Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective. Danielle is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas, and her first book, The Politics of State Public Arts Funding, is out now.
For the last three weeks, I had the unique pleasure of traveling through the Eastern Cape of South Africa. I saw the Big Five, swam with sharks and ate an inordinate amount of biltong (jerky). But the highlight of my trip was the day I spent at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
Now in its 35th year, the National Arts Festival is one of the leading arts festivals in southern Africa. With the support of the Eastern Cape government, the festival encourages innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists. But this year, it took that idea one step further and thought about the children.
In collaboration with the Sakhuluntu Cultural Group — a non-profit organization that aims to teach underprivileged children life skills through participation in the arts — the National Arts Festival created the Art Factory. Art Factory provided workshops for the many young street buskers who had stood guard in white face at the entrance of the Festival, pointing toy guns at each passerby and spitting lyrics for two rand ($0.88). With the Factory, they had the opportunity to expand their repertoire and learn from the masters. Juggling, puppet-making and dance were just a few of the new tricks of the trade they learned, and at end of the workshop they produced a show – one that earned them a bit of money.
The Art Factory also provided a home for the performers. Even if it was for only one week, they were off the streets, had food in their stomachs and had someone to tell them that they could overcome their societal circumstances and have a place in the new South Africa.
Their mission is reminiscent of that of the South Dallas Cultural Center (SDCC). More than just serving the African American community, SDCC provides weekly after-school arts classes for children. This summer, SDCC hosted a five-week arts institute that was designed to engage children in creative and visual discourse, something that is wholly lacking in our school system.
The same can be said for South Africa. Even with the end of Apartheid and the disbanding of the bantustans (the tribally-based self-governing homelands), there is a huge dichotomy between the insular private schools and the underfunded townships. Equality of education is still coming, and the advancement of the arts in all schools, no matter what economic background, is still in the queue.
However, groups like the SDCC, the Sakhuluntu Cultural Group and the National Arts Festival are breathing new life into arts education. With the shared goal of helping children tap into their creative selves so that they can understand their potential as individuals, these are showing kids the importance and rewards of commitment. If you have the potential to create, then you can make something of your life no matter what your circumstances. That’s a life lesson that transcends geography and economics.