The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Michael George Maas
Michael George Maas
Cheaf Exective Officer, ARTSCAPE
ARTSCAPE D F Malan Street
Cape Town
tel: +27 (0) 21-410-9800
fax: +27 (0) 21-421-5448
Presenter Interview
South Africa's comprehensive culture center  ARTSCAPE and its programs 
ARTSCAPE is Cape Town’s representative a performing arts complex with an opera house (1,187 seats), a main hall (540 seats) a small hall (120 seats) and other facilities. We spoke to the center's CEO, Michael George Maas, about its management, the Cape Town Opera project and other aspects of the arts in South Africa today.
(Interviewer: Izuna Tanaka)

In Japan we have little knowledge about performing arts in South Africa. Please give us an outline of Artscape, of which you are on the board as executive director (chief executive).
Let me start with the background. Artscape was previously known as the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB). Established in 1967, it was responsible for productions of opera, ballet, orchestra and drama. All funding came from the national government, allowing CAPAB to achieve high international standards of artistic excellence.
After the country’s first democratic election in 1994, many things changed, with arts also coming under the spotlight. At the time, there were four performing arts bodies in the country - one in each of the major cities of Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Durban. These four organisations shared the bulk of State funding for the performing arts.
Under the new regime however, national government introduced a new method to distribute the money more equitably to a greater number of people. Funds previously designated for the performing arts at the four institutions were channelled to a newly formed National Arts Council, which became responsible for the distribution of funds to a wider number of artistic groups in South Africa.
This new arrangement forced the four entities to consider the following options: (a) Retain the art forms and source funding for them, (b) divest completely from the art forms, or (c) provide infrastructural support to the art forms, whilst allowing them to find their own funding.
When I took over CAPAB in 1997, it employed approximately 800 people. This included a large number of artists such as opera singers, drama actors, orchestral players and ballet and contemporary dancers.
The company was experiencing financial difficulties and I realized that we would not be able to maintain the theatre, as well as the arts companies, with the limited funds available. However, I did not want the different art forms, and the expertise that had been built up over the years, to be lost.
So we created a new dispensation that enabled each art form to develop into independent companies - each with its own board of control to look after its own funding and corporate governance. This gave rise to the Cape Town Opera Company, Cape Town City Ballet, Jazzart Contemporary Dance Theatre and Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.
The one area that is not covered at the moment, at Artscape and the generally in the country, is a professional drama company. Actors are not employed full time in companies and work from project to project. We have many freelance actors in South Africa who don’t have the opportunity to learn and play different works and gain experience and knowledge.
Artscape is helping to sustain these companies by providing them with office infrastructure, financial and human resource management, allocation of theatre space, and other administrative and technical support services.
Whatever government funding Artscape receives is used to operate the theatre, maintain the infrastructure and look after the technical and administrative staff - a model similar to many Japanese concert halls and theatres.

That means that you started afresh as “Theatre Centre”.
In 1999, CAPAB underwent a complete metamorphosis from a production house to a playhouse. The institution was transformed into Artscape, with a new slogan, “arts to the people, people to the arts” - and a new vision to represent the performing arts in a much wider context than before. So we included previously neglected art forms together with the established classical art forms. We also started diversifying the type of performances at our theatre by renting out space to theatre companies and private producers wishing to stage their own productions. In the past, it was predominately opera, ballet, orchestra and drama. Now we are able to offer a wider repertoire of different art forms.
But we still need to develop some indigenous art forms in order to have true diversity of art forms. You have this in Japan with the Noh theatre and the Kabuki theatre which have developed to very high levels.

As for the development of audience and training of artists, do you have any programs?
Artscape is much more than just a grouping of arts companies, it also plays a vital role in audience development, community outreach and education. Our aim is to bring the people to the theatre - and to bring theatre to the people.
Before 1994, a major part of our society was excluded from the performing arts. They could not attend ballet, opera or any other performances, and many talented people were denied the opportunity to develop their artistic potential.
Amongst other initiatives, we have now established a resource centre to harness this untapped potential and to develop a rich pool of talent and skills within a wider community. Training programmes include courses in basic literacy as well as computer literacy to enable people to access computers, databases and arts archives. Training courses in various aspects relating to the performing arts are presented, often in association with tertiary institutions.
We constantly strive to create opportunities for black artists and to nurture art forms which best enhance their natural talents such as acting, opera and choral work. In the process, we have developed many dramatic actors and operatic stars of international standard.
Our theatre is also strongly associated with contemporary dance which is a wonderful way of building bridges between diverse cultural groups.
Artscape has also introduced two more training initiatives. Our “new writing programme” is aimed at playwrights with writing talent, but who do not have the necessary experience. The training group teaches them to write plays and improve on them. In some cases exceptionally good plays are showcased before a public audience. We recently developed two new plays that reached full production within four years.
The second is a two year course for stage technicians. In our country, there are very limited opportunities for academic or even technical training, to transfer skills to new generations of technicians. Many people currently working in the theatre grew up in the theatre and learnt by experience. Our course deals with all technical aspects of the theatre, such as different theatre styles, sound design, and lighting design. Of the first eight students, Artscape will probably employ some as full time staff in our theatre, while others will go into other fields of performing arts.
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