On Artslink last week, Pieter Bosch Botha wrote of the struggle of South African artists in a miniscule industry:
“We have very particular audiences that tend to only support very specific work. We don’t have large groups of revolving audiences that ensure our theatres are generally full most of the time. At the same time, we are very lucky to have the Arts Festivals that people flock to for one specific reason – to support the arts. Without those Festivals many artists in our country would not survive and our creative spirits would slowly die.”
In the last year, there have been some artists who have left the industry and some who have left the country, too. Some have taken casual work, hoping that the tide will turn. It is a bloody vicious thing, to know what you are born to do and not be able to do it. It is painful and desperate. Those more niche elements of the performing arts, not film or television or the big budget musical, will always be located in a difficult space. It is the nature of being a little to the left of mainstream. But these are hard times for dreamers, and almost nobody has funding.
In her address at the launch of Dance Umbrella 2012 last week, Janet Watts of the Tshikulu Foundation described dance as “one of South Africa’s most valuable and politically-aware performance sectors.” That’s a line which packs a punch, I thought. A victorious punch at that, as each speaker who stood to speak acknowledged how unlikely it had seemed that Dance Umbrella would even happen in 2012, given the last year’s funding crisis. In 2011, Georgina Thomson, Dance Umbrella’s Artistic Director, made a plea for the festival’s future and the importance of partnerships in conceiving and sustaining arts festivals. Things did not look good for Dance Umbrella as it approached its 24th year. So, when speakers at this launch mentioned the very different spirit of things in 2012, it wasn’t a small matter. It is pretty near miracle. For now. For this year.
The National Lottery has come up against a lot of anger from NGOs lately as protests around funding distribution gains momentum. People are angry about where funding is going, while Lotto insists that there simply isn’t enough to go around. Having had my own experience searching for funding, I am, like many, suspicious of these processes. Yet there is no question that, as the primary funder for Dance Umbrella, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund has made a mammoth contribution to our arts climate with the preservation of this very special festival for another year. And in this vein of partnerships, Dance Umbrella 2012 is funded by several other bodies, too.
It is not only financial partnering which marks this year’s Dance Umbrella. Mary Corrigall heads up the Dance Writing Workshop 2012, which, as part of the festival, aims to ‘groom’ existing arts writers in the development of their arts writing and criticism. Corrigall has been the dominant voice in arts criticism and its need for development over the last while, and this is as significant to the festival as the dance itself. Works of art have no connection with the public without the intervention of arts writers and so what the Dance Writing Workshop seeks to do is so important. It is high time that artists and audiences placed their trust in arts critics again. Let’s hope Corrigall and her team make leaps toward this.
Bravo, Dance Umbrella 2012. It was a very close call.
Bookings for Dance Umbrella 2012 performances at the Wits Theatre, Market Theatre and the Dance Factory can be made by calling Computicket – 083 915 8000 / www.computicket.com . Bookings for performances at the Goodman on Main at Arts on Main and the Old Johannesburg Stock Exchange can be made by calling 011 492 2033.
Ticket prices range from R30 to R100. For Block booking discounts and programme updates call 083 570 3083.