Welcome to Greatmore Street Studios

October/November 2018

Hello and welcome to Greatmore Street Studios. 

Greeting from David Koloane and Lionel Davis, two of our honoree board members who would have liked to have been here this evening.

I have the privilege to welcome you all on behalf of the Board members of the Greatmore Street Studio Trust, the Thupelo Trust, the resident artists and the staff. My name is Jill Trappler; I am one of the founder members of these projects and at present the chair person of Thupelo.

I would also like to welcome you here on behalf of the innumerable artists who have passed through this Network over the last three decades and to thank the art administrators, Trustees, supporters and friends that have all assisted in bringing these projects to this point in time today.

The combined contribution to these projects has been more valuable than can be expressed or measured.

This is the first event of its kind for these projects; I thank Ahmien van der walt for the initiative as I am grateful to be able to update you all and thank you personally for your involvement and attendance this evening.

I will start by briefly describing an historical thread in an attempt to clarify the links between the original Bill Ainslie studios, transformed later into the JAF, Thupelo, BF, Thupelo Cape Town and then GMS. It is a strong thread that is one of many that make up the fabric of what is known as the Triangle network.

I was a young woman of 17 when I started working with Bill Ainslie in 1974.

Bill taught in various studio venues in Johannesburg as the Bill Ainslie Art Studios, until in 1982 the JHB Art Foundation was registered.

This was in response to a need for artists to work together, share skills and experiences in a creative environment, without distraction and interruption from the outside world.

It was an environment that was centered on creativity rather than achievement and was well ahead of its time in being inclusive regarding race, age, gender and education.

 Bill Ainslie did not make his students feel that they needed a formal school or university education, or any institutional or peer recognition as a requirement to tap into their own creativity.

He worked closely with David Koloane and Bongi Dhlomo Mautloa to set up the Thupelo workshops in JHB, and then with Sipho Sepamwe to set up Fuba.  Other projects followed. The growth of independent, low profile spaces for writers,artists and performers was necessary and vibrant.

 It was stressed from the beginning that everything done in the workshops depended on the realization that in learning to see we must look particularly at what our learnt consciousness seeks to conceal from us. The ethos is to expose and reveal any habitual patterns of seeing and thinking which actually inhibit true creativity, personal and social interaction.   

When I moved to Cape Town in 1979, I met Lionel Davis, Velile Soha and Garth Erasmus.

 They had all attended workshops outside the country and were keen to get Thupelo going in Cape Town. 

We started with self-funded,found object, one day workshops, and then weekend workshops. We worked at CAP and in the annex at SANG and various other venues and invited artists from the SADAC region to join us.

The Pachipamwe workshops in Zimbabwe had continued to gather momentum; Bill Ainslie had started his work in Zimbabwe during the “struggle years” at Cyrene Mission, south of Bulawayo, in the early 1970’s. At the same time, artists from Botswana and Namibia were working together, informally sharing skills and ideas, as a way of increasing awareness of our common humanity through the visual arts.

In 1994 Sam Nhlengethwa, a founder member of the BF with David Koloane, Pat Mautloa and Robert Loder suggested to Isky Gordon that a studio project similar to Bag factory and Gasworks (London) should be initiated in Cape Town. With assistance from Robert Loder, who had been actively supporting projects in Southern Africa for many years, the studios in Woodstock were established in 1996 and Thupelo Cape Town had a home.

I can’t tell you all the stories about the workshops over the last thirty years, the exchanges and the interactions that have taken place and about all the artists that have emerged from this network because there are too many stories to tell and names to name.

Nor can I say how many participants have emerged, making a significant impact on individuals and communities and how through these projects many have grown in confidence to contribute creatively in their personal practice, as teachers, parents, facilitators,art administrators, curators and friends; this would become something too complex to discuss in this forum.

I do want to say though, that these projects work to liberate the souls of all who have been involved and in so doing have reached into what a creative approach to life has to offer and the relevance of this to many lives.

 (and to the GDP!)

 An artist in a studio alone can explore these matters and artists in a workshop experience unique energy through the interactions that takes place. Through mutual contribution and sharing, new insights and transformations occur that can be carried forward for the artist and others in many new ways.

What these projects are doing is linking people into the values that are inherent in art making. These environments are flexible and all embracing.

There is no ownership; the flat structure is conducive to conversation and focus on the development of individual and collective strengths. These are places where people can work simply for the pleasure of new discoveries. They find themselves engaged in extending their abilities, strengths and imaginations and not necessarily for personal accomplishment. This applies to the team in the office as much as to the artists and board members.

From the platform of the Greatmore Street Studios and the Thupelo workshops it is evident from the general participation and continual stream of applications, the network interaction and the activity between studios, funders, administrators, friends and artists internationally that the projects have a structure that works and that the current board members will attend to with care and diligence.   There is the third generation of artists and art administrators to carry the baton and keep the flame alive.

The artists from the first generation in these projects left us with a dream of freedom; they planted seeds for this and future generations to tend. It is a dream that is carried by“tips and clues”, passed from one artist to another, no promises, no formulae,no distractions; An oral and visual history, in fact based in the traditions of Africa and giving attention to individual process and work.

It is our intention to grow both projects, engaging more actively in the rural and urban areas, nationally,in Africa and aboard. The network can provide more artists with much needed time alone in affordable studios, supported by discussions, events, workshops,exhibitions and performances.

The artists house in Observatory generously donated by Isky Gordon and Gill Walt, (they donated this property to the project as well), is essential to our visiting artists project.Visitors from Africa and abroad immediately get involved in all that Cape Town has to offer through the net work of artists and friends that has grown consistently through decades of exchange and interaction. 

This is sustainability inaction! The currency of money is modest, skills and capacity are stretched,patience and imagination are required but hearts come out of the freezers and serious, interesting work is generated.

Over the past two years Georgina Jaffee has assisted the projects by generation income through auctions and by linking the projects and artists to galleries, collectors and charities.Paula Kelly has assisted with writing up templates for fund raising proposals which have been successful and will be on going.

I have resisted talking about specific projects, people and incidents but I must add a few so that you too will all feel the need to assist us and join us in some way or other;

We often receive donations of materials and books, (in good order); these are distributed by the artists to workshops, schools and other projects.

The 2017 matric students from Cedar high school in Mitchell’s Plain spent a week working here with their teacher, Rory Emmett and were able to visit the resident artists and get first-hand experience of opportunities.

 Studio one was occupied for three months by an artist from up country who has been deaf from birth; we invited children from the deaf school to do afternoon sessions with him. Can you imagine a room full of children and absolutely no sound except crayons and paint on paper on the floor?

 This is visual literacy in action!

We did a Thupelo workshop at Valkenberg hospital organized by the friends of Valkenberg and the AVA. Funding was found to have a permanent studio in the OT department. This studio has been facilitated by Anthony Cawood for many years using the Thupelo ethos of teaching and learning by example. It has been internationally recognized for the extraordinary work and facilitation process. Art is therapy.

The exhibition from Zimbabwe,currently at Zeitz Mocca, includes work from at least six artists who have worked in these studios and grown their practices through introductions to galleries here and abroad.

A workshop at the Langa artcenter lead to introducing artists from Stellenbosch university to local artists; a Thupelo workshop then took place at GUS. A funded residency projecton a farm in Stellenbosch has now been included in our network. An artist from Nigeria will work there this month and work in one of the schools.

All artists are required to give presentations of their own practices and talk about their communities and institutions of origin.

When SA was isolated, we were able to learn so much from artists who came and went through workshops, quietly sharing ideas, skills and information that were not available to many of us.All below the radar, all in response to a need to participate and interact.This is excellence in education, in making and thinking, in writing and dialogue.

 These interactions are on going and dynamic.

Individuals stories like that of Igshaan Adams abound and what is so heartening is that many of these so-called alumni return and share their experiences and skills, in kind and in donations.

2019 will be a very busy year for many artists and the small staff that generate and coordinate our programs,projects, governance and finance.

There are visiting artist from various countries doing three-month residencies. We have funding for an International Thupelo workshop at Kings school, KZN. A regional workshop in Durban took place this month with 20 artists working together in central Durban. Tami Jali and Pat Mautloa who attended workshops in the early 1980’swere on the working committee with Mario Pissarro and Witty Nyide.

The boards of both projects will attend a capacity building weekend at Boschendal in February, plus the projects will be participating in the Cape Town art fair.  Strauss has offered to do a fund raising auction of work donated by the artist’s in order to raise funds for an endowment which will assist with sustainability.

Consultation with artists from PE, Fort Hare, Kimberley, Vredendal, Langa, Muizenburg and Vrygrond will generate ideas for workshops and exchange programs. Initiatives come from artists; artist respond to a need from artists in the specific area, connections are made and activity generated.

 One of the most exciting, inspiring events I attended here recently was a multi-disciplinary rehearsal performance directed by Ndi Ngqinambi with local and visiting artists participating using music, drawing and dance.

 These are a few examples of what is ongoing in and around the studios and workshops.

 After so many years Thupelo could be doubled in capacity as there are artists on the ground with experience who can make so much more happen for children, adults and established artists. There are art administrators and artists who have learnt their skills here and moved on to develop very significant projects assisting in craft, eco programs, visual literacy, health and employment programs.

 This event space is a neutral space for performance, rehearsal, workshops,exhibitions, discussions.

Policy and governance are in place. The constitution of both projects remains as a reference to what is still relevant. The heads of agreement signed between the two projects gives strength to the on-going commitment to a non-institutionalized, open call,artists initiative.

The vision is simple, it works! It is about being human in a most meaningful, hands on way. With growing support from the industry as a whole these projects can continue to make a meaningfully contribution at all levels, but quintessentially, at the grassroots level of the human need to engage with a creative vision, an excellence and playfulness in the process of working towards an open and equal society.  

My thanks to you all for attending. Loyiso, Zurina, Nonzali, Letitia and Ross, the current Board members,artists are available to engage in discussion and elaborate on their involvement in these projects. I am happy to answer questions.

I would like to hand over to Estelle Jacobs and thank her for her steadfast support and deep understanding of the history and ethos of these projects.

Estelle is currently the chair of GMS and it is appropriate to acknowledge her skill and contribution to the projects, to artists and many others in the industry.