A Q&A with Elana Brundyn

Elana Brundyn is currently the CEO of Norval Foundation in Cape Town. She has been instrumental in launching two of Africa’s most prominent museums, namely Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation. Brundyn has contributed to the cultural ecosystem in Africa as a museum director, consultant, advisor to corporates, family and school collections, charity art auctions and as a commercial gallerist. With a strong focus on philanthropic projects and fundraiser art projects and events.

Recently, Norval Foundation has teamed up with Cape Town City Ballet to collaborate on a short film entitled Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture, which celebrates the work of William Kentridge. The film is currently available to stream.

Hi Elana, how are you doing in the midst of the lockdown?

I am well, thank you! Taking one day at a time and happy that we are now at Level 2 and that Norval Foundation reopens on 2 September with four new exhibitions.

For those who don’t know you, professionally speaking, how do you choose to describe yourself?

I am passionate about what I do, as I believe in the power of art to initiate change, on an individual and broader social level. My work is an integral part of my life. I have been involved in the art world in various capacities for the past 24 years: as an avid collector, as a commercial gallerist for 13 years, as an art consultant to corporates, individual clients, families, and schools wishing to establish or grow art collections and, for the past six years, as a museum professional. Throughout this time I have also been involved in many philanthropic, fundraising art projects and events, such as school and charity art auctions. Throughout my career, I have sought not only to contribute to the cultural ecosystem in Africa but to promote modern and contemporary art and the creative industries in Africa to the rest of the world.

1.artwork credit Edoardo Villa photo credit Stephanie Veldman
Photo credit: Stephanie Veldman

As the CEO of Norval Foundation, what does an average day look like for you?

Pre-COVID, my average day would involve waking early, going to the gym, having breakfast and then travelling through to Norval Foundation in Steenberg. A day at the Foundation would be a diverse and stimulating combination of engagement with talented, curious, creative, committed, brilliant people (artists, curators, patrons, visiting school groups and many more), planning of our new programme, and managing the income streams from our shop and popular Skotnes restaurant. Each day felt like a ‘lucky packet’ – never predictable, but always rewarding. During COVID, this has, of course, changed, as I have had to adjust to working remotely and meetings have had to be conducted on Zoom. Still, my days have felt fuller than ever, as planning for our spring reopening has gone full steam ahead.

How has Norval Foundation been affected by the global pandemic and national lockdown?

We closed our doors on 16 March, so we have been closed for a total of 195 days. The crisis has hit the cultural world very hard, and we are of course saddened to have suffered serious losses during lockdown.

6rtwork credit Edoardo Villa photo credit Stephanie Veldman
Photo credit: Stephanie Veldman

Norval Foundation and Cape Town City Ballet have recently collaborated on a dance film called Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture, to honour the work of William Kentridge. What was the collaboration process like? What sparked the idea of collaboration?

I met with Debbie Turner, CEO of Cape Town City Ballet, some time ago to explore ways to work together, recognising that the future of the cultural sector depends on a more collaborative model of working. This is essential if we are to adapt to the challenges of our time. Museums worldwide are looking at how dance – which until now has been performed almost exclusively in theatres – can be experienced in a more interactive and experimental museum context. The museum setting allows dance artists to engage with and interpret the artworks in a way that generates new and exhilarating meanings and possibilities.

What do you hope audiences take away from this collaboration?

In these difficult times, we believe art in all its expressions brings solace, hope and inspiration. We hope audiences feel moved and uplifted by the short collaborative film.

You have been involved in the launches of both Norval Foundation and Zeitz MOCAA. What goes into launching a new museum?

Launching a museum, like any other major cultural project, begins with an ambitious vision. To ensure that this can be implemented, the project strategies need to be based on extensive research, analysis and planning. A huge amount of work goes into the creation of cultural institutions like these and requires a dedicated team of people to manage the process. The design and construction of a world-class building that meets international museum standards for exhibition and storage of art of different media is just the beginning.  As well as creating a suitable environment for exhibiting artworks and accommodating an extensive art collection, a museum needs to establish and manage a library, an archive, and other educational resources. And of course, a talented, committed team of people is required to create an exciting, socially engaged and original exhibition and education programme, supported by public events and outreach programmes. I take pride in having played a part in the creation of two excellent museums in the service of society.

What do you hope to contribute to the South African artistic landscape?

I hope to contribute by developing new audiences, drawing in and welcoming those who may have previously felt that art was somehow beyond their reach. I wish to instil in people a love of all art forms: music, the visual arts, and the performing arts.

2 rtwork credit Edoardo Villa photo credit Stephanie Veldman
Photo credit: Stephanie Veldman

How are you feeling about the current state of the arts industry in South Africa?

I take courage and inspiration from the writer and poet Ben Okri. In response to the crisis we are now facing, he writes, “It struck me that this is a time when we need art more than ever. We need art to remind us why life is worth living. We need art to reawaken our sense of the wonder of being, to remind us of our freedom, and to highlight the things in our cultures that enable us to withstand the dreaded visage of death.” The contemporary art that I engage with on a regular basis challenges me to reconsider how I understand myself and how I understand others. Perhaps this is what is so exciting about living in South Africa and working with artists from across the African continent. There is an opportunity to constantly revisit our reality, to see things in a different, more considered and empathetic, way. Many of the artistic practices we engage with are a response to South Africa’s fraught history and deeply entrenched race and gender inequalities, and so carry deeply political, socially conscious messages. Athi-Patra Ruga’s work, for example, reflects on the destructive ideologies that have allowed such inequalities to persist beyond apartheid, but offers hope, by imagining alternative possibilities in dynamic ways. He is currently working on an atrium commission for Norval Foundation, the first iteration of which will be opened to the public on 2 September.

What can the general public do to further support the arts industry?

I would encourage people to visit museums, galleries and other cultural institutions often and, where possible, buy a membership. Norval Foundation is currently offering a special Norval Foundation Access Membership, which, for just R120, grants free access to the museum and sculpture garden for a year. Memberships can be purchased online.

What online platform or social media account should we all be following right now?

Norval Foundation, Skotnes Restaurant, Chandler House, Hemelhuijs, Stevenson Gallery and SMAC Gallery.

Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture is now available to stream online. To purchase a viewing of the film click here.

Norval Foundation reopens to the public on September 2nd.

For more information about Cape Town City Ballet visit their website.

Join Norval Foundation on YouTube.

All photos were taken by Stephanie Veldman.

Special thanks to Christine Skinner.

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