Awards strike wrong chord

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

From the outset, let me declare my possible bias in the following matter, in case I am accused of being a bad loser.

Some years ago I entered for the journalist of the year award in the arts and culture category, naively believing that I stood a chance for my contribution to arts journalism.

I didn't even make the short list. But I'm not bitter because the awards have turned into an yearly arts circus and a national embarrassment.

And now let's get to the point.

It was meant to be an evening of glory, of celebration of artistic talent and of dedication to the development of the arts in South Africa. But it turned out to be an occasion of mediocrity, patronising high achievers and not rewarding real talent.

The Arts and Culture Awards, spearheaded by the Arts and Culture Trust and held in Sandton last Thursday, demonstrate exactly how awards ceremonies should not be conducted.

The ceremony seems to be fast-tracking its own demise because every year it becomes less and less relevant to the cultural industry and the country at large.

When it started, in 1998, as the President's Arts and Culture Trust, it promised to raise the profile of the arts. It promised to recognise talent and be dedicated to the development of the arts.

Sadly, it has lost its right foot and is about to lose its left one as well.

It would be absurd if it weren't so sad.

The organisers made an attempt to salvage the integrity of the awards by giving Ndebele painter Esther Mahlangu the lifetime achievement award and the cultural development project award to Newtown's Market Photo Workshop.

Some organisations were nominated twice, but projects and individuals doing fantastic arts-development work in the townships on a shoestring budget were left out entirely. For example, the Soweto Youth Drama Society, led by community-theatre activist Peter Ngwenya, the Vukani Community Group, headed by Mike Manana, the Abangani Theatre Group led by Julian Seleke-Mokoto, and the Hereberdesh, founded by Darlington Michaels.

The less said about the media award and the arts and culture Journalist of the Year the better.

In the past it was said that black artists and black-run institutions don't enter for these awards.

But why do such organisations and artists find these awards uninspiring? Could it be because they are irrelevant to their lives? Or, worse still, have they completely lost their integrity?