In 2016, the Goethe-Institut in South Africa launched the Goethe-Institut Project Space (GPS) grant, a multi-disciplinary roving project space support programme that supports work realised in any part of South Africa; ranging from workshops to exhibitions, events and performances; in any discipline including visual art, performing arts, film, music or combinations of the aforementioned forms. Applications for 2021 are now open here and close on 17 August 2020.
In 2018 and 2019, I had the pleasure of being invited to participate as a Goethe-Institut Project Space (GPS) Jury member in my capacity as an independent curator based in Johannesburg. As a result, I have been able to gain a greater understanding of the impact that this kind of funding model can have on the work of arts and cultural practitioners operating from a variety of contexts and positionalities.
Where much of our country’s public arts funding opportunities continue to present significant obstacles of access and attainability; cultural producers of all disciplines have had to pursue alternative avenues to bring their often community-based and socially engaged practices to life. Of course, despite the economic and educational inequalities that are an undeniable characteristic of our society, I believe progress can be cultivated and maintained by decentralising or shifting our collective purview of the SA arts landscape. By looking beyond the mainstream and urban metropoles – even in the slightest – arts and cultural patronage can be useful in facilitating far more inclusivity in the creative sphere.
The stated objectives of the GPS project criteria have, in many ways, allowed for this decentralisation of creative practice within South Africa. In foregrounding the importance of locality and community-facing projects in the call for applications, the GPS project has drawn from a wider selection of collective practitioners, community leaders, arts educators and cultural activists. Perhaps, in recent years, we can see traces of how these criteria have resituated the expectations we tend to impose on the role of the artist in society. That is to say, that the artist, within the South African context, cannot be understood in isolation from the community in which he/she/they identify with and live in.
In conversation with fellow jury members (all of whom came with their own invaluable wealth of experience in the cultural sphere), there was a relative consensus on the far-reaching impact that a project proposal should aspire to achieve. The project would have to indicate a set of objectives that were in conversation with the site or environment where it would take place.