Public Debate: Does SA need a new national museum and a national theatre?

As part of my residency at the University of Pretoria, I am organising a series of monthly debates on topical issues. The first debate took place on Wednesday 13 March at the Future Africa Campus.

In his maiden Budget Speech, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said that “Officials from the National Treasury and the Department of Arts and Culture will consider proposals for the development of a new national theatre, a new national museum, and also consider financial support for the National Archives, a national orchestra and ballet troupe.”

Against the background of the country’s key challenges – poverty, inequality and unemployment – how may these proposed cultural institutions contribute, if at all?  Are there other ways in which public financing for arts and culture generally, and the performing arts in particular, can both increase the country’s “soft power” (as referred to by Mboweni) and improve the quality of life for most citizens in the country, particularly the more than 50% of our population who live in poverty?

Participants in the debate were: Annabell Lebethe (CEO, Ditsong Museums of South Africa): Christopher Till (Founding Director of the Apartheid Museum and Founding Director of the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria); Nondumiso Msimanga (Performance Artist and Provocateur, Creative, Critic and Academic in Performance Studies), Marcus Desando (CEO, Arts and Culture Trust and former CEO of Gauteng Opera).