Tensions between artists who work in public space and government have been thick since the passing of a strict anti-graffiti by-law in 2010. If an individual wishes to make an intervention in a public space, the process of applying for a permit is bureaucratic and tedious. The application has to go through several departments, and is often rejected with no explanation. When it is accepted, it can take up to six months for the work to be approved, which was the case with Faith47’s mural, The Harvest, which is now a celebrated World Design Capital 2014 project.
Elad Kirshenbaum, an entrepeneur who runs a street artist residency program in Woodstock called Side Street Studios, felt that this needed to change. As World Design Capital 2014, the city of Cape Town needed to have a process in which artists could have their public interventions considered and reviewed by a qualified and efficient committee. In mid-2013, he approached Beverley Schafer, former Councillor of Ward 54, to find a way to streamline the application process. Mr. Kirshenbaum asked Councillor Schafer if he could present a solution to the Ward 54 Committee, and she agreed. He proposed the creation of a curatorial committee, composed of a mixed group of individuals who have specialist knowledge of contemporary art practices, and an interest in public life and the city. Artists would apply directly to this body. The Committee agreed, and the idea for art54, named after Ward 54, was born as a pilot program to test out the new process. The committee was elected, comprising of a diverse range of individuals, including architects, curators, and city planners.
Artists were invited to submit proposals for artwork to be considered for inclusion in a temporary outdoor exhibition on the Sea Point Promenade. Roughly 120 artists applied, and twelve were selected for a four month long exhibition. ZAR 200,000 has been invested in the six month long exhibition, the source of which is predominantly from Ward 54’s ward allocation with an additional contribution from the City of Cape Town’s Arts & Culture Department. Artists participating include Alexis Aronson, Faith 47 and Dathini Mzayiya, Ross Frylinck, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Alan Munro, Kirsty Rielly, Andrzej Urbanski, Andre Carl van der Merve, Sydelle Willow-Smith, Michael Elion, Ralph Borland and Greg Benetar.
The media release of the project was on May 30th, with the revealing of a photographic installation by Ms. Willow Smith. The photos are from her exhibit, Soft Walls that is currently on show at the AVA Gallery and tries to capture the relationships between African nationals and South Africans. Among her photos, there are portraits from a taxi rank in Bellville, the inside of Mzoli’s Butchery in Gugulethu, and a birthday party in Delft. Considering these photos are placed in the rapidly gentrifying and middle class suburb of Sea Point, they take on a different layer of meaning as they bring to light the realities of people living and working on the outskirts of the city, in places that most people who reside in Sea Point will never visit. The pictures stand out against the grey concrete wall, and there is always someone stopping to look.
And that’s the point: Ms. Smith’s work should be exposed to as wide and as diverse an audience as possible. Elad Kirshenbaum pointed out that exhibiting artworks in spaces such as the Sea Point Promenade brings art to the people, outside of the often intimidating and exclusive space of the gallery. The whole point of World Design Capital 2014 is the use of design for the development of a more livable and inclusive city. What better way to make this happen than to bring art into the public realm, for people to interact and engage with the city’s spaces in a way that they never have done before?
Over the course of the next four months, visitors can expect to see playful and inviting benches, whimsical sculptures, and mural paintings.
For more information on art54, click here.