Artists campaigning for the arts to be mandatory at schools again say the subject is critical for the development of a creative workforce – it is time that government starts to understand the economic magnitude of the arts.
The arts continue to demonstrate their ability to provide positive impact on social issues that concern virtually every facet of South African society. Simply put, the arts are essential to the proper functioning of society. This is the viewpoint of campaigners, including acclaimed artist Beezy Bailey, who are crusading for art to be mandatory in the South African school curriculum.
Bailey, probably South Africa’s most outspoken critic on the subject, also one of the few contemporary artists with international acclaim, has added his voice to the growing number of people campaigning on the ‘My Dream for the Arts’ website, which is responding to the call by the Department of Arts and Culture to react to the review of the White Paper currently under discussion in government.
“I think our only hope is to punt art being taught at schools, more than once a week. Not only is it important for the general health of art but it is essential for the development of the right side of the brain, and the introduction of creative thinking in all spheres of life,” said Bailey in an exclusive interview with Leadership.
The White paper is the main policy framework for the department and the sector providing a vision and a basis for the present institutional framework. However, when it was first adopted in 1996 it was meant to be a branch of the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.
When it was adopted, Minister Dr Ben Ngubane said that South Africa was on the brink of experiencing a cultural renaissance.
“The arts, culture and heritage cannot be an exception in the transformation process (of South Africa) since they too were overtly affected by the misdistribution of skills, resources and infrastructure during the apartheid era. In fact, given that the arts are premised on freedom of expression and critical thought, transformation in this area is crucial to empowering creative voices throughout the country, and is thus integral to the success of the democratic project."
Bailey however is scathing about the failure of government to properly implement arts education. “I cannot understate the importance of responding to this (review) and of our country’s future. The Department of Arts and Culture has a budget of over R2 billion and should not be allowed to palm (art education) off on the hopeless department of education.” He added that he had given up trying to deal with “a government that operates as a means of self enrichment and power”.
“We are not talking about bringing art back into schools to create a new generation of easel painters – we are talking about making art and music education mandatory, as a stimulus to enhance the creative side of the brain.”
Arts and Culture Minister, Paul Mashatile, said the outcome of public participation in the review document should definitely be acceptable to everyone in the sector.
However, Director-General Sibusiso Xaba admitted that although the department had to do more for the arts and culture sector, it had fewer resources.
“The department will continue to comply but the shrinking budget requires that things are done differently to ensure that most of the budget is spent on service delivery."
Bailey argues that national government has confused art as a creative tool with ethnogeographic history and politics.
“The way the government treats art in South Africa, as if it is some sort of artisanal work, is almost like training the population to become welders. The government does not understand the economic magnitude of art and that the business turnover in the art industry is in the top three globally.”
By abandoning art as a mandatory subject, said Bailey, government and the education department are neglecting the creative stimulus in maths and science. “It’s a travesty against humanity. We are talking about art as a stimulus to enhance the creative side of the brain, so creativity goes across the whole school spectrum, producing innovation and leadership skills in all fields of work and life situations.”
Talented Afrikaans singer, songwriter and pianist Petronel Baard spoke to Leadership about her sadness over the loss of the old Performing Arts Council that was replaced by the National Arts Council in 1997.
“We have lost the structures that supported the teaching of drama, ballet, music and opera which built on the talents of young artists providing them with secure career options,” says Baard.
She explains that by taking away these important structures, talented young artists have nowhere to train and perform after leaving school. “I tell students that if they want to have an international reputation and make money, then stop wasting time and go overseas.”
In 2008 Baard started an organisation to promote the café theatre culture to assist artists gain recognition by performing in informal settings that are accessible to the public.
Baard is frustrated that government does not see the arts in South Africa as being an income generator. “Look at Nigeria and Nollywood – they saw the opportunity and created a huge film industry, like India’s Bollywood. In South Africa it has been left to individuals and organisations to develop and finance the arts through festivals like the Grahamstown Festival to give opportunities to new or unknown artists.”
Baard’s dream is to build bridges for the children of the future. “I would like to see the arts in education and talents nurtured in South Africa so that artists will stay here and help build up the arts in the country for future generations.”
When former President Mandela opened parliament in February 1996 he said that South African artists played an important role in the quest for democracy in South Africa.
“Previously education was used to deny the value of other cultures. This must not happen again. It is a national tragedy and we have to admit to the need for a project (arts and culture) to restore the culture of learning.”
Mandela also said that it was a tragedy to speak of South Africa with its culture of violence. “If culture is the glue holding the social fabric intact, then it is evident that the centre does not hold. For these reasons, not to invest in the arts, culture and heritage would constitute grave short-sightedness on the part of government.”
Educator Patrys Wolmerans, director of the South African National Peace Project (SANPP), sees art as a glue to bring peaceful resolutions in South Africa.
“The government has done an injustice to society when policymakers made light of arts education in schools, holding on to the misconception that art is a superfluous, isolated subject when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. All the arts should have one single purpose – to contribute to the highest of all the arts, the art of living.”
Wolmerans believes that arts education is also essential in stimulating creativity and innovation, which she says will prove critical to young South Africans competing in a knowledge-based global economy.
“Research has proven that art nurtures inventiveness, as it engages children in a process that aids in the development of self-esteem, self-discipline, co-operation and self-motivation. Arts education would not only be pivotal in educating learners about developments in science, maths and technology, it will also allow them to apply their skills to their own benefit and to the benefit of others.”
It is within this context, explains Wolmerans, that SANPP has built art and poetry into its peace building activities at schools in the Eastern and Western Cape and Gauteng since 2010.
“I observed that the mere presence of, or access to art excited learners to such an extent, that cohesion and discipline became the order of the day in peace building classes, so I would be comfortable to assume that this effect would play itself out in different forms of art, and therefore believe that the absence of constructive art does have a detrimental effect on youth.”
Western Cape curriculum advisor and former teacher, Lyrice Trussell, says she agrees totally that the arts should be considered core academic subjects at school.
“World studies suggest that sustained learning in art, music and theatre strongly correlate with much higher achievements in both maths and reading.”
Trussell adds that she is an advocate of the arts. “I continually promote its worth in creativity, social development, personality adjustment and self worth.”
As more people add their voices to ‘My Dream for the Arts’ artist Reneilwe Mashitisho sums it up, “I want us artists to be taken more seriously, for our work to be respected, funded and marketed well. As much as teachers and doctors get bursaries to study, we should also get those bursaries. Our work needs to have a platform.”
Beezy Bailey is perhaps best known for a hoax that he staged in the local art world. He entered artwork in the Cape Triennale as both Beezy Bailey and also as an unknown artist by the name of Joyce Ntobe. Ironically, it was Joyce Ntobe’s artwork that was accepted with Bailey’s artwork being rejected. Bailey’s rationale was to expose the pitfalls of affirmative action.
The artwork displayed on these pages were exhibited at the Everard Read Gallery as part of an exhibition entitled Icon Iconolast. Bailey used photographs of Nelson Mandela, taken by Drum photographer Bob Gosani, that were modified using silk-screening and splashes of colour to create a three-dimensional effect.
According to Bailey, it pays tribute to Madiba, the global icon of peace, as well as the late Andy Warhol — the American artist who spearheaded the pop art movement and whose work provided Bailey with the inspiration for these pieces.