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Painting a beautiful city

Published: 01-JAN-03

How do you go about revamping an area in your city, which is run-down and looking quite derelict? Well with the aid of big business a law student at Wits University in South Africa solved that very dilemma.

Saul Symanowitz decided that art was the answer to rejuvenating the most run-down areas of the inner city by hanging huge billboard artworks on buildings. So, he approached a non-profit company dedicated to urban revitalisation with plans to get big business to sponsor Johannesburg Art City - the biggest out- door art gallery in the world.

"We immediately realised the potential for such a project," said Neil Fraser of the Central Johannesburg partner- ship. "The potential not only to showcase South African art and artists on a large scale, but also to use the art- works to direct the attention of the public to the projects that had recently been completed or were under construction as part of the revitalisation of downtown Johannesburg."

The next stage was enlisting financial support. This was forthcoming from the Johannesburg Inner City Business Coalition, which has long represented the interests of South Africa's business community, the Johannesburg Development Agency, responsible for the delivery of the City's major renewal projects and Business and Arts South Africa, a partnership of business and arts in South Africa.

The City of Johannesburg believing that it has found a unique marketing tool for its inner City regeneration agreed to provide the substantial seed funding of R1 million. This provided the funding to run a national art competition and corporate art galleries supplied specific works from their collections and also sponsored various artworks.

CJP developed a project proposal with the Johannesburg Inner City Business Coalition, the Johannesburg Development Agency and Business and Arts South Africa.

Last June (2002), a national art competition was held, with 160 artworks entered by some 90 artists. A selection panel, including well-known art curators and personalities, chose the works of 20 artists to be blown up to billboard size and exhibited in the city. Corporate galleries were also invited to submit relevant artworks from their collections and these were added to the Johannes- burg Art City art trail. The following corporates participated in the initiative: ABSA; Sasol; Standard Bank Group; BHP Billiton SA Ltd; Nedcor and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

The Johannesburg Art City Project involves the display of 29 giant reproductions of original works by South African artists and one huge Art City logo on public spaces in the inner city. The objective is to revitalise interest in the visual arts within the city as well as to aid and complement urban renewal being undertaken in Johannesburg.

The original 20 artworks chosen through the National Art Competition are on exhibition at the Old Johannesburg Fort in the inner city. The artworks were digitally photographed and enlarged to about 15m x 10m each with the largest picture being 20 metres by 30 metres. Three rigging teams were used to secure the giant pictures to the buildings.

The Johannesburg Art City catalogue design, logo design and quality control were conceptualised and produced by Hanna Design. The exciting Art City logo is the typographies pro- file of a city skyscraper.

"The multicoloured symbol depicts the kaleidoscope of people, cultures and styles. The names reflected in the logo are both colloquial and some representative language groups for the word Johannesburg. The Art City brand name is bold and visible as a strong base to the vertical thrust of ; names of the city," says Michelle Carraro of Hanna Design, a 20-year-old Johannesburg graphic design company, which was also responsible for the Gandhi Square graphics also situated in downtown Johannesburg.

The giant art display is on view across inner city Johannesburg until March 2003 and the project highlights all the inner city regeneration projects, in which Rl.5-billion is being invested.

Some 800 000 people travel to and from Johannesburg's inner city daily. In addition, 400 000 traders from around Southern Africa visit the city annually and thousands of international visitors will also be attending the Cricket World Cup in March 2003. Johannesburg Art City will attract many of these people who might not otherwise visit the inner city.

Johannesburg Art City is not a commercial venture. Any excess income will be placed in a trust fund towards subsequent exhibitions. The unique open-air urban gallery will have its works updated annually ensuring sustained and regenerated interest.

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