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Hamburg to lure artists with residency

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Hamburg to lure artists with residency

Emthonjeni Arts is to open later this year in the quiet, beautiful Eastern Cape town of Hamburg. The fishing is good, the beach is fabulous, and the peace and quiet is sublime. It is the perfect spot for artists in residency.

25 April 2013

ADSemthonjeni insideEmthonjeni Arts is ready to welcome the public

The little town of Hamburg, tucked away at the mouth of the Keiskamma River in Eastern Cape, is a heaven for anyone in search of peace and quiet.

With a population of just a few hundred people, the coastal town is known as a fisherman’s paradise and boasts pristine beaches. It is part of the famous Sunshine Coast, a coastal belt stretching from East London down to the Tsitsikamma Forest.

Hamburg can be accessed from the R72, and a 14km dust road. The bumpy ride is worth it: the visitor to Hamburg using this road has an unlimited view of the Eastern Cape coast. Starting of flat and uninteresting, it gives way to rolling green hillocks interspersed by streams and rivers as you move down to the coast. As you get closer to Hamburg, the hills tapper off into the plains of the Keiskamma River, which meanders lazily into the Indian Ocean.

Empty holiday houses make up most of Hamburg, with the main activity concentrated on the single street of the town where you can get a few essential groceries – and fishing tackle. For those who want to stay a little longer for the rock and surf fishing, swimming, chilling on the beach or canoeing in the river, there is self-catering accommodation.

It’s little wonder that Aspire, the local economic development agency set up by the Amathole District Municipality with the help of the Industrial Development Corporation, has built a hideaway in the town for artists – be they writers, musicians, poets, singers, or painters – where they can get their creative juices flowing.

Flagship project

ADSemthonjeni inside1The theatre will double up as a conference venue

Emthonjeni Arts, the artists’ retreat that it is hoped will put Hamburg on the international arts map, has just been completed and easily wins the accolade of Aspire’s flagship project. “The retreat is a space for artists from the creative industries to enjoy solitude or the opportunity to connect with the local community,” explains Aileen Pulhmann, a project manager at Aspire.

Formally known as Hamburg Artists’ Retreat, the residency is particularly suited for intensive small arts group training and development programmes within the arts and culture field, she says. Located on a raised outcrop of land just a stone’s throw from the Indian Ocean, Emthonjeni Arts contains 22 bedrooms in single or double units, a lecture theatre “that can become an alternative conference space”, a dance studio and an art gallery.

The intention of the residency is to:

  • Offer artists from Hamburg and surrounds, Eastern Cape, the rest of South Africa and beyond the opportunity to be “in residence”;
  • Work with the communities of the Ixesi River to offer opportunities for creative cultural engagement for resident artists;
  • Promote the development of the cultural and creative industries in Amathole District; and,
  • Work to stimulate cultural tourism by programming and assisting with the marketing of Hamburg, the river valley and the Amathole District.

Director of the retreat Nomsa Mazwai says the management team is planning ahead for the opening of the residency. There is a “soft” opening scheduled for June, with the official opening in 2014. “We are working on the programme for the soft opening and all I can says is we are going to host a well-known international artist on the day.”

Other residencies

ADsemthonjeni inside2Tranquillity pervades Emthonjeni Arts

To get a thorough understanding of the South African arts sector, and also what other residencies offer, visits were paid to the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, and Nirox, an artists’ residency at the Cradle of Humankind.

The management team also comprises facilities manager Thembisa Shongwe, food development manager Mark Proctor and Conor Ralphs, the arts programme manager. Mazwai says the focus is on getting the facility up and running. The hype surrounding the opening has already started, with the centre getting visits from eccentric South African rock band BLK JKS, and artists from Northern England, according to Mazwai.

Building started in 2010 and buy-in from the local community was crucial to the success of the project, according to Pulhmann. She says the local community supported it from the beginning and it is they who came up with the name Emthonjeni Arts. Emthonjeni is a Xhosa word meaning “by the well”.

Local community members were employed to help during construction. About 40 full-time Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) jobs were created during construction. Part of the team working on the site consisted of women from Hamburg and the surrounding areas of Bodium and Bell.

In 2012, a group of children from Hamburg took part in a community day organised by Aspire. Held under the theme “We have left our footprint, come leave yours”, children were involved in various fun activities, including a treasure hunt, which informed them about the new residency. They could also imprint their footprints on tiles that were used on its floor.

Alternative road

Mazwai has plans for an alternative road that cuts through the local community from Hamburg to the R72. She believes the dust road, if upgraded, is likely to open up tourism potential in the area, and also benefit the local population. “Locals can open up stalls and sell Xhosa artefacts to visitors and artists coming to the residency. This will benefit the community,” she says.

Dovetailing with Emthonjeni Arts is the regeneration of the Hamburg town centre. The idea is to create “a vibrant social and economically functional ‘heart’ of Hamburg, where residents can enjoy substantially better access to civic, commercial, recreational and social services”, Pulhmann explains.

“[The regeneration] will also bring new functions into Hamburg that will attract private investment and strengthen the local arts and tourism sector and its employment potential. The intention is to portray Hamburg as an ‘art town’, similar to Clarens in Free State.”

Upgrades will include development around a market square that will support key economic activities and social services such as an amphitheatre, music academy, environmental and skills centre, bicycle hire and repair shop, a crèche, craft workshop and gallery for the Keiskamma Trust. The Keiskamma Trust, a community organisation that strives to address the challenges of widespread poverty and disease through holistic and creative programmes and partnerships, provides 32 local children with training in classical music, incorporating indigenous instruments.

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