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DITSONG MUSEUMS: The best of the best

Creative Feel caught up with the newly appointed CEO of DITSONG: Museums of South Africa Annabell Lebethe, who is well known as an outstanding leader with vast experience, having held leadership positions at the National Arts Council (NAC), the Market Theatre Foundation and the Performing Arts Council of the Free State (PACOFS).
     DITSONG: Museums of South Africa, previously known as the Northern Flagship Institution, is an amalgamation of eight national museums, seven in Tshwane and one in Johannesburg. These museums have diverse collections covering the fields of fauna and flora, palaeontology, military history, cultural history, geology, anthropology and archaeology. The target audience for these museums is children, youth, adults, students, tourists (foreign and local), researchers and the public in general.
     DITSONG: Museums of South Africa’s mission is to transform DITSONG into a catalyst for nation building, social cohesion, cultural diversity and socio-economic development.

Creative Feel: What attracted you to take on such a challenge, as CEO of such a varied collection of museums?
Annabell Lebethe: I think truly I’m a sucker for punishment, and I love what I do. On a serious note, I was looking for a challenge. Each organisation that I’ve led has presented career challenges. For one, I’m not familiar with the heritage sector and museums in particular and I wanted to challenge myself beyond what is familiar and comfortable.

CF: What role do you think museums such as these play in today’s society?
AL: I have come to learn that museums are custodians of society’s memory. We have a huge responsibility to conserve this memory and to make it available to society, but more importantly to conserve it for future generations.

CF: What are your most pressing tasks/challenges at the moment?
AL: Like the arts and culture sectors, museums have a challenge with audiences. How do we get the public to see value in these public spaces, and why it is important for the public to access what we have in our collections presented through our exhibitions?
     So the challenge is about bringing South Africans to our museums and allowing them to visually experience and engage in our history and our heritage.
     Also, there is a need to transform the profile of museums so that they reflect the diversity of South African cultures and communities. We cannot have these spaces only representing a western narrative – therefore our collection practices have to change. And they will.
     We have an ageing infrastructure, which can negatively impact on the visitor experience, but fortunately, we have CapEx funding from the Department of Arts and Culture to upgrade and renovate our spaces, which will bode well for DITSONG.

To read more of the Q&A we had with Annabell Lebethe, purchase the March 2019 issue of Creative Feelor to continue supporting our role in the arts and culture sector, subscribe to our monthly magazine from only R180.00 per year.