City policies choke arts and culture initiatives

The Events By-law ‘one-size fits all’ approach makes life difficult for smaller organisations trying to do good work.

Cultural capital… Open Book has to deal with restrictive event requirements in order to host a five-day inclusive festival of literature. Photo: Retha Ferguson

Frustration with the City’s funding procedures and event permit policies have been expressed by a number of arts and culture organisations, with one internationally award-winning organisation having given up on trying to deal with local government bureaucracy.

Four significant organisations believe the City’s Events By-law is geared for large, well-funded and well-staffed organisations, and fails to acknowledge the challenges faced by smaller initiatives in the arts and culture sector.

Complaints include the cost of public display permits for advertising posters, opaque application procedures for grant-in-aid, and onerous and expensive event permit requirements.

Heal the Hood, a 20-year-old organisation using hip hop to develop a sense of self-worth among school children and young people living in suburbs of the Cape Flats, has simply given up trying to obtain funding from the City or organise their own events.

Heal the Hood was awarded the international Hip Hop organisation of the year from Washington-based Words Beats and Life Inc in 2010 and has been recognised nationally for the work they do to empower youth, but senior administrator and coordinator Shaquile Southgate said it is easier to obtain international donor funding than support from the City of Cape Town.

Southgate said it seemed the City’s Arts and Culture Department was virtually “non-existent” and city authorities were “not there to encourage the growth of smaller events and organisations”.

He said after last receiving support from the City in the form of the provision of a stage and sound equipment at their signature annual African Hip Hop Indaba in 2009, they did apply for grant-in-aid funding again last year.

We attended a general public consultation held at the Civic Centre for grant-in-aid funding available for community and non-profit organisations. We were told there was R8m available.”

He said their application was sent via their ward councillor in September and it apparently went to the subcouncil chairperson but they have received no feedback or response.

Grassy Park ward councillor Patricia van der Ross said there was no funding from the ward allocation available for Heal the Hood’s application and thus had sent it on to the subcouncil, and would follow up and provide feedback.

A massive blow to Heal the Hood was also the loss of use of the Good Hope Centre, which they hired from the City to host the annual African Hip Hop Indaba from 2001 to 2014.

But he said since 2014 the City decided to hire it out to filming companies and it was no longer available for events.

Questions sent to City regarding the use of the Good Hope Centre could not be answered before deadline.

The City Hall is available for events, but with its raked seating and smaller capacity, it did not suit the requirements for an international hip hop event, and venues such as the Cape Town International Convention Centre were too expensive at a starting cost of around R100 000 as opposed to approximately R20 000 they used to pay for the Good Hope Centre, said Southgate.

He said they lost 80% of attendees when they had to move the indaba to the Grace Performing Arts Centre in Epping in 2015 after becoming synonymous with the Good Hope Centre, to which people used to come attend from across the country. Since 2016, rather than go through laborious event permit requirements, they have placed the indaba under the banner of the Muizenberg Festival and held it at the Muizenberg High school or the Muizenberg community hall. This year they are partnering with CPUT and plan to host it at the Bellville campus.

The five-day Open Book festival of literature, which hosts its ninth event next month, has also found dealing with the City a frustrating experience. Festival director Mervyn Sloman said the nub of the issue was that the costs of meeting the City’s requirements for obtaining an event permit amounted to over 25% of the funding received by the City.

Requirements included public liability insurance and an independent financial audit.

The problem was that the City’s Events By-law adopted a once-size-fits-all approach, said Open Streets Cape Town acting managing director Rebecca Campbell.

Open Streets fosters social cohesion by organising car-free days in communities, enabling residents to use the streets for recreational activities.

Campbell was hesitant to level criticism at the City despite admitting being frustrated at the red tape involved in obtaining an event permit.

Open Streets submitted comment on the Events By-law in 2014, stating that while recognising the need for the City to regulate events, there was too much emphasis on regulation and not enough on facilitation, which ran contrary to principles stated in the by-law.

The by-law makes provision for a cumbersome and unclear process which event organisers at most levels find difficult to navigate, submitted Open Streets Cape Town. “Only those with significant financial resources are able to comply fairly easily with the bylaw process.” This effectively limits the scope for small organisations or community groups to engage with the formal process and limits potential opportunities for the City to engage with the community.”

Open Streets urged the City to consider distinguishing between community events and commercial events, but these suggestions were not included.

The City stages big events really well,” says National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester, who was in charge of organising the Cape Town Fringe which ran from 2015 to 2017, “but when it comes to small events I’m not sure it knows how to handle them.”

The Cape Town Fringe was not held in 2018 despite promises from safety and security mayco member JP Smith at the closing of the 2017 event that funding for the 2018 event was guaranteed. Queried by GroundUp, Smith said the City had numerous meetings with the National Arts Festival about their plans for the event, and following discussions, were informed National Arts Festival would not host the 2018 edition. A response as to why last year’s Fringe festival did not take place could not be obtained from Lankester before deadline, and it is not known whether Cape Town Fringe 2019 will take place. Smith said funding had been set aside for Cape Town Fringe this year, “subject to compliance and the event organisers meeting criteria”.

An email sent to, which is the email listed on the City website, inquiring what is required to organise the hosting of an event, and what costs were involved in receiving a permit, received no response.

In June the City officially launched its events e-permit system which allows permit applications to be submitted electronically. JP Smith said this was part of the City’s efforts to modernise event bookings and make it easier for event organisors to do business.

By the end of March 2019, the Events Office had issued 1 047 event permits. The number is likely to exceed the 1 277 permits issued in the previous financial year,” stated Smith, adding that R50m was budgeted to support these events.

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