Exciting plans afoot for a creative hub at Constitution Hill

A planned Creative Hub at Constitution Hill

Over the last year I have missed exploring Joburg so was delighted when I got notification of a meeting in mid March about a Creative Hub planned for Constitutional Hill.  Mariapoala McGurk, or MP as she is known, is the Public Programmes Coordinator at Constitutional Hill and she certainly has the right credentials to get this mammoth initiative off the ground.  MP started the Coloured Cube in 2014 in a warehouse in Benrose as a space for creatives to meet and connect. This grew into the Co-Lab, a communal space where creatives could have access to shared tools and equipment as well as peer support and training.  

Constitution Hill has held many cultural festivals and creative programmes so an institutional framework for cultural networking is already in place.  Enter the third player in this creative hub: Robbie Brozin of Nando’s fame (and flame) who has always been a visionary, lobbied for local, backed the creative industry and been a supporter of entrepreneurship and change makers.  Nando’s have a relationship with Constitution Hill through the Basha Uhuru Festival  and are very much private sector partners in the Creative Hub initiative.

Photo courtesy News24

Collaboration and connection

The walkabout group who met on site in mid March, comprised Jozi bloggers and photographers (Gail Wilson, 2 Summers), representatives from cultural organizations (Goethe Institut), training institutes (Imbali Visual Arts), changemakers and creative hubs (Makers Valley; House of Kuumba), local government (Gauteng Enterprise Propellor), funding organizations (Arts and Culture Trust), and individuals in other creative fields like fashion. 

Walkabout of the planned Creative Hub. Photo courtesy: Gail Wilson Jozi photographer and cultural activist

The creative sector has specific needs and drivers and MP set out some of these as well as some fundamental principles as she sees them in relation to the Creative Hub. Globally 90% of creative businesses are micro-economic enterprises. While most are not profit driven they need to be sustainable and the sector and its needs are often misunderstood by corporates who will see donation of funds as a way of supporting the sector.  And of course while funding is welcomed, it is not necessarily effective without affordable spaces to work, access to equipment, introduction to markets, entrepreneurial skills training. And a crucial factor is to get government on board by, as MP puts it, ‘speaking a language that matches government’s concerns”. And these are primarily to see the opportunities of a Creative Hub in terms of regeneration; youth employment; and place making.

Economic significance of the creative industry

The year before the Annus Horribilis of 2020, over one million, or 6,72% of all South African jobs, were located in the broader Creative Economy ie the industries that intersect the arts, culture, business, and technology sectors. Gauteng alone accounted for 31.5% of all cultural and creative jobs in South Africa – employing close to 180 000 people. The Creative Economy contributed R33.3 billion annually to the Gauteng economy.  (This from the Basha Uhuru 2019 Creative Uprising Programme)  

Flame studios in the Old Fort 

Our first stop was Flame Studios which, although not yet officially opened is already functioning (Vusi Mahlasela was in a recording session when we were there). The amazing spaces are made even more special by the heritage context of the Old Fort itself, as well as Nando’s brand of funky contemporary local design.  See here for more wonderful photos. 

Lance McCormack, Music Manager at Flame Studios, explains the layout of the various studios and spaces. In this rehearsal room, traditional African patterns have been used for the soundproofing on the walls
Here sections of the floor and wall are left exposed but glassed in to reveal the historic fabric of the original old Fort building
The “red” recording studio
“Speak Truth to Power” will occupy the space where the old coffee shop was and will be a venue for performances, poetry readings, talks and discussions.

The Movement Store is planned as a commercial outlet for makers’ works – a Museum shop supporting local creative production.  A communal makers’ space is planned and the Transwerke building is earmarked for studio spaces.

Transwerke Building 

Designed by Gordon Leith in 1943, the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital closed down in 1979 when the maternity section was incorporated into the new Johannesburg Hospital (now Charlotte Maxeke) The Transvaal province converted the building into 80 flats for their staff : 4 stories with 20 units on each floor.

It is not clear when the building fell into disuse but in 2017 the building was awarded Black Plaque Heritage status. Not something to be proud of as these plaques highlight severely neglected heritage sites to shame the owners into action.  Soon after this ‘award’, it seems some of the units were converted into artists’ studio spaces. Demand for these spaces has increased to the extent that all 20 units on the ground floor are now occupied plus there is a waiting list. There are various different tenant lease options; from a straight rental option of between R1,500 and R5000 a month; to a barter situation where tenants might offer their services to Constitution Hill and to help the creative economy, in return for rental. 

For me one of the most exciting initiatives is the planned location in this building of a space to be called “Let’s get formal”. The aim is to have 10 computers with advisors/mentors to give advice and training on the various administrative and bureaucratic hoops which creatives often have to jump through in order to enter the formal economy – be it registering for PAYE, CIPRO or CSD; opening a bank account; getting a CV together; etc. 

There are 2 lovely rooftop spaces with views over Braamfontein and Hillbrow

With so many creatives having to abandon their careers after the devastating effects of Covid Lockdown as well as the shocking mismanagement of the sector’s funding from the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme, one only hopes that this initiative is not too late for a decimated industry. 

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