DEAR ARTS COMMUNITY OF SOUTH AFRICA – DAC INDABA – VATT – OPEN LETTERS ROCK.

Dear Arts Community of South Africa

So there are 11 days and counting down until the deadline for VATT (Visual Arts Task Team) nominations to be submitted to the DAC.

PM is officially so bored, by the passage of play that has brought us to this point, that if this was a rugby game, PM would have changed channels and watched golf. For the record PM believes that watching golf causes cancer.

So lets recap; there is this report, commissioned by the DAC (Death of Arts and Culture) to check the pulse of the Visual Arts Sector , compiled maybe 2 years ago. Who is the main peep working on this report- Joseph Gaylard (Director of VANSA Gauteng).  All sound good on paper so far (kinda).

PM remembers the questions asked in the research process for this report, and to be frank PM laughed so hard that Earl Grey came out PM’s nose (not a pretty sight by all accounts). They had clearly been written by somebody or bodies, with little in-depth experience working within any aspect of the sector. I suppose you would call these persons well-meaning outsiders doing their best, fair enough somebody had to do it, might as well be VANSA.

FACT – The content of a report, especially of this nature, is only as sophisticated as the questions asked during the research process.

If it was not for Aunty Panga’s pep talks which go a bit like this “if you don’t participate and take a position you are apathetic, and apathy makes you fat “PM would have ignored these questionnaires cause they take up a shit load of time, and Jeez there have been a crap load of them over the last few years. NLB, something-or-other research council, are the ones that come to mind. They have all been so vague and similar, totally interchangeable really.

Okay back to the point. We have this report the DAC commissioned and sat on for two years. A week before they announce the new Venice Biennale “PM slaps PM’s forehead in frustration” procedures, and after weeks, and weeks, and years, of the parliamentary monitoring committee trying to get answers about all the (let’s be frank) stolen DAC money.  There is this Indum(a)ba.

So poorly communicated to the national “stakeholders” you would think the DAC was a vampire , terrified of being in a room with anyone holding a stake.  So the indumba can only be viewed as an attempt to deflect from the real issue of mismanagement on every level.

So Dominic Thorburn writes a concerned letter. South Africa Art Times gives itself a wedgie calling for a boycott – the irony – call for a boycott when the problem with the Indumba is that nobody was going to attend anyway.  Kirsty Cockerill writes a letter – Curtly. Putting. Foot. Down. Artthrob does, what Artthrob does, what Arttrob does. The indumba happens. Louise Van Der Bijls writes a letter requesting, with painful sincerity, that everyone hold hands and participate. The deadline for VATT nominations is extended. VANSA writes a statement saying lets all play nice and work together – the DAC are our friendsssss.

What channel is the golf on again?

For the record PM wants to congratulate Dominic, Kirsty and Louise, cause fuck-in-a-bucket, there is little PM loves more than a letter writer- no matter their shape, size or position. It takes metaphorical balls to take a position publicly and make a note when something is unacceptable or fabulous.   PM writes letters all the time. PM wrote a letter to Nestle complaining about their ridiculous decision to remove artificial colorants from Smarties. If you think PM is joking, you would be wrong.  Does letter writing change anything? Generally not, but that is no reason not to do it.

So we come back to the beginning, 11 days and counting down and PM has some questions. Yes, it’s fabulous let’s nominate up a storm, but who will be selecting from these nominations? Who will be selecting the individuals who will make up VATT?

Drum roll……….

The minister of the DAC – Crises! Let’s drink the tears of underprivileged children !   What does VANSA say about this? Nothing. Should VANSA not be selecting the VATT members from the nominations? No. Why?

Can VANSA which has developed a reputation for complicity on certain (lobbying) issues be trusted to select people who it might find obstructionist to its vision? Don’t get PM wrong, PM has supported VANSA publicly on many occasions even when they were understandably being called gatkruipers over their handling of the Venice Biennale situation. Why did PM support them then? Because without DAC policy regarding international exhibitions, VANSA was quite correct to say that what DAC did was problematic (PM prefers the term bullshit) but the DAC had not undermined any DAC policy or procedures.

What VANSA did not say, was that , the DAC had acted corruptly .Under SA law any contract for any job, VB included, over a certain amount has to be “put out to tender” AKA made public for people to bid on the job. So VANSA focusing on getting policy made decided to keep the DAC a friend and let the Parliamentary monitor committee, and in this case the DA shadow minister for DAC, and Matthew Blackman, fight the good “you cheating- stealing- bastards fight”. PM understood the VANSA strategy.

PM acknowledges that the art sector needs a VANSA, but can VANSA be trusted to choose people who might make alternative recommendations? Because lets face it, with policy, we get procedures, and with procedures we get positions, and when there are positions, there is power, and when there is power, there is money and with that, everyone including VANSA wants a slice.

In an ideal world should VANSA not be the VATT already?

But hey what does it matter, the DAC minister (that would be you Paul – in case you have forgotten) is going to select the VATT. Maybe PM is just being picky and should swallow the kak being shovelled into PM’s cake hole and embrace any potential chance to move forward,  AKA do a Louise on the house.

So what would be the best way to select the VATT members?

A Lottery, pick the nominations out of a hat? A lottery does seem the most ethical, if absolutely counter productive in terms of quality control. Anyway everyone should nominate up a storm cause the more you play the higher your chances of winning, right? Right! Tata Ma Chance, Tata Ma Millions.

Let’s fast forward to after VATT is “elected/selected “. Louise -dear , do you for one blessed naïve moment really believe that VATT will be able to hold the DAC to task over mismanagement, theft and corruption, and at the same time make policy that will make it harder for the DAC to act in a corrupt way? and while VATT is at it, make policy that will benefit the arts community ?

Do you really think VATT will succeed in doing what VANSA has failed to do? What the parliamentary monitoring committee has failed to do? What opposition politicians have failed to do? What the media has failed to do? Jeez-Louise PM loves the letter but PM is with Oscar Wilde on this one, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

So Panga People this situation is all messed up, and there is no clear ethical way out of it. What PM is suggesting is that everyone writes letters and nominates. Cause if you believe the person you are nominating has the savvy, experience and humility to serve on VATT. Put them forward – fuck it! -there is nothing to lose.

If you don’t , you know who will be the VATT? Cut the list of speakers/panelists at the DAC Indumba and paste them under the heading VATT. You know that list of speakers and panelists? The ones that mostly come from Gauteng, the ones that don’t represent the national arts community, which are not the best of the bunch ? Them. Nominate and hold fingers something good comes from this cluster-fuck-up , it will  make Aunty Panga happy that you have taken a position and particpated.

But nominate realising that the track record suggests nothing will change, let alone happen, and regardless of your nominations, PM will be very very surprised if the VATT turns out to be made up of anyone not on the list of speakers/panelists anyway.

And seriously what channel is the golf on?

Kind Regards

PM

Aunty P says PM is being very grumpy, and has just presented PM with a happy making cheesecake.  If this is what grumpy gets, PM intends to be grumpy more often.

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26 Responses to DEAR ARTS COMMUNITY OF SOUTH AFRICA – DAC INDABA – VATT – OPEN LETTERS ROCK.

  1. Nicole says:

    PM sounds savvy, who are you nominating?

  2. Written in my personal capacity, not the views of VANSA:

    As always with PM posts, I enjoyed reading this, even if the lashes are seemingly, at least in part, directed at myself and/or the organisation that I work for. I also like the general concluding sentiment (which seems to be a very grudging, qualified call for people to engage with the process). I am not sure though about all of the paving stones on the slightly tortuous path to the destination.

    Re the comments on the report, which as PM points out I bore some responsibility for:

    1. the report is not a VANSA report. I was appointed by the Human Sciences Research Council to be the lead consultant on the project in 2008/9, prior to and independent of my employment by VANSA in 2010 (the year the report was released for comment).

    2. The report was released for public comment more than two years ago and was circulated to a very large number of people through the VANSA database (among others), and to all of the individuals and organisations that participated in the tedious survey (which may be a case of adding insult to injury in PMs book…).

    Not just the department, but the sector itself, has “sat on” it, with no significant comment, critique or proposals coming in from anybody. A lot of the commentary on this process seems to remove any responsibility from the commentators for making any effort at all to engage in a meaningful way when the opportunity formally presents itself. The preferred modality seems to be an after-the-fact default position of shrill outrage and/or disdain.

    While I’ve met only one person (an academic in Zurich) who has actually read the whole cumbersome document, a 20-30 page summary of the findings and recommendations from the report was also made available when the report was released. There has been acres of room for people to propose other recommendations and point out problems with the approach, the findings and recommendations – no-one bothered.

    3. Is the report flawed and tedious to read? Certainly. Was the report so bad that it didn’t warrant a response? I don’t think so. One has to start somewhere, and both in relation to the resources that were available to do it, and on its own merits, i don’t think it’s quite the unmitigated and woefully uninformed disaster that the writer seems to suggest. And a great deal was learnt about how such work could be done better in the future.

    4. PM is silent on what it is precisely about the findings and recommendations that are so hopelessly off the mark, so it’s difficult to take the casual trashing of the report entirely seriously. In order to have a debate, you have to put something on the table, and, with respect, PM just hasn’t bothered to do this.

    5. Not a single arts visual arts media platform provided any coverage (critical or otherwise) of the report for the entire two year period. (Incidentally, when I suggested to the editor of one of our ‘leading publications’ that they might want to provide some critical coverage of it, the answer was a summary ‘no’). On the other hand, when the opportunity arose (as it always will) to lambaste the department for a less-than-brilliant process of external communication and marketing around the Indaba event (where the findings and recommendations were meant to be interrogated), it appears that few in this community could get to their keyboards fast enough. Apparently, it’s generally only worth anyone’s while to engage when there are opportunities to pillory, but not when there are opportunities that require expending a bit of effort to put forward considered responses to issues that one genuinely cares about.

    Re VANSA and the VATT:
    The organisation is going to engage with the process like any other, and PM of all people should be alive to the problems that would attach to VANSA playing the role of both referee and player in this context, which PM seems to believe would be the ideal scenario (if that is VANSA was actually an organisation with any spine). I don’t think that VANSA has or wishes to claim any particular legitimacy around representation of the visual arts sector (there are for example already a number of organisations that represent the interests of visual artists in the country), and it makes no sense for the organisation to put itself forward to constitute the VATT in the way that PM seems to be suggesting at certain moments. Within international practice in democracies, it is entirely normal for a Minister to make these sorts of appointments, informed by the views of stakeholders and their hopefully informed officials.

    Re the general positioning of VANSA in relation to government:
    As you rightly point out, what the organisation wants to see is the introduction of better policy and action on the part of government in ways that reduce the likelihood for general mess. Is this a quixotic pursuit? Maybe. For better or worse, such an ambition requires a mix of constructive engagement and criticism where it is due. The organisation does its best to navigate a way through the inevitable tensions and complexities in a principled way. It’s not always a barrel of fun to take this approach, and apparently not as much fun as baking a tray of “Fuck DAC” brownies. It also means exercising some restraint, sometimes putting mails or posts in the “drafts” folder before sending them, and doing some serious thinking about what the likely wider yield – beyond indulging one’s sense of outrage and frustration – is going to be.

    To characterise VANSA’s position as a kind of race-for-the-trough seems ungenerous and unfair, and without any cognisance of the general work that the organisation actually does, other than the back-handed acknowledgement that one somehow needs an organisation like this, perhaps in the same way that one needs a tiresome mother-in-law. Indeed it is presented as axiomatic that any effort to inform and improve government policy and action through lobbying and dialogue can only be driven out of narrow self interest:

    “Because lets face it, with policy, we get procedures, and with procedures we get positions, and when there are positions, there is power, and when there is power, there is money and with that, everyone including VANSA wants a slice.”

    There is something signally self-defeating about the logic underpinning this: one has to conclude that the only proper, ethical thing to do is, well, nothing. Other than to perhaps then rail (between slices of cheesecake) at the fact that nothing has been done.

    A last point:
    While anonymity can provide some scope for frank appraisal of a situation unfettered by prosaic consideration of the consequences, it can also, with respect, create a lot of scope for flabbiness of thought and argument by virtue of there being no accountability to anybody, including oneself; as the quality of so much on-line commentary so richly attests to. Speaking Truth to Power is a great principle, but it is not one that can be taken entirely seriously – or achieve much – when it is (only) prosecuted anonymously.

    • Darling Joseph, so good to hear the sound of your type.

      Aunty Panga wants to know how you take your coffee -or would you prefer tea? Aunty has decided you must be parched after that serious commitment to word count in your comment. Clearly the fuck DAC brownies are not to your taste( and they are all finished anyway) but there is still a very big slice of cheer up cheesecake left over from yesterday, and that Darling Joseph, that has your name on it.

      While you are visiting Aunty P and PM’s humble home in the blog sphere, PM has a question or two- But first put your feet up, please make yourself at home. PM and Aunty P know how the blog sphere can make visitors to its land uncomfortable, especially if they are not familiar with the language and laws. Aunty P wants to know are you warm enough? Do you need a blanket for your knees?

      PM gets very confused sometimes, and PM really needs your assistant to clarify a few things. Would you be so kind? PM was thinking should this whole VATT nominations and selections thing, not in fact being going through the NAC?

      PM is going to dig through the NAC policy paperwork to confirm what their mandate is, but Darling Joseph, you could save PM the effort? You know how it is – lots of paperwork -long reports give people paper cuts. Don’t take it personally that nobody read your report. Aunty P is sure it was a fantastic effort.

      You see Darling Joseph yours and everyone elses report is irrelevant when given to this DAC to process and implement. It’s like given a higher grade maths test to a special needs child.

      Don’t feel under pressure to go, you are welcome to stay all day, PM and Aunty P have some domestics to bumble around and complete , maybe you could just ponder the NAC question while you enjoy the cheer up cheesecake.

  3. Am of course happy to oblige. This seems to be a question that is doing the rounds in that great city by the sea – I had the same inquiry from an M Blackman late on Sunday, which was directed at DAC/NAC and myself. He was also wondering why the report itself had not been commissioned by the NAC. See below my parched and pedantic response early on Monday morning. In the interests of ameliorating a billowing reputation for unreadability, here’s a short version: if one is looking for flaws/missteps/fuck-ups, this is definitely the wrong place to look. Really.

    “Dear Matthew

    This would – as briefly as possible – be my independent view on the question/s that you have raised, and the view that underpins the VATT proposition contained in the report. It may not be the view of the Department.

    1. one of the primary – and probably the single most important – functions of the national department is to determine national policy in it’s area of competence
    2. one aspect of this mandate is concerned with the establishment of a system of public funding for the arts
    3. in relation to this specific aspect of the mandate, the White Paper made provision for an Arts Council. This was subsequently translated into legislation (the NAC Act), and ongoing financing and oversight of the institution that we have today
    4. the primary mandate of the Arts Council is around the funding of the arts. An ancillary mandate relates to advising the department on general matters relating to the arts
    5. the Act makes clear that the primary concern of the panels constituted under the NAC is advising on the issuing of grants – the advisory role on “any matter” is clearly ancillary and is not intended to substitute for the primary role of the Department with regard to the formulation of policy; this is given further emphasis by the fact that membership of panels is limited to no more than 5 people – i.e. NAC panels have quite a narrow and focused brief
    6. the Arts Council is therefore one institution among others that the DAC would consult in formulating policy. In the context of the VATT process, the engagement of the NAC and its substructures would be particularly important in relation to the recommendations relating to the funding of the arts
    7. if the brief for the visual arts report had been primarily concerned with the funding of the visual arts, it would perhaps have made sense for the National Arts Council to commission this research. The brief for this work was however substantially more wide-ranging. The commissioning of this kind of report has a very large number of precedents across national government here and elsewhere in the world, and falls squarely and centrally within the mandate of the Department.
    8. similarly, the VATT concept itself has many precedents in other areas, and is partly modelled on a process that the department undertook a few years ago with the Music industry – which involved the formulation of a Music Industry Task Team (MITT).
    9. it would in my view be neither practically feasible nor desirable to fold the brief of the proposed VATT into the existing NAC panel for all of the reasons outlined above as well as a few other others:
    – the VATT requires a substantially more expansive framework for sector representation (with regard to the number of members)
    – unlike the funding panels, it is not a perpetual structure – i.e. it has a timebound mandate linked to the completion – or taking forward – of a specific set of tasks
    – in being located in direct relationship with the national Ministry responsible for the arts – rather than under a statutory body that in turn falls under that Ministry – the VATT would arguably have more traction in its engagement with other parts of government (eg the dti, SARS, etc)

    I hope this perspective is helpful.

    regards

    Joseph”

    • Joseph Dear,

      Durban is the great city by the sea. Cape Town is the fishing village. Silly Joseph! What a silly mistake!

      Aunty P is a bit concerned about you. You see you keep bringing everything back to your report. PM knows you worked really hard on it and then flop-DAC-flop. If it makes you feel any better artists experience this all the time. It’s called an exhibition downer and happens after a show goes up and then……Nothing.
      Aunty P thinks you are having a report downer. The best way for an artist to get over the exhibition downer is to get back to work. Aunty P thinks this is why you are writing such long responses; it’s a way of you processing the report downer. Aunty P wants you to know it will pass. Just word count, word count, word count your way through, PM and Aunty P support you 100%!

      So focused are you Joseph Dear, on the report side of things, that you did not answer PM’s question. You see PM is not the slightest bit interested in the report (sorry J) – it’s the VATT’s job to be interested in the report. PM does not care whose impotence initiated it, or who paid for it. PM is interested in the VATT, and how they are selected. It’s very important that a strong team is put together. PM is sure you agree. It’s also very important the visual arts stakeholders perceive (at very least) that this is a fair selection procedure in place.

      As you know Joseph Dear, perception is everything, and who is going to believe that the minister of the DAC (that would be you Paul) is going to selected the VATT (what does he know about anything art related), let alone select them fairly even if the pile of nominations really did, land on his lap. Also let’s be frank Joseph- sweet, everyone knows that Mr Minister (that would be you Paul) will not be around in this position after the Mangaung shake up anyway.

      What PM wants to know is why the NAC team is not selecting the VATT members from the nominations? That was the question – is the NAC not already mandated to do this for the DAC? Is this not far more ethical. Is there not already precedent for this?

      Would like some more tea?

  4. Sorry, had thought in the midst of the fog of my report downer that I could do a cut-and-paste from the response to Matthew, but I see that your question is indeed slightly different to his, though some of the points I’ve already made remain relevant. Does the NAC funding panel have any legislated, exclusive responsibility in the area of advice to the department – the answer is no. In fact the panel’s advisory role is to the Council of the Arts Council, not directly to the department. As Aunty is to PM, so the NAC Council and its panels are to the Minister – there to give advice, when PM/the Minister wants or needs it. Could the Minister delegate the responsibility for making recommendations on appointments to the VATT to the NAC funding panel? – possibly, but I am not sure it would make a lot of sense for one panel (with a very particular mandate around funding) to be making recommendations around the appointment of another panel. Quite apart from panels appointing panels sounding a bit sketchy as an idea, it also produces the possibility that members of one panel might be among the list of nominees for the other one… which creates another whole tedious set of unhappy scenarios.

    The thing that is obviously keeping PM up at night is the prospect of our Minister – informed by his officials – being responsible for these appointments. But as I pointed out:
    “Within international practice in democracies, it is entirely normal for a Minister to make these sorts of appointments, informed by the views of stakeholders and their hopefully informed officials and advisors.”
    While this may have you reaching for your Panga, can I gently suggest that you apply the principle of the Pen being mightier than the Panga and that you make a submission to the department by the November 30 deadline for comment on the recommendations contained in That Document, in which you outline a set of detailed criteria for the appointment of people to the VATT that might guide the Minister et al in making their selections…?

    • So it seems Panga People and Joseph, we are back to the beginning.

      The DAC minister (that would be you Paul) and his advisors, with their Stirling like silver, track record of upholding the principles of common sense, good fiscal management and ethical practices will be selecting the VATT. They will be doing doing this (naturally) with so much love and understanding in their hearts and minds for the visual arts sector. We are so lucky to have such a fabulously competent and caring DAC that we trust and respect! Mouth vommie, Mouth vommie…….

      Before all you sweet Panga People go and gnaw at your wrists, in understandable horror of what this means (or does not mean) for the sector, Aunty P has some words of wisdom for you. South Africa has never had a DAC that was any less fucked up than this one (have we?) and we the sector have developed despite of them, and we will continue to develop despite of them.

      The irony is that as a sector we have a reputation for poor professionalism, and yet we continue to produce professionally, despite every hindrance the DAC, the economy, and our fucked up social-political situation brings to the table. If we are lucky something good will come from it, if not, let’s just hope for their sake that they stay out of our way, cause ( as a whole) we are not a sector that will swallow the crap and look the other way – we have pens and Pangas at our disposal.

      And remember Panga People apathy makes you fat.

  5. Dear Joseph,

    If by “Incidentally, when I suggested to the editor of one of our ‘leading publications’ that they might want to provide some critical coverage of it, the answer was a summary ‘no'” you are referring to me and artthrob, that is entirely incorrect. As I recall in the conversation at the VANSA office that we had I said that I would look at it. However, various things got in the way: an investigation into the DAC, teaching, as well as trying to find funding for artthrob which was about to financially collapse. Being really only a one man band one can only focus on one or two things and the report was sadly put on the back burner. However, when a huge swathe of the arts industry weren’t invited to the Indaba including some of VANSA’s top brass it then did jump to the top of my list.

    In answer to your comments, which you have so conveniently provided here, I have just taken two of your points as a point of departure and hopefully in my ramblings I, in someway, will address all of them. Just to fill those in who are reading this, my original question addressed to Joseph Gaylard of VANSA, the DAC and the NAC was: why is there a need for a Visual Arts Task Team when the NAC Act of 1997 seems to suggest that the NAC should take on this role.

    JG: one of the primary – and probably the single most important – functions of the national department is to determine national policy in its area of competence.
    MB: Many of the recommendations in your report that are not related to the NAC fall well outside, as you put it, the Department’s area of competence as indeed they would the VATT’s. Tax rebates for art buying etc. are not in any way related to policy that DAC would concern itself with. Of course they should recommend these ideas to Dept of Finance or the DTI after reading your recommendations. But what role would the VATT have in this? Firstly none of the VATT will be experienced economists who have the competence to understand the financial implications both to the arts industry and the South African economy as a whole. Also considering the ‘stakeholders’ in the VATT would have much to gain from such changes in the law I would suspect the Dept of Finance would treat these recommendations from a VATT of ‘stakeholders’ with great suspicion.

    JG: the [NAC] Act makes clear that the primary concern of the panels constituted under the NAC is advising on the issuing of grants – the advisory role on “any matter” is clearly ancillary and is not intended to substitute for the primary role of the Department with regard to the formulation of policy; this is given further emphasis by the fact that membership of panels is limited to no more than 5 people – i.e. NAC panels have quite a narrow and focused brief

    MB: You are quite correct in this assessment. But here I am afraid our paths diverge as far as the VATT is concerned. Firstly, although the NAC’s advisory mandate may be ancillary to their funding one, it is nevertheless there. And after all, the vast majority of the recommendations in your research report, for the VATT to deliberate over, are in fact matters of funding and as you say this should be the NAC’s primary concern. These recommendations below seem to me at least to fall under the NAC:

    • funding a buyer education programme (VANSA Western Cape had one of those until the funding dried up. I assume you have/had one),
    • fund regional market development initiatives like art maps etc (you run one of those. Who do you ask to fund it?),
    • funding an Art Bank (Joburg had one of those. It was by all accounts badly funded),
    • Funding a Contemporary Art Gallery (we have several of those in the SANG and JAG they just aren’t the Tate Modern and we have one that actually gets pretty close called WAM and it is certainly going to need funding at some point. Why the need for a new one. Why don’t we get the ones we have to be funded and function properly before embarking on a massive waste of tax payer’s money?)
    • funding Community Arts Centers (we had 100s of those but now there aren’t so many left because they weren’t funded properly),
    • better funding for Municipal Museums (JAG won’t complain about that),
    • funding for professional development and mentoring programmes (I have one of those, it’s just not funded),
    • promoting greater coherence, articulation and efficiency in the funding system for the visual arts (NAC’s role),
    • review the funding of the National Lottery (tick, am not really sure whose role this is but I am assuming that last people who should advise on this should be art ‘stakeholders’ because of course they are going to say 100% for the visual arts),
    • fund research (ArtThrob tries to get funding for that repeatedly from ACT but is always declined and I am pretty sure there are 100s knocking on the NAC’s door for that too, I know I will be).

    All of the recommendations listed above are directly in the mandate of the NAC, the problem is not that projects like this don’t exist, but rather that they are just badly funded. Now this is definitively NAC territory. The solution is then to give the NAC more funding for them. So what is a VATT going to do about it?

    If the role of this VATT is, on the whole, to tell the DAC to give the NAC more money to fund already existing projects there is the distinct air of redundancy surrounding the VATT’s role on these issues. If what the Research Report is recommending is for existing structures to be better funded, well it gets the thumbs up from me. And I am not sure any right-minded person on the VATT would disagree with almost all of these recommendations. But what is going to stop this VATT from becoming merely a self-interested lobbying group for the sectors of the Visual Art that the elected ‘stakeholders’ are involved in. The strength of the NAC is that this is exactly what they are not. They are, or are meant to be, an objective body inscribed by law to understand all the needs of all the arts and culture sections. What they are not is a lobbying group of self-interested and self-elected representatives.

    Another issue is when the report recommends to ‘action national strategy for community arts centres’ and ‘strengthen the capacity of municipal museums’ what exactly does this mean and what is this VATT (who will no doubt agree with this recommendation) going to do? There is after all no flaw in policy here. These recommendations are almost a carbon copy of those that the Arts and Culture Task Team made in the 1990s. What has happened in the interim is a failure of government. The DAC already has these policies in place, what is the VATT going to do about it, hold them to account? But that is not their role. They will be there to consult on policy, not to make demands about better governance (actually the role of holding the DAC to account really lies with VANSA of which you would know more than I).

    The issue is that there isn’t a failure of policy here, instead there is failure of the very national government, of which the DAC is part, to hold itself as well as, local and provincial governments to account. This has nothing to do with policy but everything to do with bad governance. The RDP build 50 development arts centres after 1994 and as Andries Oliphant pointed out ‘a decade later most of these were dysfunctional.’ I might add that DA Provincial Government are equally to blame as any other for this kind of oversight. Its withdrawal of funding for VANSA Western Cape (the part of VANSA that wasn’t invited to the Indaba up in Joburg I might add), I feel, was a tragic failure of government.

    It would seem I am one of few members of the Visual Arts community who makes the assumption that huge well-funded DAC events that operate flagrantly outside of the structures that are already in place, are not helping. Perhaps the VATT will be cheap and efficient at what it does – I suppose we are about to find out – but we already have something serving the role of the VATT. It may be small and unsexy (and not have a VANSA member on it) but it is there, it has money set aside for it, and it can and should be used as a low cost VATT. It’s called the NAC advisory panel for the visual arts (who I might add were also not invited until the very last moment to the Indaba in Joburg). With the DAC’s irregular expenditure amounting to over R72 million and unauthorised expenditure of over R41 million I can’t sanction the idea of another, no doubt costly, adventure into a project that will largely involve itself in an act of complete futility. Holding the DAC to account seems to me the only recourse we have, offering it policy advice that it either ignores or already has in place is emphatically not the way forward. It certainly seems sad to me that the NAC and VANSA as well as what seems like the queue of people readying themselves to get on to the VATT have all clearly expressed no interest in this role of holding the DAC to account.

    With regards to the other recommendations:
    In saying the above one should note that there are recommendations that may fall distant from this umbrella that I have opened over funding and the failure of putting policy into action. That is to say that there may very well be an area that the NAC, as you see them, do not have a role as far as consultation is concerned.

    There is the recommendation to provide ‘targets for the representation of South Africa at international contemporary art events’ (a little pet to love of my own). Well in the interim between the report and now, we had Venice. And if I, in my own little way, managed to uncover anything about that event it was that the members of the DAC are aware of both the importance of such events as well as being extremely competent at organizing our participation at them.
    The documents I received from the Department and from other sources showed a paper trail of a well functioning and extremely well equipped group of civil servants. What was interesting in particular were the minutes reflecting Ms Ndebele-Koka (who is see you copied into my email), of the department, raising the concern that that Mr Mokoena’s actions ‘could not only get bad publicity from the sector if they have not been consulted, but parliamentary questions that can put the Minister in a difficult position.’ Unfortunately neither the minister nor the DG supported her view.

    To suggest that that the department is unaware of these events and their importance for the sector is palpably absurd. The DAC had previously stated that it had no wish to pursue these kinds of events because they were ‘western paradigms’ that fell outside of national interest. If by this they meant ‘a waste of money that would only benefit the already rich’ I can only concur with their assessment, however, that paradigm seems to have changed.

    The defense of artistic copyright is another recommendation that I must admit does perhaps fall slightly outside of the NAC. Here perhaps there could be a role for the VATT. And you are right, research and deliberation is needed over this issue. However, considering that the VATT is going to comprise commercial gallery owners, auctioneers, artists and NPOs I am not sure what kind of an outcome you are going to get from them on this issue. All of them except artists have a lot to lose and very little to gain from this idea. An artist task team might reach a just consensus, but a VATT? But rather than a VATT perhaps another HSRC research grant maybe in order?

    Again the recommendation with regards to the rates of employment is one that some kind of broader consultation may be necessary. But again a VATT of ‘stakeholders’ is hardly going to uphold nor indeed represent the rights of many of the craftsmen in the industry – those refugees and jobless persons employed off the streets by artists who do their sculpting, bead work, weaving etc. What I suspect this means is like something that they want in the film industry. A minimum wage for the ‘skilled’ of R1200 a day while the usual R80 a day stuff for the ‘unskilled’ continues. This kind of thing merely acts as a form of price fixing that never really addresses the problem. But personally if the VATT is going recommend anything over R375 a day then count me in.

    As for the recommendation on education and artists in schools etc I am all for them. But they already are recommendations to the Department, because I am assuming the department has read your report. Why is there a need for a VATT on this issue? It would now be a matter for the department to take up with the Department of Higher Education.

    These are just some of my thoughts on why the VATT is in not anybodies interest (actually it is in many people interests, but those interests are largely self-aggrandizing). In my opinion the NAC should be and is in fact in law the legitimate body to take the reports recommendations further (but sadly they seem to be in your court on this one). I also believe that considering a deeply flawed process started the VATT election, a process that I still feel has not been corrected in a sufficiently open and transparent manner, that the VATT holds little to no legitimacy.

  6. Dear Matthew

    No, it wasn’t Artthrob. Though Artthrob, like everyone else, has had two years to look at the report and the recommendations, boring and mind-numbingly unreadable as it may all be (Sorry PM, he asked).

    As noted in my separate mail to you, I would be happy to discuss some of the detail telephonically. The very summary points that i would include here from my separate mail (so as not to incur the caustic wrath of PM, and also find myself unable to attend to a whole variety of pressing matters on the work front):

    1. the recommendations contained in the report can only be implemented through the mobilisation of a whole variety of partners inside and outside of government, and who some of these these parties might be are are outlined in each of the recommendations contained in the report. It would neither be appropriate (based on its mandate and competence) nor possible (based on its resources) for the NAC to implement all of the recommendations that you refer to. The bulk of the areas that you have assigned as NAC competencies just aren’t based on these considerations – they sit at local, provincial or national government level. This is what the VATT is in part meant to do in my (personal) view – to try and mobilise key actors (inside and outside of government) in a concerted way around specific and concrete actions. Can all of this unravel because different parts of government don’t play together – of course.
    2. I think our understandings of what the VATT would do indeed diverge. Your understanding appears to be that it’s role is limited to the formulation of policy. I think this is a minor part of it’s brief (we have loads of policy already, the issue as you so rightly point out is implementation). My understanding would be that it is responsible for:

    – representing the interests of key stakeholder groupings (artists, galleries, auction houses, museums, etc etc)

    – informing and shaping the department’s approach to the implementation of the recommendations,

    – bringing together key actors that can assist in implementing recommendations

    – ensuring that both the department and stakeholders follow through on their commitments in the implementation of the recommendations

    – relaying information on progress and issues to the wider sector, and obtaining input on an ongoing basis

    3. I agree that there are some recommendations that would fall beyond the scope of the VATT to have significant impact on: these are particularly in areas that impact across the arts – such as arts education, tax policy and so on. But it can play a vital role in bringing a sectoral perspective to bear in informing how the DAC and other parties approach these issues, and keeping the sector aware of these developments.

    4. The success of the proposed VATT process will depend in fundamental ways on how the department and the VATT membership understands and animates the brief of the structure.

    5. Re the appointment process. The process around the appointment of the Arts Council is not qualitatively different to the one pursued here. The Minister appoints a three person panel specifically for this purpose, which in turn then makes recommendations to the Minister and Cabinet based on nominations received from the sector. Provincial MECs are also involved in appointing representatives from provinces. You can’t get away from Ministerial involvement, and in a functional system, you should not want to. This is part of his/her job, to oversee these kinds of appointments, informed by appointed advisors and officials. see http://www.nac.org.za/media/news/minister-mashatile-presides-over-the-inauguration-for-the-national-arts-council

    Finally am slightly puzzled about the assertion that there are a set of shadowy, self-aggrandising interests that would be served by the proposed process. I am not sure who these people would be and how it would be so – as conceptualised, the structure would aim to represent a substantial diversity of interests and should involve pretty minimal costs being incurred (mainly associated with meeting logistics).

    regards

    Joseph

  7. Hi Joseph,

    Just a quick response. What you seem to be suggesting, in part, is that the VATT be in processes similar to what the Arterial Network was doing with DAC and the UNESCO report on Cultural Diversity. I am not sure if you followed that but when Arterial Network were not reaching the outcomes the DAC wanted they were sidelined and the the report was put out to tender costing the DAC R1-million. I just really don’t think that working from the inside is a legitimate strategy.

    We could discuss the nuances of what VATT could achieve in some mythical sphere. But personally I would like to see the structures that we have in place working properly before embarking on others. They are after all there. The other issue is that I am not disagreeing with how the NAC advisory panels are selected, I do understand the NAC Act and how government appoints these positions. My point is, there is an NAC panel that has a distinct overlap with this new VATT. Of course my major point is this; that the sector should be trying to hold the DAC to account not get into bed with them. Now that, as I understand it, is VANSA’s role. I see Zwelinzima Vavi performing this role with great integrity. He has even refused to be part of Government because he says it will compromise his position.

    I also see COSATU setting up Corruption Watch. And yet I do not see this kind of thing in our sector. What I see, sadly, are people wanting to work more closely with the DAC and wanting to implement things that are already implemented. I am sorry to be so blunt about this but for me is the issue here. There is a distinct failure (perhaps it is a willing failure, that I am not sure of) to understand what position we find ourselves in.

    The Visual Arts is in a bad way, but it doesn’t need an overhauling of policy nor to look to reinvent the wheel. It needs to get the failing basic institutions that it has to function. Then, and only then, should it start looking to expand. This isn’t going to be about tax rebates and contemporary art galleries or buyer education programs. Rather this is about getting JAG’s roof fixed, stopping the art thefts, busing children into museums and having one member of staff talk to them, this is about getting SANG an independent advertising budget to advertise its exhibitions etc etc. This can all happen without a VATT. We can do far more with what we have at the moment. That is if DAC allows us to. That’s if DAC doesn’t give R10-million to a project that should have cost R3-million and used things like the Arterial network to do, almost for free, what it is now costing R1-million. Or pay somebody to start a new ‘North Sea Jazz Festival’ in Durban when Cape Town had to get rid of the Dutch Company that own ‘NSJ’ in order to establish a workable event. Sorry this is a long quick response. I will end it here.
    Best wishes,

    Matthew

    • Ok, I’ve tried to explain in some detail why there is NOT a significant overlap with the NAC funding panel – we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I am the LAST person to suggest creating new structures when there are already inanimate ones that are in place and need to be activated, and this is precisely what the proposed VATT process should seek in part to do. BTW the NAC funding panel is hardly an inanimate structure – it is very busy processing funding applications and providing advice to the Arts Council on strategic things the Council should be doing in the area of the visual arts. I’ve spent a more than a decade wrapping my head around how government works in policy and practice, possibly to my psychological detriment, and not reinventing the wheel would be one of the signal learnings from that experience.

      Re Arterial: Am on the Steering Committee of Arterial Network South Africa and helped to draft the statement that you are referring to. I am busy working on a (incidentally very critical) Arterial response to the recently published Lottery Review Policy from dti.

      Am becoming distinctly tired of repeatedly hearing – in the form of innuendo or outright accusation – that VANSA is somehow ‘in bed’ with/colluding with government. Do we seek to have a constructive relationship with government (alongside a whole variety of other roleplayers) in the interests of advancing the development of our sector – of course! Do I think focusing exclusively on the missteps and failures, and eliminating/alienating any possibility for constructive dialogue, is going to get us anywhere? – Hell no.

      I’m sorry but I think marshalling Zwelinzima Vavi (who I’m very fond of and who is a fellow Pirates supporter) to the cause of your argument is a bit of a stretch. Vavi and COSATU are in an alliance with the ANC, have endorsed Zuma for a second term, and Vavi has a tremendously close (albeit complicated) relationship with the leadership of the ANC.

      Can I suggest a real rather than virtual/PM cup of tea/coffee to discuss some of these things?

    • Mr Blackman

      Aunty P must apologies for not offering you tea, coffee or cake yesterday when you arrived at the Panga Management tea party.Though you where naturally welcome, the verbosity of the dialogue that prevailed between yourself and Joseph did not leave much space for casual niceties.

      That being said Mr Blackman, Aunty P finds your cut and pasting from the Panga Management discussion into the Artthrob format rather problematic.
      Aunty P would in fact use the word rude. Aunty P has come to accept PM’s vulgarity, after all PM and Aunty P are BFF, but rudeness, well that is another thing all together.

      Cut and pasting and not acknowledging the original publisher, substantially alters the integrity and flow of the discussion. One could liken your action to a guest coming round and raiding the host’s fridge

      – not very good manners Mr Blackman, Aunty P does not approve!

      • and neither do I – cutting and pasting a conversation from one context and reframing it as a ‘debate’ in a quite different context (without the consent of any of the other parties involved) seems problematic from a whole variety of perspectives.

      • PM thinks Aunty P went way to soft cock on you with the above. PM has decided to take matters into PM’s own hands and explain to you why what you did was a fuck up (with a big F).

        Artthrob is not a blog.

        When individuals dialogue on a blog they do so with certain freedoms, a certain sensibility. The discussions can be as irreverent and informal as they can be serious and formal. These freedoms are to be protected and respected, as they allow for franker and conversational discussions, around sometimes petty and sometimes weighty subjects. The language used and the comment format has a particular type of integrity that does not translate, and nor should it, onto a news, reviews and information website.

        Though it may appear that blog and comment content is throw-away or a free for all, it is not.

        All content on any blog is subject to the same publishing, copyright laws and any other publishing media. So referencing the original source is a legal necessity.

        Likewise referencing the sensibility of the discussion is paramount to conveying the discussions integrity. You did a disservice to the dialogue that prevailed on Panga Management by cutting and pasting the perspectives expressed outside of the original discussion flow. This presented yours and Joseph’s contributions in a way that did not convey the integrity of the discussion.

        Has PM made PM’s argument clear or does PM have to through in a few more vulgarities?

        Aunty P thinks you were probably feeling so enthusiastic about sharing a very interesting dialogue with a wider Artthrob audience, that you did not think it through as rigorously as you should have, and perhaps you should acknowledge your error in this regard.

      • Sorry it was bad of me not to acknowledge the source on artthrob repostings I didn’t do it on purpose. I got swept away in the debate. Although Joseph started it. He put his response to my email to him on Panga Management. I am devilishly sorry about that and will make the necessary amendment.

      • The key difference being that that was my content to do with whatever I chose – I did not take content of yours and reproduce it (selectively and in a somewhat mangled form) in some quite different context and frame it as something quite different. Sometimes you just need to say sorry. Personally, I would prefer you to remove the whole thing from Artthrob and just post a link to the pangamanagement site.

      • Matthew and Joseph, you boys! What is Aunty P going to do with you.

        Quoting content from a blog, or any public source for that matter, and contextualising it correctly, is absolutely permissible. However best practise reporting demands that the “cut quote paste” is contextualised correctly and fairly.

      • i had a migraine when i wrote that – PM doesn’t have a corner on the grumpiness market. I enjoyed the first stanzas of this whole affair (not so much the endgame), and look forward to future opportunities for word count mayhem with PM et al

      • Shame man, PM gets migraines to and there is nothing worse .Honey Boo Boo and all that is horrific in the world, could come to accost PM, and PM would prefer their company to that of the fucking migraine. Hope it passes soon .

      • Apology accepted Matthew. This stuff happens , good of you to acknowledge error.

  8. And by the way, the NAC advisory panel DOES have a member of our national Executive on it (who we nominated) – Nontobeko Ntombela, ref your text: “… we already have something serving the role of the VATT. It may be small and unsexy (and not have a VANSA member on it) but it is there, it has money set aside for it, and it can and should be used as a low cost VATT. It’s called the NAC advisory panel for the visual arts (who I might add were also not invited until the very last moment to the Indaba in Joburg).”

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