“The rich take over the city and the poor get moved to the edges… The way gentrification is going on in the city, it’s scary,” states Alex Cunningham, co-founder of Boundless City, a development initiative for people of the inner city of Johannesburg.
Live Mag SA spoke to Alex to find out how people-based development can be used as a sustainable way to help a community, especially the youth situated in the city, to come together and connect.
The Boundless building is in the heart of the CBD and is set up as a cafe, bar and community space, with a lounging area and an outside courtyard for entertainment. They offer a food and drinks menu as well as usable PCs and WiFi.
“Boundless facilitates connections more than anything else,” Alex says. She stresses that she always wants the space to be open to whoever wants to go in and just hang out so she makes sure that whenever an event is happening, whether during business hours or when it is just quiet, entry is always free.
She believes that gentrification can happen in a much more inclusive way than is happening now. Through Boundless, she aims to prove that there is an alternative way to develop the city and improve infrastructure in a more community-orientated way that won’t turn the poor into victims.
An important part of what Boundless City does as an organisation is focus on the arts. “Art is a great way for the community to get to know each other,” Alex mentions. She further states that art can be used to say things that are difficult to speak about. “If you have a problem with the government, you may not be able to say it but you can paint it.”
In addition to running programmes such as Hoop Mania, a basketball tournament that takes place monthly and is organised by the inner city youth, Boundless offers a space where young creatives can gather in order to showcase their talents. The space has been used for art exhibition, DJ’ing, musical performances, fashion and even poetry sessions.
As a show of belief in the arts, Boundless allows artists to exhibit their art at the venue on a monthly basis free of charge. “Young artists find it difficult to find space to exhibit their work because it’s expensive,” Alex explains.
Thus far Boundless has hosted weekly events like “Style Sundays” which showcases fashion from local stylists and models and “Weird Weekends” which allows musical movements such as Fly Machine Sessions and smaller DJ groups like Nocturnal an opportunity to play their own unique genre of music. These styles wouldn’t necessarily be played at commercial clubs such as Kong in Rosebank or Taboo in Sandton, but they still have a loyal following.
Nocturnal, a creative collective made up of DJs, have used the venue regularly. The founder of the group, Keke Lauda, says, “We knew that Boundless as a venue was still coming up and we do our best to help it when we can. If anything, we expected steady growth and a place to call home.”
Keke expresses why he shares such a deep bond with the space. “Boundless actually, sort of, created Nocturnal. We were just individual DJs, producers, rappers and creatives until Boundless brought us together,” he says, a testament to the purpose of Boundless – to connect young creatives.
Keke believes in the way that Boundless operates and the freedom that it gives the artist. “Boundless is a space where you always have endless creative freedom. I’ve played and heard many different genres there, from hip-hop and dancehall, to minimal tech and electro house. As a DJ you also get a lot of freedom to experiment during your set, be it trying different mixing techniques and playlists or completely improvising the whole set, Boundless is a place where DJs and audiences alike can experience something new.”
Boundless doesn’t just provide a space but also helps the artists grow creatively without having to worry about resources. Keke elaborates, “Boundless always provided an amazing sound set-up, a computer for us to perform on, CDJs if we needed those and the space itself. We are extremely thankful.”
I ask what he thought Boundless City can do for the future of young creatives in South Africa. “It has been instrumental in me becoming the artist I am today and I don’t see why it can’t do the same for others. It’s a great community space for anyone who wants to get out there and meet other like-minded and forward thinking individuals.”
What strikes me the most about the Boundless City initiative is it’s altruistic nature and the fact that people like Alex who work on it are strong believers in what they are doing.
With the limitations that struggling young artists face while trying to “make it” in a tough market like the one we have in South Africa, it is both refreshing and inspiring to hear that there are organisations such as Boundless City that genuinely care about and constantly give artists a push, especially those who live in a congested area such as the Joburg CBD where the average pedestrian has no interest in the other.
“The best thing about Boundless is that it asks for zero investments from you, other than your time. Given your time, Boundless can make your creativity truly boundless,” says Keke.
Words: Rafieka Williams (@LadyBandit93)
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