7th ELIA Leadership Symposium – 1st to 4th December 2015

The 7th ELIA Leadership Symposium was hosted by The African Arts Institute (AFAI) in Cape Town from the 1st to the 4th December 2015. Previously hosted in Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, Zurich, Vancouver and Helsinki, we were honoured to be a part of such an important international network.

The ELIA Leadership Symposium brings together influential leaders from higher arts education institutions and universities across the globe for an important and timely discussion on current issues in leadership in higher arts education. In the context of South Africa as a laboratory of social transformation, and especially in light of current issues, the theme of DOMINANCE / DISRUPTION / DIVERSITY  was chosen to investigate, discuss and reflect on how notions of the ‘the canon’, aesthetics, standards of excellence and education play out in a culturally diverse and ever-changing world. DOMINANCE reflects on the continuing Eurocentric focus in art and art education. DISRUPTION was chosen to reflect on how the emergence of alternative sources of knowledge and value has affected and transformed the established cultural, social and educational structures. DIVERSITY reflects on different points of view on cultural diversity and the challenges, developments and opportunities that globalization and cultural changes in society present to institutional structures like arts universities and colleges.

On Tuesday 1st December we welcomed our international delegates to 15on Orange Hotel for a welcome cocktail and introduction from the ELIA and AFAI organizers. This was a good opportunity to network and mix with delegates from other institutions, before registration on the Wednesday morning.

We officially kicked off with two keynote speeches from highly respected South Africans. First, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, author, academic and key figure in South African education, having served as President of the University of Cape Town for two terms, Chair of the South African Universities Vice-Chancellor’s Association, and founding Chair of the Southern African Regional Universities’ Association. He has also chaired the Council of Higher Education Task Team on Undergraduate Curriculum Structure in 2014. He was followed by Judge Albie Sachs, whose work on human rights is internationally renowned, having been one of the first judges in the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Among other ground-breaking judgements, Sachs wrote the judgement legalizing same-sex marriage in South Africa.

In an attempt to follow the theme as much as possible, AFAI aimed to ‘disrupt’ the traditional conference structure, and designed the three-day period to give delegates as much interaction with real-life Cape Town as possible. Wednesday afternoon followed ‘mobile workshops’, where small groups were sent out with a guide to engage with the city. Themes of theatre, design, architecture and landscape, ‘Meet the Educators’ and ‘Africa in Cape Town’ were available for delegates to explore. This was followed by ‘Diversity Dinners’, where small groups of delegates were sent to different artists’ houses all over Cape Town, to engage with local culture in a sincere and intimate way.

Thursday featured several highly regarded speakers, including Xolela Mangcu (Professor of Sociology, University of Cape Town), Mark Fleishman (Director of the Magnet Theatre and Professor of Drama, University of Cape Town), Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa (Nagenda Institute of Art and Design, Uganda), Dr Ruth Simbao (Professor of Art History, Rhodes University) and Aino Laberenz (Set and Costume Director of the Festpielhaus Afrika, Germany). Dinner was hosted at Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch.

On Friday we were joined by Gavin Jantjes, an artist, curator and museum director who is currently active in South Africa and Norway, as well as the Executive Director of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Oussama Rifahi. These were constructed as ‘table talks’,  where delegates were organized into small groups and chellenged by our speakers to discuss and create constructive answers to questions currently facing the international arts community. Lunch was spent in the Company’s Garden, before delegates spent their afternoon at their leisure exploring Cape Town.

This event was a remarkable bringing together of creaive minds from across the world and we are thankful to ELIA for allowing us the opportunity to be involved. Thanks to all the delegates for their participation, and for all those whose hard work made it such a success.