Live Mag

Dear Joburg, where is the “arts” in the Newtown Arts Precinct?

by: Qhakaza Mthembu - 15 December 2016

Three days ago, the renowned Joburg performance venue, Bassline, was announced to be closing down. Qhakaza Mthembu, who is one of the founders of the poetry movement Word N Sound is not that perturbed, as she feels the Newtown Arts Precinct (where Bassline is) doesn’t care that much about the arts.

Bassline-1Ten years ago you didn’t need a plan to go to Newtown. You’d simply take a walk around knowing that in no time at all you’d hear the “1-2-1-2” of a mic check or live music blaring from Bassline.

You could bump into poets heading to Shivava for an open mic. And if you were in the mood for a good laugh. Or awkward silence as a comedian bombed out on stage, you’d check out the dungeon at Horror Café. And if all else failed, you’d go hang in the park for the inevitable cypher or jam session.

As I write this, it breaks my heart that all these venues are no more, except for Bassline. But even this legendary space is closing its doors at the end of this month.

Where has all the art in our art precinct gone?

For the last six years, we’ve hopped from venue to venue trying to find a home for our monthly Word N Sound poetry sessions. We’ve even been kicked out of the Bassline because poets weren’t buying enough over-priced beers. A blessing in disguise really. We never would have found eMonti on Bree, a tavern on the border of Newtown and Fordsburg where we hosted a year of shows unearthing amazing talent each month and an international poetry festival.

All in a tavern because the “arts precinct” up the road had no love for our dreams or our art. We are one of the only youth companies who have been consistently working in the city, producing events and festivals for the last six years, yet still, getting access to venues is near impossible.

The City of Joburg needs to step up

The privately owned Maboneng, with all its gentrification and exorbitant gourmet food, is doing a better job at creating spaces for art and artists than Newtown and the City of Joburg. Even the city’s flagship festival, Arts Alive, took place at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein instead of this “arts precinct” we’re all so proud of. The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz has found a new home in Sandton; Xarra Books, a haven for African literature has moved out and the annual New Year Carnival no longer brings Newtown to life with drumming, costumes, floats and singing.

Five years after the launch of the Mzansi Golden Economy, we still have no arts resource center, no rehearsal rooms, no plug-and-play live music venues (that don’t come with a R30 000 hire fee), no independent cinemas or studios or theatres that won’t have you subject to internal politics.

What spaces has the City Of Joburg invested in for artists to create new work? What venues has the city built for artists to showcase their work? Where are the collaborative spaces and communal offices for creatives? What is the strategy driving arts tourism to the area?

Where is the arts in this so-called “Arts Precinct”?

Photography by Sithembiso Xaba

Qhakaza tweets as @Qhakaza

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