Encouraging creative entrepreneurship in South Africa through recycled arts

Harlequin Foundation (NGO), South Africa
IFCD funding: USD 81,000 | Timeline: February 2012 – March 2013

© Harlequin Foundation

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About the project

This project aims to train members of underprivileged communities from the Cape Town area in recycled arts and to give them the skills to set-up micro businesses related to carnivals and festivals. The Harlequin Foundation hopes that promoting cultural entrepreneurship in different communities of Cape Town will help bring about social and economic development at the grassroots level, which is an essential step in building the foundations of a diverse yet cohesive national identity.

About the organization
The Harlequin Foundation was established in 2004. Named after the character whose typical costume is a pattern of black and white diamonds, the Foundation was created to bring diverse communities together to promote and facilitate intercultural interaction, youth development and environmental awareness in the south peninsula of Cape Town’s metropolitan area.

The organization has created several successful projects, such as primary school partnerships and creative arts workshops with a focus on music and cultural entrepreneurship. These projects are intended to break down barriers and build bridges between different communities. The eMzantsi Carnival, initiated in 2005, is the yearly culmination of those community-building projects. Its aim is to bring communities together, celebrate the cultural diversity of Cape Town’s south peninsula, foster the creation of a shared local identity and showcase the results of the Harlequin Foundation’s community-building efforts.

The organization’s long term goals are to establish an intercultural community centre that will bring together all of its programs in one place. This space will also be made available to smaller NGOs in the area as a multipurpose center to expand their community work.

Local Context
Despite huge advances in democratic processes in South Africa since 1994, there is a large discrepancy between the haves and have-nots and geographical segregation remains. In Cape Town, poverty is especially prevalent among major communities.

This is particularly blatant in the everyday life of suburban township dwellers. Most of them have recently migrated from rural areas, only to be faced with economic hardship and unemployment upon arrival in the townships. For example, Masiphumelele is one of those areas, home to large numbers of economic and political black African refugees, originating from South Africa and from other countries. There are also large numbers of Xhosa people who hail from rural backgrounds. With no secondary education and no command of other languages than Xhosa, these groups suffer from unemployment. Ocean View is home to a community that came together as a result of the forced removals engendered by apartheid and suffers from marginalization. Apartheid’s legacy is such that those communities rarely come together to create shared cultural expressions by all and for all. Carnivals and festivals offer such opportunities, and this is why the Harlequin Foundation focuses on such events to foster the creation of a diverse yet cohesive South African identity.

Main objectives
This project is building a dynamic recycled arts micro-business environment revolving around festivals and carnivals across South Africa. The Harlequin Foundation is not only training artists in recycled arts, but is also helping them secure jobs in similar events in the country. This continued mentorship in the job market allows Harlequin to acquire valuable structural knowledge about the recycled arts industry. This knowledge is being used to help trainees to better position themselves and their micro-businesses. Artists are encouraged to share skills and resources gained with their communities. This introduces another important aspect of this project : to promote community development and cohesion. Project carriers have extensive experience in providing support systems that enable community-building, and this is an integral part of the resource kit provided to trainees. Indeed, the objective is to engage the culturally diverse people of the south peninsula, offering a place to participate in intercultural artistic activities.

By encouraging artists to take skills and resources gained back to their communities, this project also plays a role in strengthening communities and social cohesion. These efforts are strategically linked to encourage a broader range of employment opportunities in South Africa's cultural industries.

Main activities
The core activities of this project are capacity and community building. It offers professional training in recycled arts to 20 artists from marginalized communities. A great portion of training opportunities focuses on bringing qualified female artists into the labor market as well as single parents and disabled adults. This is achieved through shadowing opportunities and master classes offered by talented men and women in the field. Training includes the construction of floats, giant puppets and costumes using primarily recycled material. It also focuses on providing the means for artists to find jobs in carnivals and festivals with the skills acquired through this project.

Longer term activities include establishing retail outlets for products and services from the Harlequin Foundation, in both online and brick-and-mortar settings. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on providing artists with recognized accreditation in order to facilitate employment opportunities.

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