If you have never been to Cape Town -- especially during summertime there -- you are missing out on one of the world's great cities. It is a far trip from most places on earth; it takes twenty or more hours to get there from Washington, D.C. But it is worth every minute of the journey.
Table Mountain, wine country, the beach and a vibrant arts culture are all to be enjoyed. The a cappella singing, opera and ballet, vivid theater productions, and dynamic visual arts are abundant. A visit to Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, reminds us in a most moving fashion of the country's ugly history in the 20th century and the way it is rebuilding its economy and its spirit in this one.
I have been coming to Cape Town, and other South African cities, to teach arts management for over 15 years. The city has never seemed so vibrant. This June and July the World Cup of soccer will be hosted in South Africa, with eight of the matches taking place in a new stadium in Cape Town. The city has improved infrastructure and tourist services including hotels, roads, restaurants and the airport to serve the hundreds of thousands of visitors who are expected.
In my teaching sessions, one unfortunate fact emerged: for most South Africans, the planning for the World Cup ends with the final match on July 11. The world ends the next day.
This has an effect on all members of the community, including the arts community. Everyone is building for this June and July; I did not hear of many plans for arts programming for 2011 or beyond.
It is this type of boom and bust planning that decimates arts organizations, especially those in areas where the arts have yet to create a firm funding infrastructure.
So many arts groups are thriving now. They are hiring staff, adding performances, building on the excitement and the economic stimulation caused by this greatest of world sporting events (sorry, Super Bowl).
But what happens the following month or year? Do all of the funders simply turn their attention away from the arts and to other ventures? Must the arts world retreat after its most successful year ever?
Good artistic planning extends for years. The most successful arts organizations, from every perspective, will be those that have a great plan for this year, but equally exciting programs planned for 2011, 2012 and beyond. They will be the ones that build consistently on the foundation established this year. They will keep their sponsors, build their audiences, enhance reputations and grow in a smoother and more sustainable manner.
At this point, there appears to be little that is special planned for Cape Town in the hangover year of 2011. Couldn't the arts fill this void? Isn't this an opportunity to become a more vital part of the local and national agenda?
I imagine this is not a problem unique to arts organizations or to Cape Town. But it is frustrating nonetheless in this amazing city.