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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

Open Studios makes art accessible in the heart of Joburg

The event gives art lovers access to over 100 working artists in their natural habitat – the studio – returns for another year.

Art galleries and art fairs tend to be intimidating for the average Joe on the street. The daunting feeling stems from people often thinking that art is for a certain type of person or that there isn’t art they can afford. Open Studios Joburg is bridging the gap between the creator and the consumer of art, by making art accessible through its festival in the inner city. The event takes place on the last weekend of May for two days, and will see art lovers going to the various art studios in the CBD to view works by Joburg-based artists.

The studios include the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, Lilian Road Studios in Fordsburg, Asisebenze Art Atelier adjacent park station and Ellis House which is between Ellis Park and Troyeville Hotel. “It is something for the people, by the people,” event founder Sara Hallatt told The Citizen at the media launch of the art event.

This is the fourth instalment of the festival, after the first two took place in 2021. Last year, the event welcomed more than 2 000 patrons. “It’s not an art fair, but we do have to pay a little bit of money because we have to split the cost of the buses,” Hallatt says about the event. Last year, eight spaces in the CDB participated and this year will see an addition of three more studios opening up their doors to art lovers.

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Coming together as an art community

Hallet admits that during the Covid-19 pandemic she felt isolated, but she was more sympathetic to what the artists went through during that period.

“It was so hard for the artists, it was a terrible time. Exhibitions were being cancelled left, right and centre…people couldn’t eat and there was no UIF [Unemployment Insurance Fund] for them, there was nothing, there was no support, all the corporate money dried up,” Hallatt said in a sombre tone.

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 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.

“Okay we don’t have money, but what else do we have that we could collectively put together to make work for ourselves?” is what Hallatt says she asked herself and her colleagues.

The answer was that there are artists, there are spaces available and there is the know-how on how to host openings and organise art events.

“Actually, all we’re missing is some marketing and some buses to connect us,” says Hallatt about coming to her realisation.

Open Studios Art launch
Some of the influencers in attendance at the media launch. Picture: supplied

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Access to market

It’s been two years and the event has gradually grown, attracting sponsors and more artists pleading to be part of it. “Today I got a phone call from somebody in Eloff Street who’s got a new building with new artists and they’re like ‘can we be included’ and I’m like yes, next year,” she says.

Hallatt, who has worked for the Bag Factory and is now currently at August House says artists want to be part of the event because it brings people to their working space. “It brings people, it’s access to market right…we don’t take any commission from sales, so everything the artist does, it’s for them. So we go out and find sponsorship and that’s how we sort out ourselves. This year we’re charging tickets.”

Open Studios launch
Artist Siyabonga Mlambo being interviewed. Picture: Supplied

Siyabonga Mlambo is one of the artists whose work will be viewed at the event. He has a residency at Ellis House and says he is excited to be part of the event. “Everyone is preparing for this show as an artist. I’m looking forward to it, more especially because I’m an independent artist and this is where I can make money,” says Mlambo.

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