The Ampersand Foundation

An important merit award of the Barclays L’Atelier competition is a residency for one month in New York City at the Ampersand Foundation. This award differs from other residencies in that here the artist is not required to work and produce a new volume of art inspired by the changed environment. The Ampersand Foundation Residency is simply a ‘gift to the winner’ as Founder and Chairman Jack Ginsberg explains.

The Award offers the recipient, designated an Ampersand Fellow, a fully funded one month long residency at the Ampersand apartment situated in Tribeca in Manhattan New York City. The acronym TriBeCa stands for Triangle Below Canal, ‘a coveted swatch of real estate bordered by Canal Street (to the north) West Street (to the east), Broadway (to the west) and Vesey Street (to the south).’ The residency includes return flights to and from New York City, a stipend as well as advice, contacts and support. The winner will have access to the American Association of Museums (AAM) card, which allows the resident free access to most of the great museums and wonderful galleries in New York City and thereby benefiting the young artist’s career development.

Jack Ginsberg, the passionate and long-standing supporter of contemporary South African art, established the Ampersand Foundation in 1997 seeing the need for South African artists to be exposed to the international art world in order to be able to achieve their full potential. ‘South African artists are very often not aware how good they actually are and what great work they are producing, only when they are able to compare their own work with what they see for example in New York can they make a real comparison.’ When asked why he chose New York for the residency, Ginsberg elaborates how South African artists usually will try to go to Europe and he felt that it is more difficult for them to go to the US while some of the greatest art is to be found in New York.

Paul Emmanuel, the South African artist and printmaker who uses various media including photography and film, to address issues of identity, particularly as a white male living in post-apartheid South Africa, was selected as the first fellow of the Ampersand Foundation programme in 1997. Since then, the programme has been running uninterrupted and has now enabled some 149 South African artists and those working in the visual arts and drama sectors to spend time in residency in New York. Some of the artists who are today fellows are Alex Trapani, Marco Cianfanelli, Katherine Bull, Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi, Robyn Nesbitt, Christiaan Diedericks, Johann Louw, Bevan De Wet, Kathleen Sawyer and Luyanda Zindela.

Ginsberg explains that the Ampersand Fellowship Award cannot be requested or applied for. Except for the annual one-month residency of the Barclays L’Atelier winner, the Fellows are selected by the trustees of the Foundation according to an assessment of how much they are likely to benefit from the opportunity. There is no actual list published with names and it is very much by word of mouth or when shown in a CV, that one finds somebody to be a Fellow of the Ampersand Foundation programme. But once they talk about it, they all cite the residency as being an extraordinary gift, a unique interval in their careers that has afforded them incomparable experiences, exposure and opportunities for new perspectives and perceptions.

Why the name Ampersand Foundation? After all officially an ampersand is a logogram ‘&’ representing the conjunction word ‘and’, though to save confusion it is called a symbol. It originated as a ligature of the letters et, Latin for ‘and’. But in typical Jack Ginsberg fashion he shares his grandfather’s typesetting background in South Africa and talks about his own collection of wooden ‘&’ symbols and explains that after all the word “ampersand” came when ‘&’ was actually part of the English alphabet. In the early 1800s, school children reciting their ABCs concluded the alphabet with the ‘&’. It would have been confusing to say ‘X, Y, Z, and.’ Rather, the students said, ‘and per se and.’ ‘Per se’ means ‘by itself,’ so the students were essentially saying, ‘X, Y, Z, and by itself and.’ Over time, ‘and per se and’ was slurred together into the word we use today: ampersand.

What a wonderful quirky explanation for the name of such a special Fellowship, the Ampersand Foundation which bestows such a special gift to the South African artistic community and to Nelmarie du Preez, the 2015 Barclays L’Atelier merit award winner who will be spending her time in New York.

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