Campus News

Cape Town Diary: July 14

Story posted July 18, 2001

Cape Town Diary
July 14th

The CBB Cape Town classes begin Monday, July 16th. Students have a rigorous weekly schedule: morning classes at the University of Cape Town, Monday through Friday, and afternoon classes with Jim Webb or myself, Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are spent in Langa or Lavender Hill, nearby townships.

Jim and I are both anxious to get started on our courses; after about 10 days of orientation, the students should be ready to settle down as well. Starting next week, students in both of my courses, "Contemporary South African Art" and "Arts of Resistance" will be submitting Cape Town Diary entries as part of their regular course work. The writing will share some aspects with personal journal entries, but designed for a public forum the Internet. My hope is that the semester-long writing exercises will better prepare the class for final writing projects, which will also be public documents, and provide a way for the students to communicate with the CBB community about their experiences here in Cape Town.

We have gotten a positive response from the board members of Guga S' Thebe, the cultural center in Langa, regarding the proposed course project and art exhibition. We are moving ahead with plans for an October exhibition, and I am already working with a number of artists and community arts leaders in Cape Town. Once classes begin, the students will be working with them as well. Nearly everyone I have met is enthusiastic about the project and the CBB students' interest in the arts here. I have learned quite a bit in the short time here about the state of performing and visual arts in South Africa.

Funding and support for the arts is described as tenuous and sporadic and seems to be at an all time low. I just returned from a conference of the South African Association of Art and Architectural Historians held in Durban. Attendance was meager, to say the least. Restructuring in higher education level has closed a number of art departments (art history, visual, and performing arts), and some of those that have survived, have been consolidated under other departments. (Such is the case with art history at the University of Cape Town.) One of my Durban-based colleagues was the only member of her department to be rehired after her department was eliminated; she now teaches in a culture and tourism program. Although it would be easy to say the outlook is bleak, this is a nearsighted view. The spirit and activism of the people I have met will not be quelled. I am truly impressed and heartened by the strength, determination and passion of these individuals for their work and for the arts of South Africa. It is clear that art and its history will continue to be made and recorded here but the structures that define it and support it will inevitably be different.

-Julie McGee
CBB Cape Town

Previous Cape Town Diaries:
Cape Town Diary: July 3

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