Mike van Graan on the “arts campus”, Africa 101

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Africa 101 explored contemporary trends, icons and innovations in African music, literature, cinema, dance, theatre, visual art and cultural tourism. It took place in the Artscape from 24 to 29 October 2011. Naomi Meyer asked Mike van Graan about the programme.

What is Africa 101?

It’s a week-long programme to introduce South Africans to – or better inform them about - African visual art, music, theatre, dance, cinema, literature and festivals. With South Africa having the largest GDP on the continent, and probably the largest arts market, Africa 101 is a strategy to realise one of the two main aims of the African Arts Institute, which is to build South African / regional markets for African artists and creative goods. South Africa is a fairly dominant player on the African continent economically; this is one way for Africa to speak back to South Africans.

Why the name Africa 101?

We could have had a more pretentious or academic title, I suppose, but we wanted to keep it light, hence the ironic “Africa 101” – as in “Africa for beginners”. It really is an introductory programme that will hopefully excite participants to learn, see and read more about Africa.

Are the locals interested, or do you see plenty of tourists in the audience?

There is some local interest, but frankly, not as much as we would like. But this is a first, a pilot programme if you like, so we will learn from it and market it differently next time.

How sophisticated are South African audiences nowadays?

This really varies. There are some very well-informed people and then some not so well informed. That’s one of the challenges of a programme like this: at which level to pitch it. As it is an introductory programme we’ve assumed a general state of “needing to be informed” and needing critical tools; but again, on the basis of our experience of this one we’ll determine how to pitch the next one.

What is the highlight of this year’s festival?

This is not really a festival, it’s more like an “arts campus”, a “spring school” on African art. For me as part of the organisation behind this, just the fact that it’s happening is a highlight! As an audience member, I’ve really enjoyed the introduction to African literature by Harry Garuba, and also the fascinating talk by Maggie Otieno of Kenya on “Africa as seen through the eyes of its visual artists”. As a theatre-maker I’m really looking forward to the readings of two African plays that were among the six winners of the inaugural African playwriting competition.

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