Dynamo Marlene le Roux
Artscape’s Director for Audience Development and Education, Marlene le Roux was recently honoured for her contribution to the arts by the French government when she received the prestigious Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite award. In 2010 she was the winner of the Arts & Culture category of the prestigious Most Influential Women in Business and Government Award. In this interview, originally published in August 2010, she shares her views on the current state of arts and audience education and development in the Western Cape.
Congratulations on the recent award! You progressed from Music Teacher and Educator to Subject Advisor before settling at Artscape nearly 10 years ago, at a time when the organisation was still in some turmoil following the transition from Performing Arts Board to its current brief. Tell us about the career path that lead you to that crucial position at such a crucial point in time?
As you’ll remember, the ‘old’ South Africa had 11 education systems. And only white education had arts subjects. I grew up in a rural town, Wellington, and attended a typical coloured school. Lucky for me I had a class A music teacher who was passionate about choral development. I also come from a musical family, my mother and my granny were known as the singers in the community. And from a young age I was the entertainer in my family. The school choir became my first experience with organized music. Mrs April recognized my talent and entered me for the Cape Town Eisteddfodd where at the age of 13 I was the first rural girl to receive ‘special gold’.
My mother then decided that I must get private piano lessons, at great costs. She was an ordinary factory worker but she knew I needed to read music and the local school did not offer music as a subject. Mr Wentzel, a white music teacher, used to come to our house in the township, during the apartheid era, risking sometimes his life, to give me lessons.
Therefore when I started my teaching career years later, I made an oath that I will start music departments in the black and coloured areas. And I was privileged to do this in Paarl, Manenberg, Montana, Port Elizabeth and in East London. The reason why I left the subject advisory for Artscape, is that I did not believe in that the Arts and Culture Learning Area can substitute the Arts as a subject. My belief was and still is that every child needs to have access to a trained, skilled, music, visual arts and dance teacher. The Arts can not just be for learners with parents who can afford to send them to schools that offer the Arts.
I then joined Artscape at just the right time; I could start up the audience development and education division. Immediately, as part of my brief, I could identify transformation strategies that would assist Artscape in contributing to nation-building, poverty alleviation and job creation.
What were the goals you set yourself at the time, and looking back, how have they changed?
I decided to concentrate on three goals:
the presentation of a diverse performing arts product mix;
the identification, development and nurturing of new audiences, whilst retaining existing patrons and;
the presentation of education and training programmes for young and emerging artists, technicians as a means of ensuring that the performing arts remain vibrant and viable
The past ten years were not always easy, as Artscape do not get artistic funding. The organisation relies only on infrastructural funding from the National Department of Arts and Culture. Therefor, for every programme I initiate, I must fundraise, which is still not easy. For the next ten years I will still concentrate on the above goals, as the Arts is still not priority in our Education System and overall in our Society.
Artscape’s ADE activities include programmes of dance, drama, opera, music and the visual arts. Please highlight some of the most significant music programmes you have initiated or developed?
One of the most significant programmes that I have initiated is the annual youth collaboration production. This project is an initiative to bring together young artists of different backgrounds and communities as part of Artscape’s vision to create future audiences. Through this project emerging talent is given the opportunity of exposure to the professional theatre environment. To date the successful youth productions include Vooma, that featured the Zip Zap Circus, Hout Bay String Ensemble and Jikileza Dance Company. Shapes of Me was another successful production presented in collaboration with ComArt, a community arts organization based in Elsies River. It was a musical journey of times past and present, as seen through the eyes of the youth and it explored how our stories shape the future. Alvin Dyers wrote all the music and acclaimed opera singer Virginia Davids directed.
The Youth Jazz Festival focused on the continuous skills development within the jazz genre and stretced over a six month period. Youth jazz bands auditioned to be part of a membership programme to prepare them for participation in the Festival. Emerging young jazz musicians were mentored by local jazz icons Melanie Scholtz, Andrew Lilley, Keith Tabisher and Kevin Gibson. And this is now a highlight on the music scene in Cape Town.
The Classical Youth Festival provides young, classically trained musicians the opportunity of rehearsing and performing with a professional orchestra and has launched many classical young musicians career.
The highlight for me is our annual Schools Arts Festival which I developed. Nation-building through the arts is one of ADE’s aims and this festival brought learners, educators, parents and friends together in a cultural environment to experience each other and appreciate the diversity of cultures which South Africa offers. Over 180 schools and 5 000 learners participated this year.
Another programme I initiated and developed over the years is the rural development program. The purpose of this programme is to bring professional theatre to the rural communities of the Western Cape; to take the arts to the people. We bring all the genres to the community, opera, contempary dancing, ballet, African music ensembles. For these productions our very best technical teams transform a community hall into a little Artscape. Thus far the programme has travelled to Paarl, Vredendal, Bredasdorp, Saron, George and Ceres and in 2011 will visit Saldanha. In each case the local municipality forms a partnership with Artscape to provide the infrastructure. I am inundated with requests from rural areas to come to their area. But one of the criteria is that the Municipality must be an active partner.
How do you measure the success of a programme once it’s up and running?
Whether we have an audience, and a satisfied one. You can design a production to satisfy your own artistic vision, or you can develop a product which benefits your audience. The buy-in of the artists and the feet coming to the production measure the success of the production.
How, in your view, does one promote “social transformation, good citizenship and empowerment through the arts”, as per your department’s mission?
YES, YES. Let me explain by example. Take our Schools Arts Festival. My team and I manipulate the two-week programme to play to as diverse as ever an audience. Every evening 15 schools participate. Every night on stage a rural, urban, coloured, white, black, Indian and a special needs school perform on one stage.
Another example is the Rural Programme, the traditional white audience come to see the City Ballet and wow, there are introduced to Dizu Plaatjies’s Marimba Band! Every year I shed tears when I see ordinary citizens, black, white, coloured, all enjoying one production.
I strongly believe that the arts spontaneously facilitates social transformation without pointing a finger, and I experience this magic every day in my work, an honour and a privilege. But I do not leave it up to fate, I develop programmes to stimulate critical thinking and to bring people from different backgrounds together to experience common values.
Good citizenship does not happen overnight. This must be instilled in young people from an early age. Our early collaboration youth programme teaches young people to respect each other, value each other time, a culture of work ethic and to work in a team. The end result, which culminates in a stage production, always reflects whether the group has established one common vision despite different backgrounds.
The Artscape Resource Centre - “with the aim of providing the anvil where skills are forged and knowledge is transferred” - came into being under your management. Please show some examples of how this Centre benefits community artists and organisations on a daily basis.
Yes, again I was privileged to start the resource centre, with the aim to facilitate training programmes and to provide access to available recources for emerging visual artists and arts practitioners. One of the vital services that has emerged from the resource centre has been that of mentoring members who demonstrate and ask for how to proceed from community artist to an professional artist. The resource centre has develop a database of professional individual artists and arts companies that are used as mentors. Workshops are designed to address the challenges the community artists face on a daily basis, such as “How to start an arts organization”. This workshop explored the Non-Profit Organization model and looked at aspects such as legal implications, responsibilities of a board and the tax laws which govern organizations of this nature, as well as how to access funding.
Basic computer skills workshops are facilitated on termly basis every year. This workshop gives the attendees an opportunity to learn the basic skills of how to use a computer. The need in this area is great and the waiting list is alarmingly long!
The Arts Management course is also very popular. The shortage of skilled arts managers, especially for community arts projects, resulted in initiatives that are not sustainable. This workshop is about acquiring skills on arts administration, marketing and project management.
Your list of responsibilities as Director of ADE are staggering! From the skills development of employees to rural artistic development programme, to selecting and producing new artistic works for the theatre. How is your department structured to cope with such an encompassing brief?
I made sure that we attract persons that is passionate about the arts and love their work. And believe in the vision of the department. It is important that you have team ownership. I have team members that has more experience in the theatre world than I do. And I learn from them every day. I realize that you can only achieve as a manager if you have team members that are even better than you. I have a very small team, that do the work of 30 people! The most important objective my team understands is that we facilitates all artists performing on Artscape stages. I is important that we establish good relationships with professional arts companies as well as community arts companies or individuals.
What does your typical day look like?
I have two beautiful children, Aimee, and Adam. As a typical mother, my day starts hectic at 5am with household preparations. My son has cerebral palsy and his food needs to be made for the day and there we go. Then at Artscape, there are staff meetings, meetings with producers, possible funders, and in between visits to community arts project. Perhaps attending a dress rehearsal, or provincial functions, often getting home way after 10pm.
What is the one thing you can do without in your job?
I am generally a fighter, but it gets to me sometimes that I am always, and still, fighting for the existence and the importance of the arts. And then the constant applying for funding…
How is it beneficial for Artscape ADE having performing arts companies such as Cape Town Opera, Jazzart and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra in such close proximity?
It is such a benefit! We share the common goal that we need to develop a diverse audience and feed off each others’ productions. A huge benefit is also that ownership of the rural programme and all the community productions are 100 percent supported by the in house companies.
What, in your view, are the greatest challenges in developing new audiences for arts and culture products in the Western Cape today?
It is the current school education system. Not every school has the Arts as part of its curriculum while this is were the love and the understanding of the arts starts.
And then exposure, exposure! Due to funding cuts and dysfunctional structures such as the Western Cape Cultural Commission and the City of Cape Town’s Arts department, many professional arts companies and community arts organizations are not receiving funding and are on the brink of closing down. Now how can the arts develop new audiences and new product if these arteries are cut off?
A solution, in my view, would be for the government to start prioritising the arts as an economic entity and realise that it is essential in developing citizens in touch with their humanness.
Your organisational contributions and membership are hugely impressive and include initiating or facilitating a number of cultural exchange programmes. Has the focus of international interest in South African arts and culture products changed since post 1994, and how?
Yes, for example, I was involved with SIDA, the Swedish International Agency in the 90’s and during that time SIDA concentrated in assisting grassroots music organizations in the provinces. Community arts organizations flourished such as MAP (Music Arts Project) in Cape Town and Mamela, a much needed music skills project in the gang ridden area Manenberg. SIDA has since changed their policies and are now giving money directly to Government. Beurocracy gained the upper hand. Projects closed down on grassroots level. My concern is that because of this policy change of giving to national government rather than decentralising funding, civil society organizations are trapped by government’s incapacity to implement and spread foreign donors’ money.
What, in your view, are the most important contributions South Africans are making to arts and culture globally?
We are living in an exciting, ever changing country and our artists reflect that energy. South African artists and producers are really showing the world how to interpret, for example, well known opera stories to reflect a South African flavour. Take Cape Town Opera’s recent production of Lucia Di Lamoor, with a nearly all Black cast. And there are still so many stories to be told.
Looking ahead at 2020, what are your goals for Artscape?
That it becomes a fully fledged performing arts academy, training arts administrators, technicians and arts managers. And that a youth performing arts company be successfully established.
Interview by Mari Stimie
Originally published 11.08.2010
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