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A teacher from Khayelitsha is curating the biggest public arts festival that her neighbourhood has ever seen. Spurred on by a vision, patience, dozens of artists and support from UCT, she has turned a small restaurant into The Harare Academy of Inspiration. VALERIA GESELEV explores what’s on the menu -– free daily workshops, exhibitions, music, dance, history lectures and sex education.

IMAGINE that around the corner from your home an Academy of Inspiration opens up, hosting free cultural activities for the community. On offer are lectures about history, a photo exhibition, yoga classes, poetry, land art workshops, theatre and jazz. This month, until November 30, residents of Harare are waking up to that kind of reality – all thanks to one woman.

The Harare Academy of Inspiration at Moholo LiveHouse, 42 Ncumo Road, is an ambitious public art project co-curated by local teacher Brenda Skelenge. The idea being to turn a small restaurant in front of Harare Library into a 30-day arts festival. The daily inspiration classes will be facilitated by artists and open to all for free. This innovative initiative was selected by UCT’s Power of Place project, as the first major academic research of the public art scene in the townships of Cape Town.

Six more public art projects will take place in the next few months in Delft, Cape Flats and Nyanga, supported by African Centre for Cities, with a grant from national lottery distribution trust fund. Just in time for the educational revolution.

Classes are structured in participation-based workshops. Students of all ages and backgrounds are welcome. The list of facilitators, or inspiration officers as they are called, includes local “all-stars”: curator Khanyisile Mbongwa will host a two day workshop in photography using mobile phone cameras; activist Siddiq Khan will screen a film about the Mexican revolution to spark a discussion about South African politics; trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni launches his album at a concert; artist Janet Ranson will create portraits as collective collages; theatre-makers Zimasa May, Themba Baleni and Richard September will workshop pop-up plays and choreographer Jackie Manyaapelo will perform a new dance piece.

Classes will end with an open air performance of a big band orchestrated by local jazz legend Louis Moholo-Moholo, while Skelenge will facilitate a records listening session for community elders, who she will invite from old-age homes.

The Academy’s timing couldn’t be more relevant to the public discourse about ‘de-colonization’ of academic institutions. Symbolically, as The Inspiration Academy programme was launched, students around the country have been demonstrating. Skelenge and her team hope to establish a new kind of university, re-inventing academia as a free space of knowledge traffic tailored to its environment. In the proposal, designed with partnering art curators, she states, “the project re-imagines schools and community centres, providing all classes and ages the opportunity to sit in a dream classroom. We use multi-disciplinary art to express contemporary notions and narratives of knowledge traffic in society”.

Skelenge’s dream for many years was “to bring Obs to Khayelitsha. Why should people drive so far from the townships to listen to good live music, or to have an interesting conversation with like-minded artists?”, is her view.

To address this vision she started with a tent in a backyard in Khayelitsha, hosting DJs, poetry, live music, homemade food and second-hand clothes sales. The mini-festivals called Trending Khalture became popular and drew a local crowd, and guests from the CBD also started coming to Khayelitsha. Then she saw an advert for a tavern to let in the new business square in Harare section of Khayelitsha. At first she did not get the contract, but a year later she got a call – inviting her to submit again. With no budget or plan, yet with huge ambition and a supportive crowd of friends she now looks back and smiles with what the place turned out to be.

She opened the restaurant Moholo LiveHouse in 2014, naming it in honour of drumming legend Moholo-Moholo. Since, countless cultural events have taken place at Moholo LiveHouse. To make it sustainable and pay the rent, she knocked on many doors – for potential sponsors, asking for kitchen equipment donations, or offering cultural institutions to partner and looking for governmental collaboration. Dozens of unanswered e-mails piled up in her sent items folder, but finally she saw a response from UCT that buys her one month grace and hope for more support to follow.

“We are rethinking the relationship between public art and place in Cape Town”, adds Skelenge. “Our project will pioneer another direction, where an exciting new happening is taking place in a township. The same goes for our audience – we address the locals, not the tourists, who are welcome, but not targeted. Khayelitsha becomes a centre of creation, not duplication. The power balance with the historic/economic centre of Cape Town CBD shifts”.

l To register as a facilitator, sponsor or student: 073-9401556, e-mail [email protected] See Moholo LiveHouse on facebook.