Up Close and Personal with Keitu Gwangwa

Head of Windybrow Centre of the Arts

In Today’s edition of the series marking Women’s Month, focusing on women leaders at the Market Theatre Foundation, CITYLIFE/ARTS editor EDWARD TSUMELE (ET) speaks to Keitu Gwangwa, (KG)  Head of Windybrow Centre of the Arts, a business unit of the Market Theatre Foundation.

ET: You came to the Market Theatre Foundation to head Windybrow Centre of the Arts, with experience ranging from arts administration to directing? How has this experience helped you in your current job?

KG: Having insight on both the creative and the administrative experience in my previous work has helped me greatly. The job I am currently in is more administrative than creative, both areas of expertise equally require vision, leadership, and the ability to pinpoint and capitalize on the strength of your colleagues. Administration and direction both require the ability to plan and collaborate in implementation towards a desired output.

An aerial view of Hillbrow

ET . Heading Windybrow comes with extra challenges especially because of the demography of its location, which is fluid, keeping on shifting as people come in and go, and also because mainly as immigrants they have existential challenges in a foreign country. How does Windybrow fit in in this social framework of the area.

KG: Hillbrow is synonymous with high crime, drugs, and prostitution. Beyond the veil of distaste is a community of men trying to make ends meet, women running small businesses, homes. Families with children that wonder about their future, that often haven’t ventured beyond a 10 kilometre radius. Within this mass is the most diverse collection of people from all over the continent, Hillbrow offers a rich cultural experience, with ever moving bodies, culture and language. The one constant is that it is ever changing.

Windybrow Centre of the Arts

What makes Hillbrow home, and in turn the Windybrow, are the narratives around merging heritage. The Windybrow hosts pan-African cultural expression in a colonial building. It is the tangible expression of heritage collision. This is the nature of Hillbrow. From an idealistic eye, this is the draw card always. It is one of a few places in South Africa that finds peace in its chaos and the arrogantly boasts the beauty thereof. A true definition of a melting pot.

ET : Running an arts institution in the environment where Windybrow is needs a different approach altogether from running an arts institution in a different setting and a different environment. What are those approaches?

KG: In programming for any institution, knowing your audience is key. Having insight on what is of value to the persons one is hoping to attract is imperative. What is strategically different in programming for the Windybrow is the intentional efforts made to engage the surrounding community in programming. The intention being to attain the buy-in of the neighbourhood for a greater purpose than possible programme attendance numbers but to build community with the people. To establish a sense of trust in the place that seeks to invest in the young people of the neighbourhood.

ET: .So far how has been the journey at Windybrow?

KG: The Windybrow is in its 3rd official year of operation under the Market Theatre Foundation, this time certainly hasn’t been short of trials and errors. The relationships that have been formed in the community are a great treasure. The newest partnership with JAM – Johannesburg Activating Mind, has been inspiring and shows great potential for future performance collaboration.  

Championing the links formed in and around the city is the resident cultural tourism company Honest Travel Experiences, who host several inner-city tours, showcasing heritage sites in the Bertrams, Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville area. The tours have brought a great number of local and international visitors to the 124-year-old Heritage House.

The annual Africa Month Festival has been well received, resulting in a growing number of community members showing curiosity about the space and its activities. The journey has been a balanced mix of joyous exhilaration, strong lessons and great successes, all possible because of the dedicated team of phenomenal women, Nthabiseng Kodisang, Naledi Mkupa and Zintle Radebe and The Market Theatre Foundation.

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