It is not often that we are given the opportunity to imagine and have our dreams brought to life. It is not often either, especially in developing countries, that we have an opportunity to think about what development is and in what form it should manifest. In fact, more often than not, development – what it is and how it can be attained – is often prescribed to communities in developing countries. In the Eastern Cape, in the Amathole District, these prescriptions were turned on their heads and rural communities were finally given an opportunity to be heard. Aspire helped them to achieve this. Their approach to economic development focuses on the regeneration of small town economies. One such small town was Hamburg, where Emthonjeni Arts was built.

Emthonjeni Arts, the artist residency at Hamburg, was an outcome of this approach. The careful analysis of rural communities, the consultations with the people of these communities, revealed their strengths and pointed out their opportunities. In Hamburg it became obvious that this was a community of artists. It is a place where local products could be taken to a broader international market and a place where international artists can come and be humbled by indigenous art, intricate Xhosa crafts, ground breaking arts development organisations (see Keiskamma Arts Project) and the breath-taking beauty of the Hamburg landscape – hence the decision to build an artist’s residency alongside a broader town development strategy.

Emthonjeni Arts was constructed and completed in 2012. This was followed by the appointment of a management team of four. The current management team now posted onsite consist of Nomsa Mazwai, as director, Thembisa Shongwe as facilities manager, Conor Ralphs as the arts programme manager and Mark Protor as the food development manager. They have been working onsite for just over a month and have already begun to chart a clear way forward, with a business plan put together by the Swallows Foundation.


There are numerous opportunities in the short and long term which we encourage companies to take advantage of. In the short term, the management team will be working closely with the Hamburg community to take advantage of employment, training and small business opportunities. These appear on a number of levels. The first is direct employment, which will be achieved through training the local population. The residency has immediate staffing requirements, which will be filled by members of the local community. Second is the development of small businesses that will supply goods and services needed by the residency. In terms of goods, this includes the provision of various furnishings and food products. In terms of services, this includes the provision of a laundry services amongst others. Emthonjeni Arts has a responsibility to the community that it is prioritizing. We are ensuring that to the extent possible, much of our content will be locally produced.

Emthonjeni Arts will serve as an artists’ residency and a training centre. As part of its programmes, we will offer services to companies and organisations that would like to have sessions with their teams. Artistic approaches to team building are available. For instance, a team from a company can come for a strategic plan and team building at Emthonjeni Arts and work collectively on a piece of art that they can take with them. In terms of training, Emthonjeni offers both training for artists and for arts professionals. The training for artists will include photography training, new media training as well as instrument making through a partnership with the only ‘green’ guitar maker in the country. For arts professionals, training in understanding the visual arts, and in public art policy, among others, will form part of the Emthonjeni offering. A full arts programme will be taken to market in early July 2013. However, interested companies can make enquiries now.

Emthonjeni Arts would like to make residency opportunities available to as many young South Africans as possible. To assist in achieving this goal, residencies can be bought on behalf of artists. The residencies will be used to pull artists who could otherwise not afford to take advantage of this space.

Here is a virtual tour of the space that is Emthonjeni. It is a tour of the buildings and spaces, unfurnished.

Emthonjeni Arts is currently in its development phase. During this time, our focus is on training the local community and giving local and non-local businesses an opportunity to get involved. June will mark the graduation of community members and the appointment of our remaining staff compliment. It will also mark the beginning of our soft opening and we have started taking bookings from groups that would like to use our space. During the National Arts Festival we are offering accommodation and a shuttle service to and from the festival and towards the end of the year we will host our first international residencies. For artists interested in ‘changing spaces’ we will have residencies in regeneration. These are residencies that will take place while the town centre is being built and artists will be able to watch the town literally metamorphose into what had been imagined years ago.

In our South Africa, we are imagining our future, this is a place where this imagination has come to life.

Emthonjeni Arts, be inspired somewhere inspiring.