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Festivals help transform society
Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]
Published: 09/03/2018

​Festivals have a key role to play in transforming society.

This was the gist of panel discussion on festivals in South Africa and the United States held at Stellenbosch University (SU) Museum on the Stellenbosch campus on Thursday (8 March 2018).

The speakers were Mr Ismail Mahomed, Chief Executive Officer of the Market Theatre Foundation, Prof Kurt Dewhurst, Director of Arts and Cultural Initiatives at Michigan State University (MSU) in the United States, and Prof Marsha Macdowell, Curator of the MSU Museum, and Professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design at MSU. The event was organised jointly by the SU Museum, the SU Woordfees (Wordfest) and the MSU Alliance for African Partnership. Stellenbosch University is a member of the Alliance for African Partnership.

Providing a historical overview of prominent South African festivals, Mahomed said the transformation of society is rooted in our festivals.

He pointed to the first White Paper on Arts and culture adopted in 1996 and said it made clear that arts will have a transformative role to play in our society.

“Arts should be about bringing us into a conversation that is sometimes painful. Arts has an important role to play in sometimes disturbing us."

“Arts makes us uncomfortable so that we can move out of our comfort zone and rethink and reposition the way we do things so that we ultimately change to get to the kind of society that we want."

“Festivals cannot become comfortable places. Festivals must have an element where we are disturb, where we talk about very difficult things."

Speaking about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC and the Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing, Prof Dewhurst said these type of festivals are living exhibitions that provide people with the opportunity to interact.

“There is a cross-pollinisation of people."

Prof Macdowell said the Great Lakes Folk Festival helps to build inclusive communities and to improve the relationship between MSU and the city of East Lansing.

“It also offers an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue."

Stellenbosch University Museum and the MSU Museum are working on collaborative projects between South African and United States institutions as part of the MSU-initiated Alliance for African Partnership.

In September 2017, Mr Bongani Mgijima, Director of the SU Museum, was part of a delegation that visited MSU as part of the MSU Museum and the SU Museum's "Ubuntu: Museum and Communities Connect" Project, funded by the MSU Alliance for African Partnership.

  • Photo: Mr Bongani Mgijima, Prof Marsha Macdowell, Mr Ismail Mahomed and Prof Kurt Dewhurst.
  • Photographer: Anton Jordaan