Intraparadox: Interview with Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa

Refilwe Art Reach

6 February 2016 at 11:00, Pretoria Art Museum

Intraparadox: Interview with Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa, Refilwe Art Reach. 06 February 2016


Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: good afternoon Nthabiseng Montshiwa it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview you again after five years, exactly five years because the last interview we had was in 2010 and we are now in 2016 and today is the 6th of February and we are here talking about your…the project that you are currently working on which is Refilwe Art Reach. So I want to welcome you to Intraparadox, uhm following our first interview many years ago which is ehh five years really, how has the art industry treated you up to this point?

Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa: ehh firstly hello Mmutle I am grateful that you could make time to do this interview with me again. The art industry is very fluid. You can never say you are holding ground on a specific project, [otherwise when you are faced with a challenge] and things do not go well you become more frustrated. I have learned that you must always find concepts or avenues to explore especially based on the maturity level that one finds herself in these years so it has been ups and downs because clearly you can’t put food on the table every month and you can’ sustain your self the way you would like to  

Mmutle AK: …uh-hum…

 Nthabiseng RM: so you must constantly explore funding you must be selling things. But also not shooting your self on the foot by doing wrong concepts which might mislead you in this career. So from being a curator or an arts administrator at the time…I am still an administrator respectively…but we are not concentrating on art exhibitions any more because we would like to find other vocabulary to define what art exhibitions should be and what they should actually address. We have moved to art education programs for children in public schools specifically

MAK:  …Yes…

NRM: So that’s the change I find my self in now and it has been fantastic.

MAK:  Alright, thank you, we will look at that slightly in our interview but I am glad that you have been branching out over the years you have not been looking into one thing otherwise you would’ve suffered stagnancy you know, it makes perfect sense that you start looking at other avenues in which you could operate. Uhm tell me, ehh what really encouraged you to start Refilwe Art Reach or Refilwe Art Projects, what encouraged you to start it. I am not sure whether it’s a project or an organization because I know that you run your own organization and it’s called Dikaletsa uhm but what is Refilwe Art Reach. Can you tell us a little bit more about that

NRM: (smiles) ok, ehh Refilwe its my name, its my nickname, so I feel like I am given to the public for some reason, I am not like Jesus but I can operate in such footsteps. The beautiful thing about Refilwe Art Reach is that it is a program.  And this program didn’t start it authentically. The authorship is from the Pretoria Art Museum. What I am trying to say is that since 2004 I have been volunteering with the Pretoria Art Museum until probably now (laughs) because it never ends. I have graduated and I take seriously the educational programs that we did in this museum because if it wasn’t for the Pretoria Art Museum one would not even find value in learners in public schools. You wouldn’t find that you an actually find that you have modeled your own clientele for the next twenty years from the actual public schools because the learners that we help in these public schools we’re sort of molding them or mentoring them to take art as a career not as a habit so that in their high school or middle school they start moving towards this creative industry as a career choice for their tertiary level. So with that said Refilwe Art Reach is actually an outreach program  it is just that we are using the out reach as a pun to say we are reaching out using art as a  tool we are giving the project firstly in the Free State Province,  in Mangaung Municipality, it started first in 2012 as a concept because there was an open call for applications from the National Arts Council of South Africa so we were more legible to receive funding if you could do an outreach project outside of Gauteng province

MAK:  …was it difficult to get the funding and how did you find out about the funding did you…was it advertised  or you happened to be bidding the idea to the Department of Social Services?

NRM: Since we have been associated with Ithuteng Art for a long time via the museum also. We got the contact from Pfunzo Sidogi of Ithuteng Art. There was a deadline end of 2012 so we submitted on December and also for Dikaletsa or Refilwe Art Reach Program I don’t think finding funding is a difficult thing to do as long as you have a profile that is outstanding enough or convincing enough for the funder to give you the money that you need. So you can always contest your application by the quality of your work to you can actually produce to the funder to actually give you what you need so that’s how it has gone about.

MAK:  Thank you for the background with regard to the establishment of the outreach program. Is there a possibility that this outreach program will be brought into Gauteng or it will only be focusing in, is it Northern Cape?

NRM:  ehh it is focusing in the Free State, South Free State

MAK:  I mean in the Free State, yah, so will you,…is it only focusing in that area because that’s where you feel your market [is there]? uhm I just want you to clarify that for us because most of the time we forget to think that projects have to find their own market and that’s where they can comfortably play instead of competing in a space that is already saturated. So it will always concentrate in the Free State is that what you are saying to us?

NRM:  Not necessarily, uhm but the priority is given to the Free State because it is still a remote place. It is my home town and it is still …it is full of passive blame. Let me put it that way. In this case you find that people are not motivated by anything creative or anything new that comes with the same age group as they. So you have to probably have the funds in order to….

MAK:  [to convince]

NRM: to convince the people to participate in your project. If you are still looking for money in [the] Free State you will probably have to be more agriculturally based!

MAK:  ah ok

NRM: because it is a farming land

MAK:  So funding there tends to concentrate on agriculture?

NRM: Yes

MAK:  more than on creative industries

NRM: Yes, it is all about staple food, basics, so we do understand, I don’t condemn that I’ve done various applications with the premiers office, with social development, I have partnered with Love Life, World Vision

MAK:  [Yes of course]

NRM: but their main priority is to make sure that people eat. So that’s what fascinates me to say irrespective of the challenges that they have in not realizing the quality or the necessity for special projects; you have to convince them by the power of your own work, by the power of your own background that this actually work as a therapeutic tool for people to be in entrepreneurship because it is creative. It is everything creative that people can sell from these projects it is all sessions that enhances people’s minds in terms of domestic issues. So we will continue with Free State, now it has been two, three and a half year?

MAK:  it has been a wile I mean if you look at 2012 up to now it is a three year old ehh project…

NRM: Yeah speaking under correction

MAK:  yah

NRM: but we still want to explore, we haven’t even touched a hundred schools countdown for instance, so we still want to reach out to more public schools so that kids can actually now have topics amongst themselves based on the projects not social difficulties that they have, so now we still. We’re active now until end of March this year. And we will continue with the last year within the funding phase we have for the National Arts Council

MAK:  So you were funded from 2012 up to 2015/2016?

NRM:  Yes that’s correct

MAK:  Alright. I am happy that Refilwe Art Reach is bringing uhm once the people have been given food Refilwe Art Reach gives them therapy in terms of creativity because it doesn’t help that the government just feeds them and feeds them and at the end of the day the people are not given any skills to help them become better people, you know. We understand that food is a necessity but there is also another type of food

NRM:  yah,  you need to empower the mind

MAK:  Yes, Yes

NRM:  because if you want people to expand in economical issues of the country probably without even going to school then you give out the most basic schooling [so that] they realize that tertiary still exists for them to expand on these issues beyond food supply, beyond charity; you can still do little projects for people to grow  in terms of skills development, so we’re looking at that kind of an employment. Currently he have empowered probably fifteen to eighteen people ehh that also includes disabled people. I am very fond in terms of having employment for disabled people because you are also shedding the stigma that people have in kasi (home) because if you have a disabled person there is this thing of disbelief that you can’t but what is can’t if that person has an ability that you can enhance. Currently we have two full time disabled employees one is speech retarded [while the other] one is generally slow. The one that is speech retarded we have motivated him to expand or excel in photography. On every session we have photography is his own baby. We just edit the pictures and we do not condemn how he takes the videos, we only support him

MAK:  so in other words you do not influence the production of his work but you are encouraging his creativity uhm to produce work…

NRM: Just like New Emergence and Tshwane Legends I don’t become involved in the subject matter and composition of the artist. I only become part of the presentation and bringing the value of that artwork. Even if this person taking photographs, the mere photographs sessions I still view them as artworks. Probably one day there would be an opportunity to make an exhibition of the whole program so you don’t wanna fiddle a lot with the way he feels when he takes these photographs

MAK:  when he is being creative

NRM: of course

MAK:  I am glad that you have touched on your staff in terms of your team. So these are the only two people you work with in order to achieve your goals uhm these two guys the one who is a photographer, the other one is he doing any creative work himself

NRM: he is doingcreative work. he was part of Mmabana Cultural Centre in Thabanchu

MAK:  by the way the photographer’s name, …what is the name of the photographers name?

NRM: Tshepo Rasile

MAK:  and the other guy?

NRM: Serasengwe Badirwang

MAK: What does he specialize in Serasengwe

NRM: Serasengwe does not have a specific genre that he excels in

MAK:  he is a painter or?

NRM: he paints, he does ceramics, he likes cartoons. He just likesvarious things that are creative b they are not informed by any technique, any scale or anything like that. so we took it that we will put him under mentorship spotlight with us, that if we have sessions within mentorship. If I travelled the country and it’s necessary then I take him with to explore other landscape other landscapes to influence his artworks. So we spent much more time beyond sessions. If we have free time; we spent much more time critiquing his artworks and presentations

MAK: Can you just briefly, before we move on to the next question, can you just briefly let us know uhm. How did you come across these guys? Because, uhm it looks likes it happens that they fit perfectly well with hat you have set out to do in terms of doing the program that uplifts the community but at the same time in terms of resources or human resources getting the community involved you know uhm just briefly, just tell us how did you come across these guys did you advertise the positions in the local paper?

NRM: There is always a funny thing that happens with every project that I do. Ehhh probably because I am always aligned or something like that. Sera came through a councilor a local councilor its funny that I work closely with local councilors in my area. So I normally do word of mout kind of advertising.   

MAK:  Yes

NRM: I would say councilor we need reservoirs, councilor we need permissions. So he actually gave me the contact of Sera to say Sera was in grade eleven and he failed and never went back to school but he is tremendously, constantly in production, something creative. So I said bring him to the office and I assess his work. it was not one of the strongest artworks that [one] could critique but it was valid enough to give him a chance to actually expand so I am happy about that. Tshepo Rasile has always been a friend to my younger brother Tebogo Montshiwa I have also seen on how people use him around the Township. You know when you walk around and you find out that people are misusing the privilege of this disabled person. It is actually heartbreaking…

MAK:  We’re talking about the photographer neh?

NRM: yeah, Tshepo Rasile, it is heartbreaking in that why will you convert using him  to actually  

MAK:  and an employment opportunity?

NRM: employ him yes, give him something to do at the benefit of clothing or something. So I said to my self no ehh uhhm aince I am struggling to actually find facilitators or people to help e drive around [to]  be able to work with a lot of kids and have a secondary person looking at the kids Tshepo came to the best choice of mind.

MAK: Yes

NRM: So he has learned a lot of things with me. We also told his mother that we gonna put him under the special adult program but in terms of facilitation we give him the same facilitation fee as the other facilitators however professional or non professional so that we create some equal platform for everyone. So he has been working with us ever since together with Sera

MAK: So you see them as partners in the project I suppose at this point in time?  

NRM: Yes

MAK:  Because it’s been two-three years now you have been working with them it looks like they are the foundation of Refilwe Art Project

NRM: I would also like to move Sera’ into the managerial qualities so that when I am not there

MAK:  He can run the project

NRM: yah be able to run the project   

MAK:  Talking about the running of the project. Your target group in terms of the project, who do you target, for an example, when you prepare for the workshop or your art encounters in terms of art making with the community? Who are your targeted groups?

NRM: Ehh my beneficiaries are grade four, five and six. It is a phase called intermediate phase in public schools. The reason why I like the group it is because they are between the ages of twelve, thirteen and fourteen. They are almost an inch from getting into puberty so at that point of level they are very vulnerable because they are untouched in terms of social influences and their concentration span is very high. It is just that you cannot spend the whole day with them. What ever they take from you they will use it even in years to come, they have the power to influence their own parents in terms of what they have learned. If they believe in something they will make everybody know about what they have learned. They have made debates around issues that

MAK:  ….they are actively involved

NRM: exactly

MAK:  ….they are, when you work with them you feel that they invest a lot of energy and time into the project

NRM: Yah, they are always hands on and they have qualities of debates, uhm they have qualities of hands on skills development. They might not understand the jargon of these words that we’re saying but in terms of physical activities you do not struggle so much to work with them. Yes there will be restlessness and other issues but in terms of receiving the product that you want from what you teach them you would always get some sort of a quality product from the session that you hold with them

MAK:  and just tell me, because it sounds like you are multi tasking here. You are doing an art project here, but I hear you are talking about debates, its like you have also discovered other things while you were presenting the program uhm in the Free State. That there was a lack in encouraging the children to engage in debate, did you find your self having to cross over while you did the project with the children?

NRM: Yes uhm some things, I do not know whether to call it funny. It is not even fascinating it is almost halfway to disappointing. To say here you are working with these fantastic group of kids. But the honest support of teachers in the schools is not as when you introduce the program or the letter to the school

MAK: the enthusiasm sort of dies when the program starts proper

NRM:  Yes! it almost suggest a low level of esteem in stead of the high level of esteem that you get when at the first appointment

MAK:  …with the teachers…

NRM:  …with the teachers. At some point Principals. It is very rare that you would have a teacher completing the five days or three days

MAK:  attending the workshops

NRM: attending the workshops fully, (smiles) Unless if there is something entertaining like ‘good lunch’

MAK:  Oh?

NRM: But if your lunch for the day is pap and milk then you won’t see the teacher. It is one of the most disappointing aspects because as much as ehh the learners are there to learn you are helping the teacher with the syllabus of creative art

MAK: Yes

NRM: The teacher then because [they] are the middle man between education department and the learners. You are expecting her to intervene more by being in these classes to learn these techniques. Because that is also one of our focal point to help the teacher with the patience behind the technique, behind the approach, behind the skill, you know. But if you lose them, also their excuses are not something that is in the professional light. So you end up losing interest in even inviting teachers. You end up feeling like using the school to get to the kids because you do not have enough enthusiasm from the officials

MAK:  from the teachers or the principals

NRM: yah

MAK:  and then in terms of (….yah that is a challenge that we will have to face in the art industry because if you look at the people wo are employed to teach art they don’t necessarily have an interest in it you know…. ) uhm but what is of interest to me is how are the encounters structured for example when you approach a school and it approves that the teachers are enthusiastic as you said and they agree that they will work with you and they look forward to the workshops, whatever perks that may come with the workshops. Uhm How are the workshops structured? Do you have lessons or do you have one thing that you present? Is there a technique that you present? How long does it take?

NRM: Now I remember you asked me about multi tasking (laughs)

MAK:  Yes, (laughs in turn) besides teaching them about life orientation because they are at a puberty stage  when it come to the structure of the art making workshops

NRM: They are structured in such a way that day one of three or five. Normally day one of five is murals because they take longer

MAK:  yes

NRM: but indoors or in class session [take] one to three days, they are done inside the classroom and it will be drawing, painting on a small canvas something like that…; so when we start day one is dedicated to the orientation and giving them career motivation because they need to know that art is  as career and why is it a career; it’s a very versatile career choice, then we would explore fine arts when you are registering or you are applying in tertiary, what does it have? Its not just about drawing and painting. You have to do career paths. There is administration, there is museum curators but they are embedded obviously there as a career. We teach them about jewelry design, graphic design, glass design those kinds of things. Do a one minute slot within the visual arts and we will ask them questions but then within

MAK:  So you are giving them a holistic picture within the visual arts

NRM: yes of what we’ve learned what we did not know existed before we got to tertiary [education] because in school syllabuses the books that they read also limits the number of career choice. If they explore visual art it will only be about a famous artist, Penny Siopis, she was a painter now the kid know Penny Siopis but she does not even know what she looks like. What is painting because painting could be a mural painting of ANC flag

(short laugh)

But they do not know the exploration of the technique, the genres the context, the content all these fantastic things that are involved in there, so that’s where we come in and then shortly after the motivational talk

MAK: …yes at the beginning of the workshops

NRM: yes in day one, we’re still in day one and shortly after that to break the ice a bit because some look shocked at what they have just discovered we explore activities of …wait a minute who has just greeted about five parents on their way to school today and not just hello, you have to really explore the greeting   in a sense of a two minutes activity as part of your daily life; you have to Say dumelang Nkgono mang mang o tsogile shapo (greetings granny, how are you this morning?), did you drink tea? When I come back from school can I help you with things? Those are social things, so they become shocked that they have just learned something now you are introducing this thing that connected to their lives because in order for them to just jump to what you have just taught them about career path they will have to have a moral regeneration on a daiy basis. They have to learn about a right social construction paths that would lead them to these career. Now can you imagine what domestic violence does to that child that they cannot even greet this person; now if you are giving them motivation it’s a revelation to them that these are the things that I can do as a child

MAK:  Yes

NRM:  So those are the things that we do; It’s a career path its jus an exploration of  domesticised issues

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: how to conduct your self, the right conduct and so forth

Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa: including self esteem, self esteem plays a role in how a kid grasps what you teach them, you know, fights in class. How do you actually mend the fights as a student because you should not be waiting for a teacher to come and sort the fight out? You must also take charge. You must realize that you actually hold the power to maintain peace in the classroom situation

Mmutle AK: Did you guys pick up these problems as you started out in 2012 and said wait a minute we can’t just introduced art into these children’s lives uhm while there are problems

 Nthabiseng RM: It did happen. It was just spontaneous because you think that you will just meet kids and that they will listen to what you have come with. but it is never like that because things that kids speak about in class in these small quarrels or debates  nyana its shocking stuff Mmutle its so shocking that teachers have become part of the whole debate in stead of controlling the whole debate in terms of what kids speak out of their mouth its poison, its literal poison, uninformed poison. So we became frustrated to the point of saying ga re ngale those kids are

MAK:  unruly and ill disciplined

NRM: way beyond almost to a point of you feel bullied by them by just hearing these things its shocking today. We have short reports daily that we have to discuss and ultimately when we do final report for the first year you say but are you really gonna blame the kids for becoming who they are in terms of the context we have found them in? Kana its villages. Its remote places, its uninformed societies. Uninformed in terms of programs are not interested in travelling through gravel paths for an hour to reach out to people

MAK: to get to them

NRM: So that’s a strength; that’s what I saw as a strength – a multi tasking strength with or without facilitators because I also lost facilitators because of the conditions that I worked in. there was a point I worked for six months alone. Five days a week two schools a week alone to say this is my path I need to reach out those people it is an art reach it is therapeutic tool, I am also going through the same therapy to be able to speak better about these communities; because you hear things and you become…

MAK: complacent if you do not know how they come about

NRM: exactly, you start being judgmental when you see them but changing them has been fantastic; the multitasking thing say you need to intervene beyond the point of giving a skill; you need to know do power point presentation of motivation. Sometimes I have to do picture presentations of how people have to conduct themselves, how to maintain peace, as a child because they are twelve, thirteen, fourteen remember you need to help them separate the domestic violence issue with their own school which is their career path because the problems of their parents are not their problems but they can live with them so using art as a a tool it means the artworks that they manage to produce from these sessions they will forever continue to produce them. Putting their own thoughts and feelings of their everyday situations beyond me being there they will be able to produce art based on those situations and be able to mount them if ke mokhukhu (shack) they will mount them somewhere in a corner somewhere mo trateng e le they will be able to hang something. So we are creating a picture in this motivation talks that whatever they produce, however unprofessional it looks it must be hanged. Because it is your own feelings it is your own thoughts so you create your own life alignment by looking at this pictures for motivation because you don’t even have magazines you cant even go to a mall so you are creating your own magazines it goes to a point where we have to mount the actual artworks to extend the professionalism so that’s how we have intervened in this whole kinda of sessions

MAK: yah before, it means before you even facilitate an art workshops you have to sytart by morally regenerating these children morality or lives

NRM: of course

MAK: and parallel to that you are presenting art classes. You know a question that now appears in this interview is that when you write your reports to the department of social development or to some of your stake holders which is, I see here, Love Life and the local councilors. Uhm was their response to this? I know  you are probably involved in social development to a certain extend but what was their response when they realized that you were multi tasking, you were doing more than you have bargain for?

NRM: I feel like bursting into tears…because (emotional) …in the past three years I have learned to, not to be judgmental uhm I have come across so many obstacles with these departments that it is not even necessary to report to them anymore uhm because they are also human beings, the officials are actually human beings, so they are not proactive to receiving revolutionary ideas in action they are used to receiving revolutionary ideas in concept only. Speaking about things but not implementing them

MAK:  yah not doing anything practically

NRM: So your report is just a waste of their daily routine, because even if you do a follow up to say did you start reading the actual report. Some times it’s shocking when somebody say I don’t even know what you are talking about, rephrase, remind me why are you here, you have to remind that person that I have shown you  the importance of why we’re doing this program

MAK:  So that’s how challenged art administration is in terms of uhm art being used [as] an intervening [tool] to the social ills, you know, to the social ills that the Free State face, of course, amongst many [other] communities out there. is there anything that can be done, the government for instances to start realizing what people like your self in the creative industries are trying to do in terms of turning our communities around in terms of living positively.

NRM:  I have always thought getting the closest contact to the directorship in these departments would play a very eye opening value to them to understanding our program better. But it seems the more closer you are to the management in terms of your presentations the harder it becomes for them to take you seriously. So, I just take it as one of those things for exploring to say it has failed now we have to re-strategize. So now we are going through this re-strategizing of coming up with various plans to make them understand; but I don’t blame them

MAK: It would take time  

NRM: It will take a long time. So now what we have done with Refilwe Art Reach in the second mode of the funding of National Arts Council of South Africa

MAK: which ties in very nicely with my next question because I wanted to ask you because within the context of what you have just said about the people who are responsible for your reporting you know uhm how difficult has it been for you to get funding for these projects ehh of what you are doing because you are doing a wonderful work; you are actually dong social work at the same time you are doing visual art orientation program or  program that exposes people to art both as leisure and as a therapy. What are the challenges that are there in terms of securing funding that you have faced?   I know you were making a follow up in terms of the reporting that you reporting sometimes it is not taken seriously. Uhm But in terms of funding itself

NRM: (jokes) now I wish I was an intellect to rephrase my words beautifully

MAK: (laughs) hahaha

NRM: but I’ll answer to the best of my ability

MAK: Yes

NRM: Getting funding in the beginning I said it is not difficult

MAK: it was not difficult and that was in 2012 remember, you have not went through the experience – you were not even close to the management of these institutions which might have funded you initially

NRM: yes, even previously with other funding…

MAK: oh yes

NRM: I don’t take a serious fight as a difficulty to getting offence   to getting funding. I take my profile to that seriousness that it will get me there how ever the fight. The only thing in the last three years is that you can get funding but as long as you are dealing with a human being  as an administrator especially within government structures ehh the human beings inside have not created a platform to teach themselves about the realities of what we do in terms of our own projects for instance first of all to assess a project we take it very seriously so if an official calls you and says I will be coming in so many months to assess the program, obviously there is a preparation, there is time that goes into that preparation for when that person comes you are more…your paperwork is in place. If that person doesn’t pitch?  ….I wish we could say he losses points

MAK: (chuckles) for not coming to see what you have been up to

NRM: (chuckles) but we had to chase him

MAK:  to come and do his own job

NRM: …to ask him why did he not come because we’re so eager to make you see what kind of a change we are making inside the society and its proactive actions; its proactive results…working…kids are not running in trolleys in town anymore because they are shy that Sis Rachel will come, you know

MAK: (laughs)

NRM: so ehh dealing with officials Mmutle it’s a very easy task. Funding is there support is there it’s just a human being who always creates a barrier for you to get to the policies that the actual management of the government have put into place for people like me to be assisted

MAK: to operate and draft reports and communicate back

NRM: so blaming the government is irrelevant at this point in time; government was not meant to give us money government was meant to put policies in place for these officials to actually be active in giving the actual funding

MAK: yes

NRM:  So if the official does not take seriously the program that is give to them to take care of seriously then we are all lost. You know, so its until we get officials who are motivated enough to take these  business or individual funding or company funding seriously you know. The only difficulty hat I am summarizing now is that I wish, I wish that the officials that are dealing with us could visit us more even take part for a day or two in terms of difficult travels to these places. It’s not very easy especially in rainy days. So if they can walk the path with us even if it is for a few hours then it will start to making sense why we’re nagging them and also time has never been a luxury when you are trying to reach out to South Africa and you are still at one municipality for three years so if an official was serious enough to understand exactly what you’re doing. Probably in these three years we could have done the work worth nine years. So whatever you are reporting statistics to them to say this is how many people

MAK: you have worked with  

NRM:  yes we’ve worked with this is the employment, I don’t think they even take that seriously uhm because sometimes you do mistakes akere mo repotong (on your report) you think they gonna

MAK: nailed those mistakes and you gonna be in trouble

NRM: yah …trouble, but then

MAK:  you think you can get away with it

NRM: it’s a bad habit

MAK: it is because now you feel like you want somebody who is guiding you so that you cal in terms of your administration because if your administration is poor it might affect you if one day you want to source funding from the international community and perhaps maybe they do things differently they double check everything

NRM: so you could have learnt from this point on …

MAK: you could have learnt from that point on it means if you now move internationally. You gonna have a problem if all of a sudden they even check for example the way you structure your report and then they say ‘no this is not the  appropriate structure that we prefer, we prefer this structure’

NRM: and also the other disappointing thing is that if you are doing your communication follow ups, if you are running an office even if it does not tangibly exist you would like to make follow up every week because you are looking at your books of your administration beyond work. If you do that most officials take offensively, they take it as if you are nagging. And then later on you make an appointment, you get to the offices, inside that appointment and time, you are still told that the person is not available. You travel from Free State to come to Gauteng, imagine the logistics of that, and then you find out that the person is not available and you still have to fight another human being to get to the person

MAK:  it is as if you are disorganized you have actually never made the appointment. Do you see this in the long run affect project sustainability. There must be other projects out there that are being run by creative people, perhaps also in other industries in this country, do you feel that at the end of the day how do these negatives and positives affect the project suitability. I would like you to focus on that a little bit you know to look at the threats that may be threatening Refilwe Art Reach and also the positives that can carry this project forward? I would like you to briefly talk about that, a few points of course

NRM:  We have spoken in on one of the meetings with one of the acting CEO’s of the National Council, forgive me I can’t remember her name very well

MAK: it is fine at this point if we do not mention names at the moment because we also respect peoples names; uhm but what was your feedback in terms of sustainability in terms of the project going forward   

NRM: it is creating back locks, the negativity creates back locks because if you cant get response on time and your project is running out of time ehh in most cases it creates a professional mess, that’s what I would call it, because you deadline of reporting ehh it is almost negatively affected by the time the official takes to answer you so even if you have serious questions before you do your reporting

MAK: …and there are no responses…

NRM: so your mistakes are intertwined within your final reporting and they are not reversed in terms of editing or corrections or any amendment and you stick with that to another funding possibility but you did not know how to fix them. And in another funding they do not look at your reporting; on how you reported or your finances

MAK:  it’s a brand new story

NRM: it’s a brand new story with the same difficulties. So you carry this ehh  uninformed burden, its uninformed because you never exhausted or explored on how to amend issues of what the funder wants exactly in your reporting

MAK: …maybe these points might have been picked up in the previous report…

NRM: or they could have made yougrown because you would’ve been forced to amend in the shortest space of time

MAK:  Yes

NRM: …so that next time you become fluent without you having to worry about these questions

MAK:  so reporting is a challenge in terms of reporting feedback, you know the delay in getting feedback is one of the negatives that affect your administration in terms of knowing where you need to improve, ehh, how you need to do thingsin order to keep your house in order

NRM: so the other negative is that you can run a program for ten years with the same problem, with the same mistake, it means you are not growing, its suicidal because by the time you get to your own profit making part without actually doing funding, if you are now getting sponsors and sponsors are capitalist world people they gonna wonder why you having so much of a profile but you are still doing such clumsy reportings

MAK:  you are unprofessional

NRM: exactly

MAK: in terms of you administration

NRM: because I also believe in presenting the report to the client, if the current client could give us the opportunity or the discomfort of actually going to report in front of some board members I would take the challenge with both hands. It’s not spoon feeding. It is actually a challenge to go and learn imputes from professional in the board of the actual funding body, you know, so meeting those people and reporting to them will be a better growth than just reporting one person beyond the administrator

MAK:  who may not even cascade that thing to the next person; who may not even advise

NRM: because they won’t even advise you further. The administrator is just there to do paper work they don’t but have time to advertise your newest expertise! So if you meet other people with the same body  then you will explore possibilities of people giving you, not funds, but there is also tangible funding like assets because I am more keen in receiving assets than actual money throughout my life, you know.  I need partnerships, I need concrete partnerships  

MAK:  why assets and not money?

NRM: because assets put you into pro-action much faster and also you are more forced to look for a sustainable space to work with so that you can advertise your, what do you call?

MAK:  your operationsor your projects?

NRM: your operations faster and you are challenged to battle with advertisement, with branding. Writing catalogues, writing books. Those kinds of things but if you are constantly being given money you are constantly batting in terms of spending-spending-spending but if you are given assets it places more value because you can even choose the right sustained machinery instead of, mostly within the funding constrains of funds, you would go for cheaper nyana equipments to run for a certain time

MAK:  affordable equipment

NRM: yah. But  if you have an investor who says name five assets, then you really name five sustainable machinery that would take you throughout until you make profit enough to actually fix the machinery yourself, it is a better challenge

MAK:  be sustainable, yah be able to run your self efficiently 

NRM:  even the employment of that becomes at the management level because everybody you hire within a certain machinery will be able to manage that kind of ehh machinery. So you’re creating habits of effective people with the same studio space  

MAK:  these are positives and since are looking at the negatives that you have experience since you started to run the project, uhm …would you …of course you cannot name your benefactors if there are people who have given you something up to now. But what are the positives that you have experienced ever since you started the project. The positives this is an open ended question you can answer it however way you feel

NRM: (chuckles) the first positive is that all my beneficiaries, almost al, because I deal with almost twenty kids per session

MAK:  yes the people who benefit from your encounter when Refilwe Art Reach organizes a series of workshops , we’re talking about those people

NRM: So first my beneficiaries, intermediary phase beneficiaries which are learners majority of them their habits have changed. You know we live in a small town with one robot so you see these kids all over town on that street pushing trolleys misbehaving. But I have seen how they come to you and say I have stopped doing this. They tell their teachers that the program helped me to stop doing this, home has improved teacher I am grateful. And when you revisit, in most cases we revisit the schools even if it is not for sessions, we just go and ask how has the community become involved through the mural we did so you find out that have even taken the exercises that you have given them even further than a class syllabus situation. So they are still exploring other avenues from the actual sessions that you given them so that’s a big positive

MAK:  Yes, so it is the change in the moral conduct of the children

NRM: yes

MAK:  and also ….once they have picked p the art making skill they continue to work with that skill that they have picked up from the encounters or picked up from the lessons

NRM: yes, that’s correct, that’s correct.  And then the Second one is the employment part of it, although it is not very sustained even the facilitators who were blaming the project for the wrong reasons can actually testify positively that it has worked for them during the time of need because remember they are constantly unemployed so we’ve become a stepping stone for them to actually get a sustainable job via their CV’s via just mentioning that they have worked with us.

MAK:  So in other words you have created a job opportunity even though it was for a short term and that in turn has exposed them to the job market

NRM: yes

MAK: it is a positive

NRM: YAH and then the last thing I would like to say

MAK:  in terms of the positives

NRM: Eeng in terms of my experience is that I have managed to use the project to overcome my own difficulties of sometimes not believing that the kids would be able to benefit from the project ehh when you start something you don’t know what’s gonna happen with it and then now that I am looking back I can do this project as a lifetime project. Because the joy the selflessness that you put in the project actually helps your morality

MAK: it humbles you

NRM: yah your exploration of things with kids gives you another perspective altogether, the most positive perspective because in terms of judging kids who are restless in society has become my number on priority to actually constantly question these kids on what made you become this? Can we change you?  Can you visit my house? Now we can even do thirty minutes sessions at my hose with any number of kids. Ehh We have managed to

MAK:  these will be art making sessions or will be talks?

NRM: talks as well as exercises. Because it is always better to do motivation talks based on the artistic approach because remember uhm you are changing the mind of the person in terms of the negativity. You are eradicating negativity of passive blame by using art as a skill so you can’t motivate without the other, so they would have to come together

MAK: they have to merge   

NRM: yes they have to take something tangible home. This thing of charcoal from burned bushes has been very effective because you don’t have to look for a pencil or a pen; there is recycled card boxes for instance that’s where your art exploration starts, so helping the kids to actually put their devastating experiences on paper or on cardboard or in some creative way has been a tremendous positive. So now I have become this person of, a vigilant, that you are constantly looking for kids who are troubled and somehow you have time for them. Now I am eight months pregnant and I am still working with these kids. Them even experiencing my pregnancy when they thought a pregnant person you are not even suppose to speak to that person. But working with them within a creative platform and also showing them the creativity in your stomach it’s an extra positive because you are dismantling the

MAK:  misconception

NRM: the stigma, yah

MAK: misconceptions and stigma around people, especially maybe people who are expecting

NRM: and I have seen now even if you have a five day program kids are more stiff, what do you call stiff? They are more defensive

MAK:  they are not open

NRM:  they are extremely defensive on day one, on day two they are now telling each other what they are not suppose to do because other was not listening and then third day is criticism, now we do criticism to say now that we told this person since on Monday what not to do or how to conduct himself, he is still throwing tantrums how do we deal with the situation? So fifty percent or sixty percent of the kids will be able to give positive response to the other ones to say this is how you are suppose to conduct your selves

MAK:  So there is a positive influence that starts to build up after a few days that you are spending with the kids, and just as, as we are rounding of this question now, tell me your lessons with the children uhm at what time during the day do they take place?

NRM: ehh normally because we don’t want to interrupt the running of the school. We do them when school ends at two until four so its about two hour sessions and then If we are doing it in the mornings it is nine until twelve which is three hours. Nine to twelve will apply to school holidays or weekends. You know in my program no kid could  ever go hungry. I don’t take kids who faints during my program because when tey come in the morning Mmutle you have to ask humbly ke mang a lebetseng go ja (who forgot to eat)?  E seng ke mang a sa jang (not who forgot to eat)? Ke mang a lebetseng go ja? A lebetseng go ja breakfast

MAK:  Yes  

NRM: enthusiastically they, ba emisa matsogo (they raise their hands), when they are sick they can actually communicate. Whne they are sick they can actually communicate. So you become a pillar to them  to actually talk about problems, others even end up talking about their own problems individual with you, e ausie Nthabiseng ga go etsagala so  le so what do I do wa e bona (Sister Ntahbiseng what do I do when this and that is happening in my life)? If my parents have treated me this way or I have not seen them in a year what’s the best way of approaching this wa e bona (you see)?

MAK: yes

NRM: last year we even forced social development to say social development le ganne re le tshaja for go penta romu e e interbuang bana ba ba vulnerable (you did not want us to charge you for the painting of the room that is used to interview vulnerable children) because re ne re sena zaka (because we did not have the money [to do it])

MAK:  this is the local social development

NRM: eeng ko Thabantshu (yes in Thabantshu) they could not raise two point four for us to paint a room where they interview vulnerable children

MAK:  two thousand four hundred?

NRM: Two thousand four hundred rand re le i three and two facilitators. A year later I phoned them to say we will be able to help you. They didn’t even bother to ask how did it happen. We helped them and we were working with vulnerable kids

MAK: so did you raise the money your self

NRM: it was through the funding of the National Arts Council

MAK:  So in other words you siphoned money from elsewhere to spent on this room

NRM: yes, because we can include shelters. We can include anybody who has a group of people who are at least affected by HIV AIDS, domestic violence, less concentration in class or displacement of some sorts

MAK: these are your target market now uhm I just want us to move on to one of the last few questions that I have for you ehh one of them is that, please tell us how do you measure that you are on the right path as you do the program. What are the indicators that you are on the right path?  

NRM:  I think its the need that I see with every group, not even the representative of a place that I go to. The actual beneficiaries, the way you see them, the need for them to actually use paint to use these mechanisms it is putting me on the right path to say these kids at the end of five days have changed so much. If their reporting …end of each year I ask for report of statistic of that school but random schools not every school and seeing the pass rates of those who were about to be placed out to disabled schools because they were slow, now they could pass because of the concentration strategies we use within the program. Now remember the therapy that I am placing the multi tasking question also plays a role in the concentration that they achieve within our sessions also affect other subjects that they do in school. so being able to see a kid pass, even if its two out of ten, being able to see a kid pass to another grade that keeps me going also

MAK:  When the learners do well in their studies

NRM: yes

MAK:  in their normal day to day studies at school

NRM: yes

MAK:  so in other words would you agree when I say art would’ve play a role in unlocking them ehh to be confident again and to be able to fit in terms of their community at school, ehh that they are not dull it just that they are gifted differently.

NRM: That is so true, to be able to help them have a constructive self defense mechanism which is confident

MAK:  to have self esteem that you spoke about a little bit earlier in our interview

NRM: that’s all we need, we need a person to be able to hold on to the skill and have THE confidence to use that as a tool, to be able to use the morality ehh reshuffling that we did with them, to regenerate it so that they become better in how they approach daily life whether in school or domestic life

MAK: …and how they actually approach their peers, their siblings including also grown ups because you mentioned something earlier on in our interview that you find in a school there is so much disruptions that both teachers and the learners are involved in one big mayhem you don’t know who is who. So in other words now, these kids, the way I see it, go out in a program knowing their place in the society and knowing when to talk to their peers or to the grown ups. It’s a moral regeneration program which uses art as a tool to unlock the learners potential to be able to see themselves positively. In other words this program is a mirror, you know, through which the children or the learners can see themselves. Finally uhm if you could just share with me, where do you see Refilwe Art Reach in twenty-twenty?

NRM: I see Refilwe Art Reach in other proveniences beyond Free State, I see Refilwe Art Reach being explored by other managers and facilitators ehh beyond my company. If somebody can take a name like Refilwe Art Reach and start the program in their own province uhm ill be happy. In that case I want to see my self with developed partnerships so that other people can use these methodologies and other enhancements that they might have for the project for it to become better and as visible as possible to the communities, it is not only Free State that has the same problems other provinces are worse . So if we need to explore peer pressure in terms of eradicating HIV AIDS pandemic uhm passive blame, uhm this destruction of teenagers and killings of teenagers in classes

MAK:  yes

NRM:   then the Refilwe Art Reach should be in a well position for people to use it as a setshabelo (refuge) , a resource for it to eradicate their own morality, negative morality issues, it should be running in other provinces without me being there.

MAK: So you see Refilwe Art Reach forming partnership who can be auxiliary to it, meaning they can perform similar approaches in their own communities and it is not necessary that you should be there all the time ehh it is not even necessarily that they should use the same name as your own name but they can do a similar thing that regenerates, you know, the communities  

NRM: and I would like to see it also being acknowledge more effectively in provinces not in one place because normally, let’s say like the Pretoria Art Museum we will start something here but we will hold on to the skill and not want to give it to other people. Now that I have used them museum to run Refilwe Art Reach as my own program I would also like to see other facilitators taking it to other provinces with that streamline of acknowledgement, because if they do not acknowledge the source of where it comes from like Pretoria Art Museum or maybe other museums are doing it but we’re not

MAK: itjust that …we arenot aware of it

NRM:  we need to do a network we need to acknowledge the network of acknowledgement through these people doing the same thing effectively than those who are sitting with the ideology ehh so that kids can actually grasp on it faster because when they hear about where it started, Oh the museum, we need to visit more museums. You know, that kind of a thing, so without acknowledgement we are not marking the history.

Mmutle AK:  Well I thing Refilwe Art Reach Program is relevant in our time for the job that you guys are doing, in terms of the moral regeneration of our communities, ehh the skills transfer in terms of art and I also like the idea that you are involving artists from the community itself because then that way you make the community own the project and I do hope that as you expand this as an idea, that when other communities from other provinces take  it up, when it takes off with them that they involve the immediate community because if they do that then it would become relevant to them, it would be contextual to their situation. Ehh I wish you all the best with all the plans that you have in mind for the program or for the project itself and it was a pleasure to have you and interview you.

Nthabiseng RM: Thank you so much!

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong:  thanks for coming

Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa:  Thank you Mmutle.



14 March

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2016

© Refilwe Art Reach Project 2016, Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa  2016

This work was commissioned by Refilwe Art Reach Project, Nthabiseng Rachel Montshiwa. Tshwane. Pretoria.

This work’s written format, dialogue, together with its audio version is a shared copyright work of the aforementioned persons herein, it cannot be reproduced in any form without consent of the copyright holders.