Artscape revisioned

Lees in Afrikaans.

A R1.5-billion plan to revamp the Artscape Theatre Centre into an iconic cultural precinct, as part of the renewal of Cape Town’s Foreshore, has been unveiled. The plan is the work of a team led by architect Andrew Flint of Gapp Architects.

Although it is already an energetic 24-7 space that has become an arts development and community outreach hotspot, the primary goal of the revamp is to diversify the functionality of the complex, turning it into a tourist, retail and hospitality destination too, explains Andrew.

“Artscape as a building used to be a symbol of cultural exclusion rather than cultural expression and entertainment, but arguably a good example of restrained modernism. It’s an established grand old dame of a building that we don’t want to take away, but we need to add a whole lot more cultural layers and it needs to be a collaborative design process going forward,” says Andrew.

Brandishing the name Artscape Live Vision 20!20, the renderings do not show the final design, but Andrew hopes that this proof of concept will stimulate debate and enthusiasm for the revisioned precinct. As such, final approvals from local, provincial and national authorities, as well as sufficient funds are still to be secured before implementing the project.

Andrew’s proposal includes expanding the 41-year-old complex into some 17 000 square metres of adjacent vacant land to create one of the largest precincts in Africa dedicated to the performing arts. The expansion plan also includes an arts academy for 300 students, a world-class concert hall, a drama teaching studio, a rigging studio for the Zip Zap Circus School, four double height seminar rooms doubling up as rehearsal rooms, as well as three dedicated dance rehearsal spaces to accommodate different dance styles.

“Because of the wind in that area, what we’ve got to do is tame the weather and make it a really great indoor-outdoor place to be,” asserts Andrew, who has been collaborating with the London-based RHWL Architects, which specialises in theatre and arts developments.

Artscape CEO, Michael Maas agrees: “By more than doubling its footprint, the Artscape complex could propel South Africa into the forefront of the international cultural economy and double the current number of job opportunities in the performing arts industry.”

The economic impact is tangible when one considers that the Artscape network’s total staff complement of 754 includes managers, stage, sound and lighting technicians, set builders, wardrobe specialists, make-up artists, performers, trainers and administrative staff. It further supports another 414 jobs in the arts and culture sector and, with over 715 productions and events per annum, attracts over 317 000 visitors each year. In total, the organisation’s direct contribution to the SA economy is estimated at R541 million per annum.

“The performing arts and entertainment industry has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the modern world, contributing significantly to the economic growth of cities and regions. To keep pace with future growth and burgeoning demand, Artscape has seized the opportunity to expand its capabilities and capacity,” says Maas.

Says Artscape chairman, Prof Somadoda Fikeni: “Our vision for 2020 is to create an epicentre of cultural excellence by using the performing arts industry as a prime catalyst of economic growth, human development and social cohesion.”