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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist


Contra Joburg: Reviving the Joburg CBD through art

Contra Joburg creates space for conversation, removing the barriers between the artist and the audience.


Central business districts (CBDs) are dominated by the hustle and bustle of everyday life and tend to be forgotten when the city begins to wear out.

Formerly known as Open Studios Joburg, now named Contra, is revitalising the inner city through the support of artists who live and create their work in the city.

Contra Joburg provides a platform for art lovers to visit 13 artist studios and spaces participating in the two-day art event, and to meet some of the 200 artists taking part.

Contra Joburg will take place on the weekend of May 25th and 26th.

Each day has a different programme, and there are various associated activities, including workshops, demonstrations, a panel discussion and even graffiti walks.

An R85 ticket per day includes a hop-on, hop-off shuttle service. Many of the associated events are free to attend.

ALSO READ: Open Studios makes art accessible in the heart of Joburg

Value of the show

“The value of Contra Joburg to the city is that it gives an opportunity to audiences to connect with the city through creativity, and for artists to connect with different audiences and potential buyers,” said founder and organiser Sara Hallatt.

She was speaking on Wednesday when members of the media, city fans, and arts lovers were given a taste of what will be on offer at the event.

We visited the studio of Phumulani Ntuli at 11 Alexander in Ferreirasdorp, and then travelled across the city to see an exhibition by Nene Mahlangu at August House, Joburg’s biggest artist studios space.

“If we operate from the belief that art is important in society, then we need to support artists. Artists don’t get paid to make, and they make everything at risk.  Contra Joburg aims to change that for many artists who are working across the city of Joburg,” added Hallatt.

Hallatt is the director of the META foundation, which is a not-for-profit established by herself and David Mayers.

It offers a dynamic visual arts programme for artists based at Joburg’s creative landmark building, August House studios. The foundation was formed in 2020, one month before the lockdown.

With her background in working for an NGO and being connected to artists, studios and other players in the art space, she thought about what could be done collectively with what they have as an art community.

Since its start in 2022, Contra Joburg has resulted in nearly R1.9 million worth of sales.

Last year, the festival was an IDC Social Investment award finalist at the prestigious Business and Arts South Africa Awards.

Contra Joburg is different from the usual gallery viewing experience, as visitors get to see and explore the spaces where the work is made, and experience the city easily and safely.

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art Johannesburg CBD (Joburg)