Over the last two decades, Greatmore Studios has continued to provide a hub for the intersection of art, education, community and social dialogue. Through their residency program cultural practitioners from far and wide to have come to visit, and their workshops and studio spaces have become essential in helping foster local creativity and experimentation.
What springs to mind when I think about Greatmore is a constellation of images of artists meeting to share compelling ideas, have critical, meaningful conversations and make artwork – both individually and collectively. It is more than just an art space. It is a space for community, for meeting people, for engaging with different stories and for learning just how important art can be in our lived, daily realities. And, consequently an appropriate place to conclude the series on inbetween spaces in Cape Town.
I reached out to Zipho Dayile at Greatmore Studios, to find out more about their longevity, commitment to the arts and their role in the local community.
How do you view the role of Greatmore studios in relation to creative practice in Cape Town?
Our role is to support and provide artists with a space to work freely and develop their creative abilities and professional skills. We have artists at the center of operations and we collaborate with partners from different cultural contexts which helps broaden our understanding of what we do. The studio as we call it, doesn’t have one identity as artists and managers change, so does the organization.
And, has Greatmore changed much from when the project was started? Why?
Greatmore was founded at a time when there was a dire need for a space for artists to work in. These artist came together and created a community with a focus on purely making art. For years Greatmore was that place, that attracted a lot of artists, buyers and such but didn’t go beyond. Currently, the studio is at a point where it seeks to engage beyond the market place. We want to reflect the times and are looking at the role and functions of art in society.
Going further into your point of art and society, why did the organization decide to ground itself in Woodstock?
The founding artists were looking for a location which would be central and accessible for them as they had to travel from various areas to this space. They also wanted an area with a strong sense of history and a strong sense of community. While searching, the printmaker Velile Soha came across these two joint houses which were vacant and that’s how Greatmore Studios first came to existence and this sense of community is what has kept the organization where it is.
Is there a specific commitment to the surrounding public in Woodstock?
We are always reimagining our role and responsibility in our community, as part of the need for artists and audiences to respond to the current social, political and economic climate in which Greatmore Studios operates. We’ve artistically and otherwise collaborated with locals in the past and still do to this day.
Generally speaking, how does the larger public figure into the way you program for the space?
While focusing on supporting emerging artists, we strongly recognise the importance of connecting with the public. We are aware of the impact that the arts has on society, its role in widening horizons, supporting social cohesion and promoting innovative thinking. As such, the Greatmore is deeply committed to developing participatory projects, learning activities and other public events that engage and inspire audiences of all ages. We believe that what comes out of the outreach needs to go beyond Greatmore and actually have a life of its own and so we partner with various organisations, movements and artists who are committed to doing the same…
All of which essentially links back into the idea of an artist residency. Why the decision to focus on a residency program and specifically to cater to emerging artists?
Greatmore’s role essentially is to provide support to young artists or to artists who are at that vulnerable stage in their careers where experimentation, un-distracted dedication and a supportive environment is most needed. We provide two types of residencies, a 3 month long visiting artist residency which Greatmore fully funds- apart from travel/airline costs and a long term residency with a maximum of 3 years. We want to create a supportive and interactive environment where artists are exposed to other functions of art. Where artists have the confidence to stand on their own when their residency period comes to an end. We also have a good link with global workshops and residency programs which enable South African artists to travel and visiting artists to share their skills with artists over here.
Do visiting artists need to meet any requirements – pedagogically – as part of the residency? And, how important have theses workshops been?
Art education is very important. What we try to do with workshops is provide opportunities for exchange of practice and ideas among participants. The idea that we must give artists substantial skills in a short period of time isn’t realistic and we’ve had to examine how we present workshops. Greatmore isn’t a school, it’s a space for practicing artists to establish a career and develop their practice and therefore we cannot take a place of an art school.
We don’t have an educational requirement for visiting artists. The selection is based on a number of factors: where your work is situated in a global context? do you engage with other artists? That is very important for us because all visiting artists are compelled to facilitate an outreach workshop or activity.
Finally, is there a dialogue between Greatmore and the commercial galleries and art museums in Cape Town?
There isn’t much of a dialogue between the spaces you’ve mentioned and us. That said, there has been major support from certain galleries who understand how important it is.