Durban arts face bleak future amid funding crisis

2018-06-17 10:01
The Durban Playhouse is one of only two art institutions to receive city funding - but at the last minute and a radically reduced amount PHOTO: supplied

The Durban Playhouse is one of only two art institutions to receive city funding - but at the last minute and a radically reduced amount PHOTO: supplied

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Twelve Durban arts and culture organisations are facing a rocky future as a funding crisis hangs over them. Many are laying the blame at the door of feuding city politicians and officials, who deny the accusations.

The organisations had been banking on receiving a total of R9m in grants-in-aid, but, after months of delays, an eThekwini council committee has yet to approve the grants that are a lifeblood for the city’s cultural hubs, which also serve as tourist attractions. Unspent municipal money must be returned to the city treasury at the end of the current financial year, which is less than two weeks away.

The crisis threatens to bring some of the organisations to the brink of collapse. Others with long records of good work have been forced to cut projects, depriving artists of a living. Some are busy scrabbling for sponsorship in a cash-strapped economy.

The 12 affected organisations are:

. KZN United Music Industry Association (which had been in the running to receive R1.75m)

. Wushwini Pan African Centre (R1.25m)

. Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre (R1.2m)

. KZN Society of the Arts (R1m)

. African Art Centre (R1m)

. The Wentworth Arts & Culture Organisation (R500 000)

. Simphiwe Shembe Foundation (R500 000)

. Durban Black Drifters (R500 000)

. Nelisa Mzimela Foundation (R500 000)

. Zizezande Youth Organisation (R250 000)

. LEBU Discovery Production NPC (R250 000)

. The KZN Heritage Foundation (R250 000)

The community services committee approved funding for only two organisations on Thursday, when it sat for the last time this financial year. Two flagship projects, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Playhouse Theatre, each received R2m, a radical drop in city funding for the organisations, which last year were believed to have received about R7m each.

Details of the proposed grants to the 14 organisations were spelt out in a report by the municipality’s parks, recreation and culture unit in February.

Yet the report was not tabled until this week, when it was given swift and somewhat curious treatment by the committee.

Unit head Thembinkosi Ngcobo recommended councillors accept the body of the report, but asked that a decision on the grants be postponed pending a funding workshop.

This workshop had been scheduled for early March, but was cancelled with little warning as 18 arts organisations lined up to make presentations.

Committee deputy chair Thembo Ntuli said: “The workshop should and must be organised soon.”

What soon actually means, however, remains to be seen as Ntuli, wrapping up the meeting, reminded councillors that the committee was going into its mid-year recess until August.

A respected arts practitioner, who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity, said: “The [workshop] was meant to be the final requirement in a list of requirements that spanned two years.”

The Playhouse and the orchestra declined City Press’ requests for an interview, as did numerous others, fearing they would lose out on future funding if they were seen to be critical of the municipality.

However, Ntombi Gasa of Siwela Sonke told City Press about the ongoing struggle to keep the lights on at the award-winning dance company.

When their national lottery funding ends, she is not sure where they will find money for rent, dance instructor salaries and their township outreach programmes.

The director of a nonprofit organisation that helps more than 200 artists showed City Press emails they had exchanged with municipal officials in September, seeking an update on a funding proposal they had submitted the year before. The query was passed from one official to another, to no avail.

The director believed bad blood between eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and Ngcobo was the source of the problem, as did several other sources.

Ngcobo referred queries to the mayor’s office.

But, according to a well-placed source in the municipality, a number of the committee’s meetings and workshops have been postponed or cancelled in the past year. The source said relations between Ngcobo and Gumede came to a head in June last year when a R2.1m conference was cancelled at the last minute.

Ngcobo was suspended for his role in the fiasco, but was later reinstated after he took the municipality to the Labour Court.

Mayoral spokesperson Mthunzi Gumede said: “This is utter nonsense. The mayor has nothing to do with delays. If there are any, it is an administrative matter.”

The municipality rejected claims made against councillors and officials as unfounded.

“Municipal officials execute their duties in a professional manner, working together with the political leadership,” it said.

Read more on:    durban  |  culture

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