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Public institutions including the National Library, the Iziko National Gallery and Artscape could face imminent closure because of changed funding priorities, according to the Department of Arts and Culture.
The spectre of such closures is mooted in the department’s new revised white paper on arts, culture and heritage.
On the other hand the department hopes to secure billions of rand to establish “in every ward in South Africa… a library, an arts centre and a sports field”, by next year, according to Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile.
The new policy directions came to light in a public outreach workshop at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre on Thursday, convened ahead of the Arts and Culture department’s presenting the new policy document to Parliament for endorsement.
The department’s director general, Sibusiso Xaba, would not confirm which public cultural and heritage institutions could be facing the funding axe but the white paper indicates the National Library, the stable of Iziko Museums, which includes the National Gallery as well as the Slave Lodge and the National Museum, along with institutions like Artscape, the Robben Island Museum, Johannesburg’s Market Theatre and the Playhouse in Durban, could have their funding withdrawn – if they were deemed not to “meet the moral, social and maximum economic demands of the new South Africa”.
Xaba and Mashatile did not elaborate, saying that these “matters needed substantial discussion”.
Xaba said in answers to questions at the workshop that he wouldn’t want to “get into individual institutions” which might fall foul of the new guidelines. He said “the bottom-line is this – that there isn’t sufficient funding for the sector”.
However, Mashatile said: “Cabinet would (not only) ensure that there would be significant investments in building of new museums and theatres, but also significant investments to the maintenance of existing infrastructure.”
He said this year “the Treasury had earmarked R500 million to build new libraries in communities”, and that in 2014/2015, R1.2bn had been allocated. Localised cultural initiatives were urgently needed.
”Let us take the children away from the streets, away from the drugs. The children belong to the arts centres not to the streets.”
He said another billion rand could be got from the Lotto via a new oversight body designated as the Creative Industry Fund, envisaged to replace the National Arts Council (NAC).
According to Mashatile, the centralised body would pull together the arts, culture and heritage allocation from the Lotto as well as the funds going to the National Film and Video Foundation, the NAC and the National Heritage Council.
But this new funding initiative may come too late for Cape Town’s Association for Visual Arts (AVA) and Johannesburg’s Bag Factory, a studio complex which for the past two decades has provided working spaces for professional artists as well as programmes of community development.
Faced with drastic funding cuts, the Bag Factory will close, project administrator Sara Hallet recently confirmed, unless alternative funding can be secured. The AVA is three months away from closure.
According to Xaba, under the new dispensation, cultural institutions would have to sink or swim. He declared the department was not prepared to fund arts projects indefinitely. In future, projects could only expect to receive money in three-year cycles. The department had experienced “major problems with the arts companies that have protested quite a lot when the NAC began to change its funding strategy”.
Although the workshop was called to discuss the white paper, few people from the floor engaged with the document. Many instead drew attention to the plight of marginalised heritages in the Western and Northern Cape and highlighted their personal projects.
Professor Steve Townsend of UCT reiterated a sentiment that has also been expressed by the Arterial Network of South Africa that “there is not enough detail here about what the vision of the white paper will be”.
Mashatile said that “we will spend the following week writing in the various comments that have come from various consultations”. He said the document would be submitted to the cabinet at the end of this month. - Weekend Argus