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The Bag Factory: a home for new and innovative visual art

Keeping a nonprofit organisation (NPO) afloat is no easy task, especially in the realm of the arts. Funding is a constant challenge, and managing the day-to-day administrative and programming tasks can take its toll. Still, there are a number of South African arts-centric NPOs that have not only stood the test of time, but have also contributed immensely to the growth of the South African arts industry. Johannesburg’s Bag Factory Artists’ Studios is one such example.

Bag Factory Artist Studio exhibition Candice Allison
Visiting artist A’shua Imran

Founded in 1991 by South African artist Dr David Koloane and British art-lover and philanthropist Sir Robert Loder, the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios has, over its 30 years of existence, remained a diverse and vibrant space for visual artistic creativity that’s known both locally and abroad. Contemporary artists such as Sam Nhlengethwa, William Kentridge, Penny Siopis, Pat Mautloa, and Deborah Bell have all taken up residence in the artist studios over the years, creating new ideas and works, with some going on to become members of the board of directors.
     Close to 30 years later and the Bag Factory has come a long way since its origins – an old bag manufacturing warehouse turned studio space. While the organisation still commits itself to providing a space for artists from different racial, cultural and educational backgrounds, the Bag Factory has grown immensely. Today, the building contains 17 studios, a fine art lithography printing studio, as well as a workshop and exhibition space. Diana Hyslop, Phumulani Ntuli, Bev Butkow and Asanda Kupa are just a few of the artists who occupy these studio spaces, while the Bag Factory’s exhibitions and salon sales serve as brilliant glimpses of the contemporary visual art scene in SA.

Bag Factory Artist Studio exhibition Candice Allison
Line & Gesture (2018), a group exhibition curated by Candice Allison and Tiina Liebenberg

     But with volatile economies both locally and abroad, as well as an ever-shrinking budget for the arts in government and private sectors, how does an organisation such as the Bag Factory manage to thrive?
     Director of the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, Candice Allison, explains that a consistent focus on diversity and collaboration are at the heart of the organisation’s continued success, with some of the best examples being their local and international residency programmes.
     ‘We work hard to develop and mentor emerging artists, giving them opportunities to make and show new work in Johannesburg. “Fresh”. “Innovative” — those are words we want our audiences to come away with when they visit the Bag Factory,’ explains Allison. ‘Our residency programme for international artists sits alongside our studio programme for locally based artists. Visiting artists are encouraged to interact with the local arts scene, test new ideas, research and make new work. Our aim is to make learning and experimentation the foundation of what we offer artists and audiences who come here, and in every aspect of our residencies, exhibitions, public programmes and local outreach projects.’

To read more on how Candice Allison, who joined the Bag Factory in mid-2018, brings a fresh and driven approach to the NPO and its artists by drawing on a long history of curation and artist management, purchase our February 2019 issue from only R18 or continue supporting our role in the arts and culture industry by subscribing to our monthly magazine.

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