Infecting the City Public Arts Festival

Artist: The Africa Centre
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Giusy Checola

Infecting The City (ITC) is a vibrant and innovative annual public arts festival that takes place in the city of Cape Town. It was conceived and organized by the Africa Centre, an international platform for exploring contemporary Pan-African cultural practice as a catalyst for social change across the disciplines of music, visual art, performance art, dance, theatre and poetry.

After the denouement of The Spier Performing Arts Festival, Africa Center decided to start ITC in 2008, with the singular aim to “infect the city with performance that captures the complexities of our daily life.” At its inception, curators Jay Pather and Brett Bailey said the festival’s vision was to enliven and reinvent the city of Cape Town’s central business district. Since then, ITC has become a fully realized and sustainable project, with a growing audience and a readily recognized brand name based on a philanthropic and partnership model.

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In 2010, Infecting the City expanded its name with the words Public Arts Festival to incorporate visual art and public interventions and to better reflect what the Festival represented.

Public art has always been part of who we are on this continent and in this country given our history of public ritual, public protest and celebration. The interconnectedness of the African “us” meets challenge after challenge in a public, social way, brought to vibrant life in artistic expression. There is too that part of our history that impeded this public interconnectedness, throwing people apart and far away from each other, a physical and psychic separation still waiting to be healed. Infecting the City is a small attempt at igniting this interconnectedness.

(Joy Pather, curator of Infecting The City 2012, from

Besides the international promotion of South African public arts, the aims of ITC are to bring another kind of life to public spaces, to facilitate and encourage civil society to reclaim the common urban spaces, and to develop a culture of art appreciation by making art free and accessible to all.

For those reasons, an importance aspect of the festival is the Arts Aweh! school program, supported by private sponsors and coordinated by performer Malika Ndlovu. It facilitates the participation of 120 learners per day (600 learners over the course of the Festival week) and 10 educators per day, from schools outside of the city centre, to participate in the festival and have discussions about what they experienced. Through these experiences and discussions about visual language, contemporary visual and performance art, public art and related issues, social and cultural dynamics, environmental aspects, arts activism and socio-political relevance of the arts and multi-media, the program empowers high school students through fostering cultural awareness, experiencing art, creating their own artworks and giving their poetic or critical impressions of the artworks.

Today, due to financial or geographical constraints, most of the 4.5 million people living in Cape Town rarely experience dance, theatre, performance art, music and large-scale visual art installations. ITC works towards changing this reality by hosting a wide range of artistic forms, with artists from throughout South Africa and abroad, and focuses on finding ways for everyone to see, hear and find themselves in the art produced. Arts organizations, artists, the city and the general public have benefitted in various ways through participation, employment, creation of new works of art, exposure to the arts, and participation in the re-claiming and enjoyment of public spaces.

Over the years the number of artists participating and visitors of the ITC has steadily grown. The 2011 festival was attended by over 25000 people, with the interventions of 314 well-known South African and international artists from the fields of dance, performance, public art and urban regeneration.

Among others performing at the 2012 festival will be Athi-Patra Ruga, Vincent Mantsoe and Nicola Hannekom’s Lot, the dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo, the artists Victorine Meuller and Ole Hamre, the pianist Justin Krawitz.

ITC works on public art as tool to build social cohesion and at the same time it represents a means to support the arts industry by developing and nurturing new audiences, whose task will be to support the arts and the arts industry in the future.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency