On Martin Luther King Day 2020, the President of Im4theArts, South African opera and indigenous jazz doyenne Sibongile Mngoma stood up and said, “NO MORE!”
She created a Facebook group (Im4theArts) and invited friends and colleagues to come together and look at fresh ways that the creative industries could work together as a collective, starting with information sharing, mentorship, a place that all creatives could meet “virtually” in one space, a platform for creatives to talk, share ideas, celebrate the diversity that is our industry.
As President of Im4theArts, Sibongile Mngoma has kept emphasising that:
“We are the creative solution. Together we must strive towards and envision a just society in which the contributions of the arts to human, social and economic development are recognised and supported. We are still determined to see the lives of Creatives improved and their livelihoods being protected, particularly during this debilitating period of this unpredictable pandemic. We are important. We matter. We are Creatives.”
Today, Im4theArts has over 20 000, 00 members as part of the online Facebook group. We are very grateful to everyone that has responded to the call. We also have over 1100 signed up members of the formal organization, many of whom are active in our working groups and provincial groups, and an elected National Steering Committee of over 20 creative and cultural workers representative of all provinces.
During the first year of the formation of Im4theArts:
- We held a highly successful three-day Winter School with more than 900 separate attendances;
- We held over 30 webinars on a variety of compelling subjects, speaking to the current needs and contexts of artists as well as to their visions for the future;
- We launched an Arts Education campaign #ThakaThuto21 and have held numerous meetings to share what is happening in the arts education space and to learn from one another;
- We have been active in lobbying government around the artists’ relief processes, the PESP fund, and other aspects of the current context under COVID-19;
- We have worked on building solidarity across disciplines, roles, perspectives, and contexts of artists and cultural workers from all corners of South Africa;
- We were one of 19 Organisations to march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria and Parliament in Cape Town where a Memorandum was handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa to make it clear that DSAC and the Minister has failed the arts industry, and we have engaged in ongoing activism to hold DSAC to account;
- Im4theArts is a founding member of the South African United Cultural and Creative Industries Federation (SAUCCIF).
As Avril Joffe, Postgraduate Programme Coordinator in Cultural Policy and Management at the Univeristy of the Witwatersrand says, “Im4theArts is a very accessible platform, very welcomed by the creative sector in our country who want to design their own futures. Through this platform, artists, creatives, arts and cultural workers, organisations and researchers can network, share information, learn collaboratively and review policy. Through collective action, the sector is able to both hold government accountable and initiate sector driven projects.”
A year on, as COVID-19 and the economic fall-out of the pandemic have bit hard, the situation for artists and the creative and cultural sector needs Im4theArts more than ever. As a result, Im4theArts is joining the push with other artists to bring pressure to bear on DSAC and our government to create an enabling environment for the arts. We encourage our members to sign the #NathiMustGo petition which has created a lot of attention for the current plight of artists. We are also seeking other ways to work with our partner organisations and federations to ensure that our voices are heard in meaningful ways.
As we celebrate our 1st Anniversary, we re-commit and STEP UP to what the Im4theArts vision and aims demands of us:
- To mobilise artists and all those working in the cultural and creative industries across all disciplines and genres to advance the interests of our sector.
- To provide a platform for information sharing, exchange of ideas, criticism and debate.
- To ensure that arts education, resources and facilities are accessible to all.
- To advocate for policies that address historical imbalances and social and economic inequalities and promote the development of a just and free South Africa.
- To help build capacity within our sector.
- To promote and defend our constitutional right to freedom of creative expression.
- To hold accountable government officials, departments, institutions and funding agencies that are responsible for the arts and cultural and creative industries.
- To form strategic alliances and to partner with local, national and international agencies and organisations in support of our aims.
- To secure our own sustainability in terms of organization, leadership and financing to ensure our resilience.
During the pandemic we have seen so many artists who have passed on, and while we send our condolences, yet the sector is not doing enough to celebrate or support artists while they are still alive… We call each other to STEP UP TO CELEBRATE EACH OTHER and to be there for one other in this time of need.
As Im4theArts, we will continue to stand up for what is just and necessary for our sector. We will continue to build solidarity between our online members and also ensure that more members sign up to join the organisation formally, in order to actively assist us in achieving our shared vision and aims.