State Of Mangaung Arts

The Monastery: Mangaung’s Arts Mansion

For this instalment of State of Mangaung Arts, ART STATE publisher opts for a thought experiment rather than a reflection.

Of all Mangaug’s white elephants, none pains me more than the Halevy Heritage Hotel on Markgraaf Street. It is situated just across, a little to the left, the part-time white elephant Mangaung Civic Theatre, which is directly opposite Macufe Village, itself right across the Peforming Arts Centre of the Free State.

The hotel, belonging to the Free State Development Corporation, has not been in business in at least five years, despite its prime positioning in the business district of the city. Every time I pass it, on my way to a play at Pacofs maybe, I find myself repeating this classic Tupac line:

“Niggas need a spot where we can kick it. A spot where we belong, that’s just for us. Niggas aint gotta get all dressed up and be Hollywood. Y’knahmean?”

Where really, to paraphrase Makaveli The Don, do Mangaung artists go for sanctuary? Let’s dream a little here:

I imagine this hotel, well-positioned right between the institutions where most artists work and hone their skills, perfect and primed for this task of being a Dostoyevskyesque somewhere to turn to. But I would not have it christened Thugz Mansion as did Pac, but would choose to call it The Monastery.

I call it so to illustrate the reverence, dedication and commitment which art, culture and thought will be approached. The trustees (Cardinals), artists (Monks) and patrons (Congregation) of The Monastery will be people who give their all to the arts and thinking – as do members of a faith. A monastery is a place where those who have devoted their lives to a particular faith go to live and work for that particular faith – in the same fashion, the Monks of The Monastery will devote their lives to keeping art and thinking alive in Mangaung, and will launch a brave and valiant battle against any manifestation of philistinism that might want to take hold of the metro.

The Monastery will be a home away from home for all working artists of the Free State, a permanent residency of sorts which will serve as an intellectual and cultural hub of Bloemfontein. These artists will always have room at The Monastery so long as they’re producing art. And will of course tithe to The Monastery a percentage of their earnings.

It will host regular cultural activities, much like in this dream of Tupac:

“Seen a show with Marvin Gaye last night, it had me shook
Drinkin’ peppermint Schnapps
With Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke
Then some lady named Billie Holiday sang
Sittin’ there kickin’ it with Malcolm, ’til the day came.”

We can only imagine the magical moments that will arise from such a haven, where artists need not worry about rent only talent. Where they are in constant creative conversation, collaboration and competition with fellow artists. A furnace where iron sharpens iron.

Imagine a musical festival hosted annually by The Monastery, performances by all the in house artists with one major inter-/national artist/band as guests of honour. A festival preceded by a gala dinner in which the Parish Priest delivers the keynote address, a State of Mangaung Arts (SOMA).

Or imagine a Pre-Macufe Vigil – a free open-stage all night concert on the day before the official opening of the Mangaung Cultural Festival. This concert will be a platform for those who will be performing during Macufe to give snippets and promote their shows, and also for those who will not be performing during the festival to show what could’ve been.

Which will then be followed by a Macufe Hangover/Encore, an audience generated concert that will see The Monastery bring back to Manguang top three performers that graced any of the Macufe shows. The audience will vote via USSD and discounted pre-sale tickets. The line-up will also include top non-Macufe performers who graced the vigil.

The possibilities are endless!

Such an institution would assist artists avert the pitfalls of the precarious nature of work in the creative industry. But it would not just be the financially struggling who will benefit. All artists need sanctuary. Some, like Kafka, need the solitude of death. A place where no one will bother them with asinine, albeit well meaning, how are you questions. Sometimes an artist wants to dwell in their misery, feel every note of the pain cursing through their heart, so that they can capture it in toto and imprison it in on a canvass, page, wood, steel, stone, wax, etc. There are very few places in the world where one can achieve such a feat. At home our loved ones are (understandably) fearful when they see us descend into the pits of darkness, not knowing that only from therein can real art be borne. The Monastery will be such a place for artists, with adequate psychological and emotional health support to ensure that the artists escape the dark space they traversed to unearth the art. It will be our “place where life’s a little easy.” Botshabelo ba rona where will “leave all the stress from the world outside.”

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