My Alex 15 tour Newtown Cultural Precinct

myalex tour2 640The My Alex 15 got to observe and interact with artists at work during their tour of the Newtown Cultural Precinct. (Photo: Elias Nkabinde - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

The world of the creative sector opened up in exciting new ways for the final 15 participants of the #MyAlex - Youth Perceptions of Place project when they took a tour of the Newtown Cultural Precinct on Tuesday, 10 May. Elias Nkabinde reports.

The My Alex team at the the Artist Proof StudioThe My Alex team were blown away by the print skills of young artist David Tsoka during their visit to the Artist Proof Studio. (Photo: Elias Nkabinde - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)#MyAlex - Youth Perceptions of Place is an initiative by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) to engage with youth aged 18-25 on their experiences of Alexandra and their views on the township's future potential.

The group visited various studios, factories and educational spaces in Newtown as part of a process that will culminate in the #MyAlex - Youth Perceptions of Place exhibition, which will open in Alexandra on Youth Day, 16 June, accompanied by the publication of a booklet tracing the participants' My Alex journey.

The day-long tour, led by project facilitator Mariapaola McGurk, marked the beginning of a month of intense workshopping aimed at giving the participants the creative tools for identifying and expressing their own, their peers' and their families' perceptions of Alexandra.

Opportunities for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds

The My Alex team at the Imbali Visual Literacy ProjectMy Alex participant Ikaheng Nethonzhe gets the low-down on the field of crafts training at the Imbali Visual Literacy Project. (Photo: Elias Nkabinde - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)The first stop on the tour was the Market Lab, which trains young performers and theatre-makers. The Lab gives opportunities to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who would not otherwise be able to study in this field, providing the high quality, professional preparation needed to compete in the competitive theatre and entertainment industries.

Next up was the Artist Proof Studio, one of the largest and most vibrant community and professional printmaking facilities in southern Africa, where the participants were blown away by young artist David Tsoka's print skills.

The Studio offers a three-year, professional printmaking training programme to talented students from across the country, training them in the full range of printmaking, drawing, visual literacy and business practice skills. Up to 50 students a year are accommodated.

Imbali Visual Literacy Project, Market Photo Lab

The My Alex team at the JDA's headquarters in NewtownThe My Alex 15 take a lunch break at the JDA's headquarters in Newtown. (Photo: Elias Nkabinde - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)The third stop was the Imbali Visual Literacy Project, a professional training provider for art teachers, craft trainers and museum-education staff. Led by a graduate from the project, the My Alex 15 watched silk-screening demos and learnt about how they can join the programme.

The Market Photo Lab, a school of photography, a gallery and a project space which has played a pivotal role in the training of South Africa's photographers, was the next stop for the participants.

Angel Khumalo, one of the mentors for the MyAlex project, was herself a student at the Market Photo Lab, and explained the value her studies gave to her photographic career.

As the tour reached its halfway mark the My Alex team made a lunch stop at the JDA's head offices at the Bus Factory, just around the corner in Newtown.

Refreshed and re-energised, the group headed for Assemblage, a non-profit organisation which helps the visual arts community of Joburg to connect, share and collaborate.

Louise Ross, one of the founders of Assemblage, explained the organisation's processes and the kinds of opportunities it could offer the My Alex team, and invited them to propose ideas for engagements in the Assemblage space.

Learning from artists who grew up in Alex

The final stop of the day was one of the most interesting for the participants. The Bag Factory was one of the first collective artists' studios in South Africa. The former factory building contains 18 studios, and since its inception has continually strived to provide space for local visual artists from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Artist David Koloane spoke, who was born in Alexandra, spoke about his memories of the spaces where he lived in the township.

Artist Pat Mautloa, who also grew up in Alex, shared some memories of his childhood with the participants before taking them through the process he followed to become an established artist, stressing the dedication and commitment that was required to succeed.

Afterwards, facilitator Mariapaola McGurk said she believed the tour had been a success, and that she looked forward to getting feedback from the participants at their next workshop.

"The day was very full and the participants learnt a great deal relating to studying options, opportunities for young artists and the value of the artists' voice within society," she said.