Artlooks & Artlines is a monthly column written by Ismail Mahomed, CEO of the Market Theatre Foundation.
John Kani, Pretty Yende, Steven Cohen, Lara Foot, Yael Farber, Mamela Nyamza, Robyn Orlin, William Kentridge and so many more other South Africans are homegrown superstars and they have strong international reputations. Apart from being outstanding artists, they are also superb mentors and role models for young people. They are a testament to the rich reservoirs of creativity which are a part of our national DNA. They inspire us. They offer us hope. They remind us that the creative economy is one of South Africa’s most dynamic assets. Creativity is a resource that South Africa must invest in and nurture because the engaging work that our artists produce is the soft power which is the conduit through which we can engage with the world on equal terms. During May this year, South Africa will host the 19th ASSITEJ World Congress and International Performing Arts Festival for Children and Young People (or the Cradle of Creativity) in Cape Town. South Africa won the bid to host this event with a 98% vote of confidence from more than 40 countries. That is far more than what most political leaders can currently muster up. Much of South Africa’s success can be attributed to Cape Town-based theatre director and arts education activist Yvette Hardie who for more than two decades has been selflessly working across the globe advocating for every child to have access to good quality theatre programming. She has made great strides to put South African theatre on the international radar. Her continued advocacy work to ensure that every South African child gets access to good quality theatre programming is unparalleled.
Exposure to the arts is important for the development of a young child’s emotional, intellectual, artistic and creative potential. While some children may find that they have a talent and may want to pursue a career in the arts or creative industries, for most other children the arts give them the opportunity to express themselves freely. Stories drawn from different cultures also teach them at an early age an understanding and appreciation of the great richness of our very diverse society. It makes them more tolerant citizens. It enriches their own sense of identity and of their place in our complex world. It nurtures a sense of responsibility about how to actively participate in a democracy. There is also an economic argument that an increased number of employers are more frequently looking for people who can think more flexibly, who are creative team players but who can act individually when they are called to do so.
Exposing young children to good quality art programming also helps to build critical and loyal audiences for the future of the creative industries. Without a thriving creative and cultural economy our cities and towns risk becoming desolate spaces that will have no soul. The Cradle of Creativity will be more than just a showcase of performances from around the world. It will be a dynamic opportunity for South Africa to recognise that our future will be diminished if we do not create greater access for more children to benefit from the arts. The Cradle of Creativity is supported by the Department of Arts and Culture, the National Lottery Commission and a number of other smaller partners. The Festival and Congress presents an opportunity for corporate organisations to channel their Corporate Social Responsibility funding to this once in a lifetime event for most South Africans. The 19th ASSITEJ World Congress and International Performing Arts Festival for Children and Young People is after all the World Cup of the Theatre for Young Audiences.