What has gone wrong at the Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts, the or­gan­iser of four ma­jor Dur­ban arts fes­ti­vals? Niren Tolsi heads to the coastal town to find out

CityPress - - T# -

‘We have been an orches­tra with­out a con­duc­tor,” said for­mer Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (Diff) man­ager Sarah Daw­son with a sigh.

The “orches­tra” is the Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts, based at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal. It has es­tab­lished it­self as one of the con­ti­nent’s fore­most cul­tural hubs through its four an­nual fes­ti­vals: Diff; the Jomba dance fes­ti­val; Po­etry Africa; and Time of the Writer, which has at­tracted au­thors such as Chris Abani and Arund­hati Roy.

The cen­tre has been with­out a per­ma­nent di­rec­tor since Peter Rorvik left more than three years ago. This, ac­cord­ing to the six for­mer and cur­rent Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts em­ploy­ees who spoke to City Press on con­di­tion of anonymity, has been one of the main rea­sons the cen­tre has been strug­gling. They say it has de­gen­er­ated. It was a tightly run unit with sys­tems in place, and where cre­ativ­ity and in­de­pen­dent-mind­ed­ness was en­cour­aged, es­pe­cially in pro­gram­ming con­tent for fes­ti­vals. Staff were groomed – alumni in­clude Nashen Mood­ley, the cur­rent di­rec­tor of the Syd­ney Film Fes­ti­val – and in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory was built.

It is now a place of de­spon­dence, where its young and en­er­getic staff, many of whom have re­mained on con­tracts for years, are con­sis­tently “asked to per­form du­ties out­side their skills set”, ac­cord­ing to one em­ployee.

The univer­sity’s in­abil­ity to fill the di­rec­tor’s po­si­tion is at­trib­uted in some part to its in­sis­tence that ap­pli­cants have, at min­i­mum, a mas­ter’s de­gree, a qual­i­fi­ca­tion that pre­vented Is­mail Ma­homed, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val, from con­sid­er­ing the po­si­tion – de­spite the univer­sity hav­ing at­tempted to head-hunt him in 2014.

“The Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts needs some­one with ex­ten­sive con­tacts in the arts sec­tor, both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, a di­rec­tor with ex­pe­ri­ence of or­gan­is­ing bud­gets and fundrais­ing,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to in­sid­ers, fundrais­ing has al­most ground to a halt. Long-term spon­sors such as the eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity are still on board, but spon­sor­ship from or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Na­tional Lot­tery are un­signed be­cause the di­rec­tor’s po­si­tion has re­mained va­cant.

Carol Coet­zee, CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Film Com­mis­sion, which has en­joyed a close work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Diff, said there had been “a lead­er­ship gap”, which af­fected the film fes­ti­val’s “strate­gic fu­ture po­si­tion­ing”.

She said that “due to the lack of re­sponse” and the “late sub­mis­sion of a fund­ing re­quest”, the com­mis­sion was in dis­cus­sions with the univer­sity about a “re­duced con­tri­bu­tion for Diff this year”.

The ne­olib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the univer­sity, which started in earnest in the mid-2000s un­der the stew­ard­ship of the for­mer vicechan­cel­lor, Pro­fes­sor Male­ga­puru Mak­goba, is an­other fac­tor that has con­trib­uted to the state of the Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral for­mer em­ploy­ees.

At the time, Mak­goba had been ac­cused of sti­fling aca­demic free­dom at the univer­sity, caus­ing sev­eral re­spected aca­demics to leave as it stream­lined, cor­po­ra­tised and placed fur­ther em­pha­sis on money-mak­ing courses.

The cor­po­rate mind-set, said one for­mer Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts em­ployee, meant univer­sity man­age­ment “never re­ally un­der­stood the cen­tre’s role” out­side of the fes­ti­vals serv­ing as a brand­ing ex­er­cise.

“We were not bring­ing in re­search points, nor were we ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents who would bring in money...”

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