Editor of artSMart, Caroline Smart, talks to Mr Paul Mashatile, Minister of Arts & Culture on November 29, 2011.
Ever since Paul Mashatile was appointed Minster of Arts and Culture, I have just missed meeting him on a number of occasions. However, yesterday I was privileged to spend some time chatting to him on his walkabout of public arts events included in COP17.
“We have encouraged crafters to create work with materials that are environmentally friendly or from recycled materials,” he explains. ”We felt this conference was the biggest opportunity to showcase South African art and crafts. This is an approach we are taking for the future. We need to use all major events to showcase our creative talents in this country.
“Whenever people come to conferences,” he adds, “they take a break and see what’s on offer. We must use these opportunities to tell the story of our people as well as showcase creative people and their products. We want visitors to come back. Very often, they don’t realise that there is such beauty here – all this creativity.
“For us, the approach is no longer craft for the sake of craft,” he continued. “These products become many people’s livelihood. Craft is already a major contribution to employment creation but we need to find more ways to expose this work.”
A tall man with an engaging smile, one is immediately drawn to his personality as well as his passion about his subject. He readily admits that he has no prior background in the arts – in fact, previous portfolios included Finance, Transport and Housing. However, it is his experience in finance that will prove a definite plus for arts practitioners, many of whom battle to stay afloat at all levels and in all disciplines.
The Minister was in Durban to launch Mzansi’s Golden Economy at COP17, a concept created this year which grew from an idea that arose when he attended a conference in Italy. “Creative culture was marked as a major contributor to the economy and the biggest driver of growth,” he explains. “This is true for us as well – and we have mining and gold!”
The vision is to create a much wider number of museums and heritage sites as well as to substantially assist the film and audiovisual industry.
Another project is the creation of a touring company to take craft around the country so that crafters are able to reach new markets. Government departments will be encouraged to buy products from this company to fulfil their large corporate gift requirements.
An additional – and extremely welcome – project is the creation of a national skills academy.
Another pro-active plan is to create exhibition spaces in all government buildings nationwide as well as embassies and consulates worldwide. Spaces in these institutions will be created for South African art which will be sold or auctioned at the end of every year.’ ’We want to put South African art on the map in a big way,” he explains. “We want to approach cultural attachés to promote our work. South Africa has a lot to share.”
When he was handed the Arts & Culture portfolio, the Minister remembers his initial response: “I thought: “Wow!” … because it’s very exciting. This sector is bigger than people imagine – and there is so much to do. But I am very positive about the arts and culture in this country”
At the official launch of Mzansi’s Golden Economy in Durban last evening (November 29), the Minister revealed his pièce de resistance – that of introducing the arts back into the school curriculum. If he achieves nothing else but this, during his time of office, he will have achieved a massive turning point in the training of professional, pro-active and sustainable skills in the arts at all levels.
Source: Article by Caroline Smart, Pictures by Betsie Greyling.