11 March 2012 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Infecting the City brings public art debate to life

A public art policy for Cape Town is vital if artists are to make public art for everyone to enjoy.

Image courtesy Infecting the City

The fifth Infecting the City festival has just come to a close. This public art festival, the only 1 of its kind in South Africa, uses art to “unwrap and unlock the communal spaces in the Cape Town city centre”.

Image courtesy Infecting the City

This year the festival attracted a fantastic mix of international and local artists: there were 32 works in total. These included installations, dance, poetry, theatre, performance art and music. Amongst this year’s Infecting the City highlights were the site-specific works at Prestwich Place and Siwela Sonke’s CityScapes.

The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra performed various classical works on Church Square (thrilling!), the Cape Town City Ballet invaded the Golden Acre’s Atrium, and Dada Masilo had the Western Cape debut of Death and the Maidens on the steps of the Iziko South African Museum, with the mountain resplendent in the background.

While the event is a fun and fantastic gift to the people of Cape Town, it also opened up a critical space for debate about public art.

You see, Cape Town doesn’t have a public art policy. The annual Infecting the City event is about the only free, public art offering in town that gives ordinary citizens access to extraordinary art. In light of this, as part of the 2012 event, the Africa Centre, the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts and Creative Cape Town hosted a free seminar on the Friday morning of the festival to address the various issues that affect public art policies and to talk about how public life can be enriched through art. 

Image courtesy Infecting the City

The discussion, titled ‘Towards a Public Art Policy for a World Design Capital’, looked at 'public art policy as it exists internationally and nationally, the questions and principles behind such policies, the development and implementation strategies for these policies, the public art policy initiatives under way in Cape Town, and initiating a road map toward completing and implementing a policy within the World Design Capital'.

The annual Infecting the City event is about the only free public art offering in town that gives ordinary citizens access to extraordinary art.

Heavy stuff, but necessary, as Cape Town, with its good public transport network, creative networks, centralised attractions and shared public spaces actually lends itself to public art – or would if it had a formal policy.

Creative Cape Town gave a good overview of some of the issues around public art in Cape Town, pointing out that, in view of the current legislation around street art in Cape Town, artists and their public works are technically categorised as either a nuisance, or worse, a crime. The piece I’ve linked to explains that the current approach to public art in Cape Town relies on the city’s busking rules, which dictate who can perform in public at what times. Everything else requires a permit, whether an installation piece or a performance piece. And a recently passed graffiti by-law means graffiti artists can be fined up to R15 000 for unauthorised work!

Image courtesy Infecting the City

One of the conclusions of this public discussion is that a public art policy for the city is vital if artists are to make public art for everyone to enjoy. At present, the bureaucratic difficulties inherent in the status quo mean that it’s too much of a schlep for artists – both in terms of time and money – to get permission to engage with the public space in the way that they do so successfully in Joburg (which has a great public art policy) and other cities around the world, where public art has attained iconic status and is integral to the identity of the city.

In real terms, I’m not sure what the outcome of the meeting will mean for public art in Cape Town, but I’m optimistic that in the near future, the mountain and the sea will have to compete for attention with some fantastic public art projects.

Image courtesy Infecting the City

Category: Arts & Entertainment


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