Archive: Issue No. 49, September 2001

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New directions at the National Arts Council

As the major source of funding for visual artists and their projects, a message from the National Arts Council, signed by CEO Doreen Nteta and posted on the NAC website at on August 22, deserves careful attention. Subjects covered included the membership of a committee appointed to advise on visual arts events, which countries are favoured by the NAC for sponsorship, and an analysis of the performance of the NAC over the past four years since its inception in 1997. Apparently the board feels that in funding a large number of projects it has "spread itself too thin" and in April this year articulated the need to develop a business plan in order to move the NAC from a "mainly funding body to a development oriented organisation".

In considering the need to change, the NAC concluded that: it has created great expectations; needs to move away from being primarily a funding body; has been mainly driven by demand; has supported many worthy projects and has spread itself too thin. "No matter how large the funds, the demand will always be greater than the provision."

For artists who already struggle endlessly to obtain funding for their projects, this switch has an ominous ring. Grassroots development is of course critically needed, but not at the expense of the country's beleaguered artists. The performing artists of the country have recently banded together to form a national lobbying organisation to protect their interests, PANSA, and it would seem that it is time for the visual artists to follow a similar route.

Other points covered:

- The NAC informs us that the term of the present advisory panels ends in October this year. Advertisements will be placed in national papers, presumably calling for new nominees. "It is important that artists are aware of this process, and that panelists are as demographically representative as possible."

- A committee was appointed in April 2001 to advise on major international festivals and visual arts events. The committee is composed of Kiren Thathiah (chairperson), Marilyn Martin, David Koloane, Evelyn Senna, Ruphus Mathibe and Victor Julius. It has met twice and made recommendations. An agreement was made with the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology that DACST would fund all related travel costs while the NAC pays artists' fees and honoraria.

A committee comprising representatives from DACST and the NAC will develop a business plan and criteria for participation in international events for the next six years. "This plan will consider, inter alia, cost, regional spread, biennials, festivals etc, giving precedence to broad government objectives and priorities and the impact on as wide a spectrum of the arts as possible."

The committee will receive invitations for the participation of the country in specific events; commission or receive applications for participation from South African individuals and organisations. Further, the committee will evaluate and consider the merits of participating in the event; the merits of applications for participation; representativity, giving specific attention to previously marginalised artists; recommend funding and participation to council; approve and appoint a curator or curatorial team; liaise with other stakeholders; facilitate the fundraising.

- Certain countries will enjoy priority: Africa, Australia, South America, New Zealand, Asia, SADC and new regional imperatives.

Looking for more local support, the NAC notes that "while central government can provide some funding, at least 50% should originate from local government and the corporate sector. The responsibility lies on all strata of government and the community."

The document concludes with what seems like something of a retraction of earlier statements: "Future funding should, while taking into account cross-sectoral developmental issues and national priorities, not lose sight of the needs of the art itself and the artist, and the NAC should continue, therefore, to fund along arts discipline lines.

"Arts funding should not depend or be justified on their economic viability only, but through the fact that they have an intrinsic value, which is cultural and artistic. In future the NAC will strengthen its internal systems and structures, assess the impact of its support, and improve dialogue with people working in the arts.

"In doing this, it will not lose sight of the central priority which is to give the best possible service in the development of the arts."