Community Arts Project

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Acronym: CAP

Origins in Mowbray

Originally conceived of as a resource centre where people may develop their abilities and skills in painting and printmaking, sculpture, creative writing, dance, music, drama etc., and where people interested in the arts may work together, meet informally for discussion and join workshops in the arts. Run by its members, the nature of the activities would depend largely on members' interests and degree of commitment. It opened at 17 Main Road Mowbray, in an old nursery warehouse in August of 1977 and was the culmination of months of consultation among a group of white academics, artists and black representatives of the church and Institute of Race Relations. Initally led by Peggy Delport, Linda Gobodo, Rev. Mongesi Guma, Themba Nolutshungu, Lindy Wilson and Gavin Younge as trustees, and a committee comprised of workshop heads.

Dimitri Fanourakis and CAP

In August 1977 Dimitri Fanourakis was appointed as organiser In addition he was responsible for a photography group, two dramatic productions a year, documentation of the project and management of the building.

Derek Joubert and CAP's move to Woodstock

Upon the departure of Fanourakis in 1978, Derek Joubert took over (1978-1986). In 1981, the Mowbray centre was closed by the authorities, citing fire regulations. However, it is clear that the central nature of the project, its accessibility to main transport routes and its situation directly opposite the police station in Mowbray, made it very visible to the authorities. Relocated to its current premises in Woodstock: a church building that had been operating as a school which in turn was abandoned as a result of the forced evacuation of District Six. The move to Woodstock signalled a new phase in the history of CAP, partly a result of the central role played by CAP in organising a delegation from the Western Cape to attend the Culture and Resistance Festival in Gaberone in 1982, organised by the ANC in exile. One of the central themes and points of debate addressed in Gabarone was the role of arts and culture within the liberation struggle: the notion of art as a ‘weapon of the struggle’. Another key idea to be elaborated from the Gaberone experience, and one which would pivotal to new directions taken by CAP in the latter half of the 1980s, was that of the ‘cultural worker’. The notion of the ‘cultural worker’ signalled a shift toward the more radical notion of the role of the arts alluded to earlier: in contrast to the European notion of ‘the artist’, the cultural worker would be responsible to the collective, using the arts for the upliftment and conscientisation of self and society. From at least 1985 onwards, CAP began to implement the training of ‘cultural workers’: individuals who would use the arts as a medium through which political oppression and social problems could be respectively fought and resolved. The 1980s also saw an increased professionalisation and formalisation of what had in the late 1970s and early 80s been a rich smorgasbord of activities borne out of the interests of individual members.

Mavis Taylor and the CAP Drama Course

In 1983, a full-time drama course was developed and introduced by Mavis Taylor. The emphasis within the performing arts shifted from the offering of a space and opportunity to a more intensive and focussed training of a relatively small group of professional performers within the context of a theatre company. During the period up until about 1986, a significant number of plays were devised and performed by the CAP Theatre Company: an adaptation of John Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country, The Trials of Brother Jero, The Trial of Didian Komati (an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial) and The Great South African Circus. These productions were well-received in both formal venues (mainly the University of Cape Town’s Little Theatre) as well as informal theatre venues in the townships, and their charged political content attracted the attention of the state on more than one occasion, to the extent that the staging of The Trial of Didian Komati in township venues was banned by the state.

Interim period

The Performing Arts, by contrast, lapsed into a period of inactivity after Taylor’s departure from the organisation in 1986. While part-time classes and short outreach programmes were run, it appears that no productions emerged from this period. In fact the period between 1986 and 1988 was marked by a general degree of paralysis within the organisation as a result of this ongoing negotiation within the organisation around the location of decision-making authority, after the resignation of Joubert.

Mike van Graan and CAP

In 1988 Mike van Graan became the Drama Co-ordinator, and inaugurated a period of focus and consolidation around a vision of the organisation as an education and training NGO: under his leadership (as Chair of the CAP Committee from 1989-90 and Director 1990-91), CAP was split into distinct and semi-autonomous Projects, a comprehensive policy framework for the organisation was developed and successfully implemented by van Graan, and new members recruited to the reconstituted Board of Trustees. With Van Graan’s arrival in 1988, the performing arts at CAP were revitalised through the medium of his Popular Theatre Project. The Popular Theatre Project gave rise to a range of initiatives: a two year popular theatre training programme for cultural workers, the production of a Theatre Journal, the hosting of seminars and cultural debates and the runnning of numerous short courses in poetry, improvisation, drama in education, mask-making, mime, storytelling, the history of African theatre and street theatre. The two year popular theatre programme, the first of its kind in the country, was the result of intensive research and planning and included a new emphasis on administrative and managerial skills, coupled with a strong political and theoretical content.

Crisis and renewal

In 1991 the organisation hit a major funding crisis which led to the retrenchment of the entire staff body. This necessitated the cancellation of the full-time popular theatre programme and a major curtailing of the activities of the Media and Visual Arts and Crafts Projects. Lucy Alexander became acting Director, in late 1992, Zayd Minty was appointed Coordinator and a growing awareness of the need to focus and shift away from being "all things for all people" within the new funding environment, meant that a leaner, more focused organisation was required.

In 1996 MediaWorks broke away from CAP, as a result of which the older organisation's mission statement was revised to read: "Providing education and training in the visual and performing arts for unemployed adults in order to develop their income generating skills and to open up opportunities for further learning." Implicit in this was the increased emphasis on providing qualifications for learners. Key staff in the nineties (1996-1999) included Liz de Wet and Simba Pemhenayi for performing arts and cultural studies.

The last phase

In 2002, under the directorship of Graham Falken, CAP again transformed, becoming the Arts and Media Access Centre, in association with Media Works. AMAC closed its doors in 2008, as the result of a lack of funding, and so effectively did CAP.

Recognition and impact

In 1998 CAP won the first ever Cultural development project of the year award from the Arts & Culture Trust of the President. Its national role increased in its participation in national standards setting processes. [TH]


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