ACT/Transwerke - breaking away from the grant model

When the Arts and Culture Trust’s previous CEO Marcus Desando heard about a creative hub developing in Braamfontein at the bottom of the Constitution Hill campus in the old Transwerke Building, a maternity ward built in the 1940s, he leapt at the chance. ACT had been in Braam for many years, says current CEO Jessica Denyschen, but the SAMRO building on De Korte Street was hardly conducive to creativity or collaborations.

“The Transwerke building had been stripped out with old apartments being lined up for office and studio space for artists and arts organisations. We would essentially have to provide the same value as the rental in services, as residents of Constitution Hill’s Creative Uprising Hub.”

Arts & Culture Trust CEO Jessica Denyschen

As Con Hill's unused spaces become transformed into a creative hub, the Creative Uprising aims to demonstrate how the state can help creative industries to thrive. In turn, creatives can help to revive neglected spaces.

“We started renovations in 2021 and moved in in Feb of 2022. What excited me most about the move, apart from the obvious saving in rental overhead, was that we would be surrounded by artists and arts organisations. Our previous office was very isolated and the heavy security didn’t lend itself to easy access. This move to Transwerke has reconnected us on a very personal level with our community,” adds Denyschen.

Eighteen months later, the Transwerke building hosts a plethora of artists and craftspeople, of every ilk and profession. In addition to fine artists, there are people making clothes and shoes, people printing and publishing, people writing and making music. The hub provides artists with affordable office spaces and runs programmes to support their enterprises from a market access, business and product design perspective. It’s a vibrant new space in an old but beautiful building, which was recently given a new look with a bright green exterior mural.

The Transwerke building is filled with creatives of every ilk

“We are gearing up for our 30th birthday in 2024 and are two years into our 2021-2026 strategy. The strategy is significant because it marks a major shift for ACT. Traditionally ACT was established and functioned until 2020 as a grant-making organisation for the sector nationally. In 2021 we launched a new vision, breaking away from the grant model and leaning into training and development that will enable economic sustainability for the sector through focussed programming,” says Denyschen.

She believes that the grant model has been detrimental to the growth and innovation of the cultural and creative industries as an active and thriving economic player. “We have moved away from terms like ‘grants’ and 'beneficiaries’ and have been proactively changing the narrative and language to business-oriented lingo. We see artists and arts organisations as professionals. They have value and equity – we use language like participant, investment, sustainability and economic contribution.

“I envisage ACT becoming a prominent coordinating body in the ecosystem of the cultural and creative industries through leveraging our corporate partners and alumni. The idea is to create economically sustainable business models for artists and arts organisations, through effective supply chains and collaborative efforts in cost consolidation in the production of creative products.

“ACT is a legacy organisation that will step into the business and technology space with enthusiasm. We will focus on leveraging business and technology to further develop our own business model, and to stay relevant and proactive in the 4IR,” says the CEO.

“Braamfontein and the creative hub in particular is a culturally and artistically vibrant and rich area; the energetic buzz of creativity is always in the air and evidenced through regular activities and events at the hub and Con Hill. There are movie nights and beer pong competitions, DJs, Night Markets, the hub is part of the Open Studios tour and there is always some interesting work or discussions happening in the building. We are forming so many new partnerships with fellow residents and are able to support the hub by procuring services and products from the creators here. For me this makes working here worth it: it’s connected and alive.

“If I could have a say in the future of Braamfontein, I would like it to be walk friendly, with no cars on weekends, free public transport, more artist hubs and routes, and security and safety that involves the consideration and buy-in of residents and workers,” concludes Denyschen.

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