SA’s arts & culture winners

11 October 2002

A theatre company that mixes disabled and able-bodied dancers on stage; a self-taught arts journalist who writes for a homeless people’s newspaper; an abaThembu woman who kept traditional music alive, almost single-handedly, for four decades . these are among the winners of this year’s prestigious Arts and Culture Trust Awards.

Arts and Culture Trust The awards, say sponsors, are designed to acknowledge the work done by individuals, organisations and agencies that play an important supportive role in the development of arts, culture and creativity. They are “a celebration of excellence in areas often hidden behind the scenes of public events’.

Cape Town’s Remix Theatre Company won the Cultural Development Project award for its work in introducing audiences to the presence of disabled people, both on and off stage.

The group uses movement and non-narrative dance to show that the creativity of disabled performers is hardly bound by physical restrictions. In fact, company member Malcolm Black was the first disabled person to be nominated for an FNB Vita Award – which go to performers – in the category of Most Promising Performance by a Male Dancer.

The company, which performed at this year’s Dance Indaba – a week-long showcase for established and emerging choreographers – offers weekly integrated classes to the public and to schools as well as residency programmes and workshops. Remix intends eventually to establish the country’s first accessible integrated arts training centre, integrating disabled and abled audiences as well as performers.

The Arts and Culture Journalist of the Year was a popular choice, judging by audience response: poet Themba ka Mathe who – with no formal position or training – began his journalistic career writing about the arts for Homeless Talk, a tabloid newspaper produced and sold by homeless people.

Ka Mathe still writes for Homeless Talk and its sister publication, the Big Issue, but has moved closer to the mainstream, with pieces in Tribute magazine, the Sowetan Sunday World, the Mail & Guardian and online publications including Rage.

A lifetime achievement award went to the late NoFinish Dywili, doyenne of the Ngqoko Women’s Cultural Group in the Eastern Cape, which kept alive a particular style of traditional music – umngqungqo, or married women’s style, of the abaThembu in the Transkei. The group has performed throughout South Africa and overseas, and recorded a CD entitled Le Chant des Femmes Xhosa for the Musee d’Ethnographie de Geneve.

Arts Administrator of the Year was Rashid Lombard, a former photojournalist and club owner who runs the annual Northsea Jazz Festival in Cape Town.

Winner of the award for Media in Support of the Arts was Hola, the arts and culture supplement of Sowetan Sunday World which, say the judges, is a “must read’ for developments and trends, highlighting the different genres of film, dance, kwaito, jazz, theatre, fashion and pop culture.

The Arts and Culture Publicist of the Year was a joint award, shared by Tin Can Communications, which relaunched the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and communications consultant Rodney Lentit, who has promoted community-based broadcasting.

The Field Band Foundation, a socio-cultural programme in Durban offering disadvantaged youngsters access to basic music and dance skills, was named Best Practice Project of the Year.

And International Arts Sponsor of the Year was The British Council.

The Arts and Culture Trust is a partnership between government, the private sector and civil society. The awards are sponsored every year by the trust in association with Nedbank and the Mail & Guardian newspaper, and some categories attract extra sponsorship from the private sector.

For example, Old Mutual sponsored the arts administrator prize; Sun International, the journalist of the year award; Vodacom, both the media and publicist awards; Sasol, the cultural development project award; and South African Breweries, the lifetime achievement award.

The awards were presented in a gala ceremony in Sandton; it began and ended with drumming circles run by the Drum Cafe, an exercise the audience of top artists, administrators and media people took to with such enthusiasm that drumbeats replaced applause at every opportunity.