Sunday 20 March 2011

An Introduction

“Criticism, after all, is about crisis” writes Darby English in The State of Art Criticism, implying that the state of crisis that continuously permeates this discrete discipline within the arts is a working hazard rather than a phenomenon that should raise concern. Nevertheless, this marginalised activity within the mass media, in particular newspapers, has never been under more threat than it is now with media companies constantly identifying new ways of slim-lining their operations in order to remain financially viable.  

Another ‘crisis’ which has been brewing for some time in the area of criticism, is the fact that the context out of which criticism emerged has shifted considerably; cultural pluralism and critical theory, which has upturned traditional notions of quality, originality, authorship and the distinctions between high/low culture, have more or less obviated the role of criticism – or at least how it has traditionally been conceived. Given that critical engagement with arts products is central to the development of the arts and its audiences, arts reporting and criticism needs to be sustained.   

In order to discover ways of broadening the scope of criticism and arts writing and identifying ways in which it can renew/establish its relevance South African arts writers/commentators need a platform or space where they can begin to consciously renegotiate their role within the fluctuating world of journalism and their function within the arts. 

Broad objectives of the South African Arts Writers and Critics Association (SAAWCA)*:

  • Initiate and expand discourses on criticism and arts writing in South Africa
  • Create more opportunities for arts writing: establish a permanent library and/or record of ephemeral arts products and writing – perhaps an annual publication that reflects on cultural production
  • Educate: editors, writers, arts organisations and public about arts writing: its role, value and position within the arts and media
  • Diversify: encourage and mentor new, diverse voices
  • Elevate the quality of arts writing
  • Uplift the working condition of arts journalists
  • Professionalise arts journalism, so that it is recognised as a profession in and of itself within pedagogical approaches in schools of journalism and the arts and in professional media contexts

(*The name of the organisation and its objectives will be concretised following the inaugural meeting in Johannesburg in June. Those unable to attend that meeting are invited to e-mail feedback on these fundamental aspects)


Non-exclusivity is the driving ethos. 

The organisation is chiefly designed to serve those currently working within the mainstream media, covering all spheres of the arts from the visual arts, film, theatre, dance, literature and music. Nevertheless those in academia who dabble in criticism or toil for specialised arts journals/websites are also welcome to join.As are bloggers too.

Wannabe arts critics and writers are also encouraged to join as part of the mandate of the organisation is to mentor new voices.  Artists or members of art organisations wishing to contribute to the discourse on criticism are encouraged to attend meetings.   


The inaugural meeting will be held on June 11, 2011 in Johannesburg – venue and time to be announced. Those wishing to attend this meeting should e-mail:

Plans are afoot for a second meeting at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in June/July this year

Depending on interest meetings in Durban and Cape Town will be considered for 2012. Writers based in those cities, or who are unable to attend the inaugural meeting, are encouraged to e-mail feedback, ideas or statements.

Call for presentations/panellists/chairs:

Published critics and writers are invited to present provocative talks at the first meeting in Johannesburg.   It is envisaged that four and/or two panel discussions addressing pressing issues within arts writing will be presented. The talks only need be 15 minutes in length. Send a 200 word introduction to your topic to by May 7. Chairs will be approached and selected based on the themes presented.

Volunteers needed:

A number of volunteers are needed to help contribute to the running of the organisation; from writing newsletters, blog/facebook and twitter updates, e-mailing, coordinating meetings in Johannesburg and other major cities, reviewing panel topics and selecting chairs and other general administration activities, including fund raising. Members who are willing to devote some time to this worthy cause should send an e-mail to

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