Creative industry practioners are typically notoriously bad at the business and administrative side of making art, so it is affirming and exciting that when a call-out to KZN theatre and dance experts to be part of a new industry civic association, was met with enthusiasm and eagerness.
Practioners in the arts also have the untrue and unfair reputation of operating independently, not collaborating easily and working autonomously – and although that is true of some practioners I have worked with, the vast majority are only too keen to collaborate, share resources, support each other and network together.
DATNET – the Dance and Theatre Network of KZN – had its inaugural plenary meeting at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre last Wednesday 27 July. Around 50 theatre and dance practioners (all representing theatre and dance organisations and companies) attended the meeting – all eager to support an initiative to help the industry to become more inclusive and organised.
In the arts, there are regular comparisons to the world of sport. We are reminded that sporting codes are organised into regulated formal organisations which ultimately fall under SASCOC (SA Sports Confederation and Olympics Committee) which sets industry standards and is responsible for looking after various national federations and provincial sports councils.
The arts have never quite got it right to organise themselves similarly. CCIFSA (the Cultural and Creative Federation of South Africa) got off to a bumpy start – but in time may well become a viable authentic national body to represent the creative industries and become the national go-to arts body.
The intention is for CCIFSA be an umbrella body of specialist, formally-constituted arts organisations. So to create a viable KZN organisation representing dance and theatre in our region would be a huge advantage; would fit into the CCIFSA master-plan, and would complement similar organisations looking after the needs and agendas of the music, film and TV industries, and union bodies.
There have been national networking and industry lobby-groups before – but a national forum is a cumbersome beast – especially when each region operates so differently, with differing political dynamics and varying access to media, funding bodies and resources.
The decision to create a platform for KZN was a difficult but necessary one. Our industry is made up essentially of independent self-employed freelance individuals which by definition means having few legal rights and benefits – especially in terms of accessing UIF, medial aid, maternity leave etc.
The stats tell us that the creative industries are a more valuable contributor to the GDP than agriculture. It is an industry which encourages small businesses and entrepreneurs – but is seldom taken seriously and applauded for its role in developing skills and providing work.
“I am hugely energised,” said meeting convenor Themi Venturas – one of the two KZN ministerial task team reps for Dance and Theatre. “It is a long time since I have been so positive about the future of the performing arts.”
The city’s Themba Mchunu is also publicly putting his weight behind the initiative. He applauds any collaborative structure which operates with the industry’s best interests at heart
At a time when independent theatre and dance companies are struggling to pay their overheads and battle to find salaries for their performers; when the industry is experiencing huge frustrations with the major funding bodies which either seem to be awarding funds with a party political vote-harvesting agenda, or delaying the awarding of funds for months at an end…… then the chance to speak loudly and nationally with one united voice is hugely appealing.
Here’s wishing DATNET a successful, productive and meaningful future!
Article appeared in the Natal Mercury written by Illa Thompson in her monthly column