SOUTH AFRICA PERFORMING ARTS, 2007-2009
The goal of this project was to engage, motivate and empower young people in South Africa and the U.S. to help them address the serious problems they face in their personal lives and their communities in positive and creative ways. The exchange participants came from the Western Cape Region of South Africa, and from Massachusetts and Connecticut. ITD's South African partner organization was ArtsCape, one of the preeminent performing arts organizations in Capetown.
In Phase One of the project, eleven South African artists traveled to the US, spending three weeks working hands-on in schools, after-school programs, and community/arts centers with youth in the cities of Holyoke, MA, Springfield, MA, and Hartford, CT, where the proportion of at-risk youth is high and the majority of the population is African American and Hispanic. Time was devoted to site visits and meetings with American artists, educators, and community activists who use performing arts techniques to work with young people on issues of self esteem and life skills, education and community building, and personal health and HIV/AIDS prevention. Also, individuals, or small groups of participants, worked with American colleagues in one or two youth performance arts programs over the length of their stay, using creative and technical skills from their South African work to achieve the goals of the exchange.
In Phase Two of the project a delegation of ten American performing artists, nominated by the South African participants, went to Cape Town for three weeks in the winter of 2009, to take part in a similar program, working with their South African partners in the Western Cape townships. That program concluded with a second Izandi, an event where a host of South Africa youth and adult performers, and their US partners and friends, shared a transcendent moment.
This project deeply affected and benefited its South African and US participants, not to mention the dozens of others who were involved as site visit hosts or as the youth being served by the arts programs. The US and South Africa exchange programs offered the participants an immersion into not only the host countries' mainstream cultures, but also into the sub-cultures of arts programming and performing, and into the world of disadvantaged youth who are dealing with violent urban environments. The program motivated all adults involved to continue, and some to expand, the work they do in serving these youth. Members of the two groups continue to communicate, and to enrich one another's work.
One unanticipated result of the program was the bringing together of youth and youth workers from different neighborhoods in Springfield, MA. Previously divided by gang loyalties, these groups' common interest in working with the South Africans brought them together as never before. Shared activities are continuing there to this day. Likewise, in South Africa, the program brought together in arts programs young people from “colored” and “black” townships which had never before entertained the idea of sharing experiences or traveling outside their own townships.