

  • The sector contributes over R1 billion to the economy,
  • Provides employment to almost 18 000 people and,
  • Over 50% of those are women and 53,4% are under 35 years of age (a huge sector of the youth!),

It is also very clear from the report that there is:

  • A lack of effective coordination in government engagement,
  • Lack of comprehensive sector promotion
  • And that the policy role of government has been confined to resources and an arm-length oversight approach

These are but a few of a whole range of issues that hopefully will be deliberated on and interventions formulated by the all affected stakeholders over the next two days for the department to consider. That is why one of the intended outcomes of this Indaba is for yourselves to nominate a list of individuals that will constitute a task team for the Minister’s consideration that will work with government to implement the action matters that emanate from this Indaba.

The report proposes a variety of recommendations for policy driven interventions that will form the basis of your deliberations. It will be important to take note of some of the work done. Delegates, our task at this Indaba is to build and improve on the work that has already been done in the sector. You will recall that the Mzansi’s Golden Economy strategy emanating from the Minister’s Summit held in 2011, has two interventions in the Visual Arts Sector namely Public Art projects and the establishment of a South African National Art Bank. Both these projects are aimed at developing our young and upcoming artists and to give them an opportunity to showcase their artistic talent to the people of South Africa as well as contribute substantially to job creation and the development of the sector.

The progress so far: for the Public Art projects the department is working with the provinces - Northern Cape, KZN, Limpopo,
For the Art Bank the department has opened communication with the Joburg city in consolidating the Joburg Art Bank into a National Art Bank, currently negotiations are underway with the Department of Public Works for acquiring space. A an acquisition panel for artworks will be called for in due course. The National Art Bank issue will require Cabinet Approval befor any logistics can be considered, as the project may involve a considerable budget, careful planning and execution is crucial for the success thereof.

And finally, a question that is in many people’s minds, South Africa’s participation at the forthcoming Venice Biennial: It is important to note that South Africa's participation at the previous Biennial was important in that it managed to register South Africa’s re-entrance to the international space after many years of absence due to the previous regime. The department is currently negotiating with the Biennial Foundation with regard to a permanent exhibition space. As this will require a substantial amount money, DAC must also consider future sustainability of such a permanent space. For 2013, the department has requested the Biennial Foundation to provide a temporary space and we are eagerly awaiting their reply. The South African Consul General in Milan has been requested to fulfill the task of Commissioner. A call for curators and a company to handle logistics for 2013 participation by South African Artists will go out publicly as soon as a positive feedback regarding space from the Biennial Foundation is received. A panel will be set up to appoint a curator. 

I am hopeful that your deliberations over the next two days will contribute towards effective interventions that will see the visual arts sector unlock its true potential in contributing to the social and economic growth of this country,the success of this Indaba is crucial.

In conclusion I would like to urge you to think about ways of adressing our South African icons those living and passed on, it has already been acknowledged that it is quiet significant that Mr Alf Khumalo’s death coincides with this important Indaba and the issues that emanate from this, he certainly will not be the only one.
I wish you a successful Indaba.

Thank you.