Centre of the arts in Johannesburg, Newtown refuses to let go its art heart beat

Besides the old art institutions like the Market Theatre, the precinct now also hosts a hip hop museum, a newly renovated Sara House, a recording and podcasting studios and a pop art gallery among others.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

When the Junction Shopping centre was built in Newtown a few years ago, it brought relief to those that like shopping for clothes and eating at fast food restaurant chains.

But not everyone was happy, especially the arty type as they felt that Newtown’s artistic flavour and mood was being diluted, turning the place into a general shopping centre, attracting a different kind of audience. After all the years Newtown has been known and respected for its artistic heart beat and for its infectious art rhythm, being a home to high profile art institutions such as the internationally reputed Market Theatre, the resilient South African Roadies.

Association, Moving into Dance, Dance Factory, and of course the National Arts Council. It is also here that one will find Niki’s Oasis Restaurant, which for years has refused to let go its live jazz identity even though like many similar live jazz venues in the country, it has faced a fair share of challenges. For example corporate sponsorship for live jazz venues has steadily dried up over the years, and public funding is not guaranteed. The past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic has also added a new complication to the survival of art and art infrastructure.

It is against this backdrop of challenges that Newtown today still fights to hold on to its art identity and heritage, and is succeeding.

 Encouragingly, the place is refusing to let go of its art heart beat.

In fact the cultural hub seems to be in a resurgent trajectory in the midst of all these challenges. For example, Sara House, which over the years found itself in a dilapidated state has been renovated and now looks just like any other new building in the middle of Sandton. Sara House is the home of internationally reputed South African Roadies Association, which plays an important role in youth education in the country.

This new lease of life for Sara House, follows the injection of over R20 million into its rehabilitation by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and his top officials were recently in the news when they handed over  the squeak clean building to Freddie Nyathela, Sara founder and his management team, after the development bank of Southern Africa had finished renovating the building on behalf of DSAC, the funders of the renovations.  CITYLIFE/ARTS has it in good authority  that even more good news will soon emanate from Sara House, as government has eventually found the wisdom of supporting such initiatives like Sara, which trains young South Africans in technical production skills.

And that is not all about Newtown’s march into refinding itself as the centre of the arts in Johannesburg. Museum Africa now houses a museum of hip hop, also funded by DSAC, but pioneered by hip hop influential figure Osmic Menoe. The same Menoe is also behind the concept of a pop up art gallery at Junction Centre.

Launched last year to assist emerging visual artists to connect with the market for their works, and sponsored by the Gauteng Provincial Government’s Department of Sport, Arts and Recreation, the second iteration of the pop up art gallery, in a space opposite the now popular with artists and podcasters Old Mutual AMP Studios, the gallery is currently exhibiting the works of several young artists.

Young visual artist Nomsa Motale is one of them. She is participating in this pop art gallery for the second time, after having participated in the first iteration last year.

“My name is Nomsa Motale. I am a visual artist from South Africa in Johannesburg. I grew up in Soweto. I am a self taught artist, although I have done a skills development course in ‘Produce Product Ranges’
which taught me certain skills as an artist.
I have been creating abstract art for more than two years now. I have had my work showcased at ‘The
Gauteng Pop Up’ art Gallery in Newtown for a month in March 2021. Then I had it also show-cased at
‘The Pop Up Detail’ store in Newtown, which was a store that served as a platform to show-case
different art mediums for a period of 3 months in April 2022. I learned how to make art by constantly
painting and using my creativity to express myself on canvas. I usually work with acrylic/water paint as
well as nail polish, although I do not like to limit myself.

With my art I am trying to create a narrative that expressing yourself is very important. I use my art to
show people that whatever you may be going through in life, you are not alone and by looking at my art,
I hope that it sparks some emotion in them.
I do not have a specific subject matter I focus on, I go with whatever inspires me, whether its people,
nature, experiences, emotions etc. I enjoy experimenting with different colours, lines, texture.
My creative process happens in no particular order, I will see something that evokes a thought and then
I will express it on canvas, or sometimes something will sit heavy on my spirit and I use my art to let it

I seek inspiration from myself, family, things I see in the news or even by nature scenery.
My hopes for the future is to grow as an artist. To be featured in more exhibitions, to see my work being
archived and show-cased across the world. But most importantly for my art to heal and much as it
healed me,” the artist says in her artist statement, accompanying her works in the pop up art gallery.

.The Pop Art gallery, which is situated within the Junction shopping centre in Newtown, opposite Old Mutual AMP Studios is open till May 31, 2022.

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