'an organisation of excellence that changes the lives of artists and crafters from KwaZulu Natal by empowering them through innovative skills training, development and promotion'
During the past 54 years the African Art Centre has provided thousands of artists and craftspeople with opportunities for self-employment and the realisation of their talents. Initially a project of the South African Institute of Race Relations, the Durban African Art Centre Association has operated as an autonomous, nonprofit organisation since 1984. For the first three decades of its existence, it was guided by the late Jo Thorpe, whose vision was to “encourage and promote the traditional skills of African people, help the transition from traditional to contemporary expression, provide incentives for artists and craftsmen, assist self-help projects financially by promoting and marketing art and craft, help artists and craftsmen by financing training in skills and by mounting exhibitions where they could showcase their work”.
From small beginnings in 1959 The African Art Centre has successfully facilitated and implemented relevant, strategic development projects, provided a supportive environment and mentored and equipped thousands of artists and crafters with relevant business skills. The African Art Centre continues to direct hundreds of artists and crafters from KwaZulu-Natal towards financial empowerment and self sustainability. Today operating from premises in Florida Road, Durban the African Art Centre has adapted to the transformed political, economic and artistic milieu and has expanded its operations. The African Art Centre is proud to be recognised as one of the longest surviving South African organisations involved in the development and promotion of the work of black artists and craft-workers in KwaZulu-Natal.
The number of artists and crafters the centre has nurtured and supported has increased exponentially over the past fifty years as have the returns they have realised. Development and training programmes have grown in numbers and scope, and have reached ever widening groups of individuals and communities, both in the geographical and sociological sense. Many African Art Centre artists have achieved international acclaim, including Azaria Mbatha, Tito Zungu, Gabisele Nkosi, William Zulu, Trevor Makhoba and Reuben Ndwandwe – however, thousands have had the quality of their lives dramatically improved through the recognition of their talents.
People living in rural communities and especially women, shoulder the burden of poverty and have for many years been deprived of making a profit from participating in long term opportunities and benefitting from economic growth. The African Art Centre works with some of the most economically disadvantaged people, who have limited access to capital, technology and resources the centre reaches out to the poorest communities, the disabled, the unemployed, youth and persons affected by HIV and AIDS. The African Art Centre’s interventions assist the disadvantaged people in maturing and progressing to a point where they are able to produce high quality, innovative products on an ongoing basis. The African Art Centre believes that art and craft has the potential to stimulate healing, encourage positive thinking and social change. The African Art Centre provides a professional platform and support for the artists and crafters of KwaZulu-Natal and makes every attempt to assist them in improving their lives and their economic conditions.
Starting with providing an outlet and public exposure, the Centre moved into nurturing and training individuals and groups in townships and in remote rural areas. Occasional Saturday classes have developed into 19 years of Velobala Art Classes. The Velobala art classes, offer formal art classes to young talented black artists who do not have the financial means to enroll for tertiary art training. The programme was initiated in 1994 and has over a period of eighteen years demonstrated the African Art Centre’s ongoing commitment to interact with young talented artists and allow them to explore different mediums including ceramics, drawing, painting, jewellery and printmaking. This project, supported by the Department of Fine Art of the Durban University of Technology, has reached over 450 young artists and has proved that art is a universal language that can be used to create employment, educate, heal and develop mutual respect. Although the project is heavily reliant on funding, the African Art Centre believes that it will continue to offer valuable opportunities for young talented artists.
The African Art Centre aims to promote a favourable business environment and building human capacities that will encourage and support the entrepreneurial spirit of artists and crafts people from KwaZulu-Natal. The Centre actively pursues avenues that will increase the sale of art and craft products in mainstream retail markets and will continually seek to develop the identity of genuine craft from KwaZulu-Natal and increase consumer awareness of distinct hand crafted traditions. The African Art Centre makes it a priority to assist artists and craft-workers to tap into domestic, provincial, national and international markets in an effort to increase their earning potential and to create employment.
The Centre plays a vital role in providing a professional environment where the works of black artists and craftspeople can be showcased and promoted. The African Art Centre is one of a very few organisations in KwaZulu-Natal that are able to offer the whole package to the people they support – development and training, promotion/marketing and retail.
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