The first 12 protégés who took part in the Waterfront’s Artist Alliance programme graduated in a ceremony at The Tunnel yesterday, November 10.
The graduates, made up of a group of fine artists, illustrators, graphic designers and photographers, among others, did a two-month course at the Waterfront, where they were connected with seven mentors who guided them through the process.
They received certificates surrounded by their work, which was showcased at the historic tunnel venue, right next to the Ulundi parking garage.
Built in the 1860s, the tunnel was used for builders to get stone quarried from what is now the V&A Waterfront Marina to the other side of Portswood Ridge to build the breakwater.
The workers dug out a long cutting, through which gangs of sweating convicts pushed cocopans full of stone to where Quay 5, past where Ferryman’s, Mitchell’s Brewery and the Amphitheatre are today.
Much later, the cutting was roofed over and built on, and during World War II, was converted – without ever being needed – for use as an air-raid shelter.
This was the first time an event was held at this venue.
In June 2021, the V&A Waterfront announced the establishment of Artist Alliance, an incubation and development programme to develop fresh young creative talent with hands-on nurturing from mentors in the creative industry and at the Waterfront.
The programme focuses on five creative disciplines – fine art, photography, film, illustration and design.
The first intake entered the programme in September.
The programme also aims to provide ongoing support for young artists, and follows from the Waterfront’s other incubator programmes such as the Buskers Programme and, more recently, the Makers Landing incubation programme for small food businesses.
Executive manager for marketing at the Waterfront, Tinyiko Mageza, said three years ago, the Artist Alliance was an idea that was born out of the Waterfront’s experience working with artists and collaborating through other programmes.
“It also came from a learning curve. We wanted to challenge the client – agency model, cut out the middle man and work with artists directly.”
She said the programme was also implemented to create a space for artists to connect with each other and help them grow. “While this was phase one of the Artist Alliance programme, we intend to continue to run the project.“
One of the mentors were contemporary artist all-round creative from Milnerton, Al Luke, who said mentorship changed his life.
He said when he started out, he worked at a design company for three years. “I hated my job but I loved creating so I kept going.”
After three years, he was ready to resign when he met his mentor, and said he learnt more in six months than in all the time at his job. “He saved me and my career and showed me how great the creative industry is. I told myself that if I get the opportunity to guide a young artist, I will take it.”
He said they have gone from mentors to cheerleaders for the artists. “Being a creative isn’t easy, but it is one of the most freeing jobs. You get to express yourself and make things to express your voices, and that’s amazing.”
Another mentor, Faatimah Mohammed, also from Milnerton, said it was an awesome experience to be able to mentor younger artists and get them a clearer career path. “This was a two-way learning experience.”
One of the graduates Mbhali Manzini, from the city centre, is a designer and illustrator who also has her own brand and illustrative cellphone-casing business.
She said during lockdown, she started giving up as an artist and applying for the programme has lifted her spirits. “Being a creative, you’re always struggling, so I was grateful.”
She said the programme taught her not to work for just exposure, and has helped her think of creative ways to make money and not to be scared to price her work.
Fashion designer from Khayelitsha, Kholosani Somhlahlo, said he applied for the programme after trying out some new designs.
He said the programme brought a sense of community by connecting with like-minded people. “I wanted to find my voice as a designer to stand out from the rest.”
He said he also learnt how to plan a business and strategise.
He said his clothes were gender-fluid as testament to him embracing himself as a gay black man.
Photographer Mikhailia Petersen, from Woodstock, said she applied for the programme because she didn’t have clarity of herself as a business owner. She said now things are more solidified, and the programme gave her the tools to strategise better.
She will be shooting for a New York magazine in the upcoming weeks.
Ms Mageza said the reason the venue was chosen was because of its painful history, and the event was one of many moments of joy they wanted to bring into the space to rewrite the story.