The Norval Foundation Board of Trustees is made up of the likes of Nonkululeko Nyembezi, Louis Norval, Norval Foundation CEO Elana Brundyn and now the iconic Carol Bouwer.
In this exclusive Q&A, Carol and Elana give us insight into Louis Norval’s vision and on how Norval Foundation plans to celebrate South Africa’s culture, diversity and encourage patriotism during this time of uncertainty.
Carol, with your background as a television presenter, producer and production company owner, you bring fresh insight to the board. How do you see this translating into your new role?
I believe what is critical for us to use my experience as a producer to bring curated experiences into the foundation. Ensuring that we curate learning, entertainment and cultural appreciation experiences that enhance the quality of life of our people. I also believe that it’s essential that I assist the Norval family in communicating the most critical part of their vision, to help South Africans see how spaces are created for their own introspective growth that interrogates their history through the arts as well as education.
You’ve joined the team at Norval Foundation in their mission to become a globally recognised art institution that encourages a wider museum-going audience in South Africa. In this time of strategy and planning, can you share your approach?
As with all our global partnerships, whether in the philanthropy space or beauty industry; we bring the right people along. I have always been cognisant of my calling to never enter any space alone. I will bring with me an engaged family of supporters who are highly accomplished but who are also in growth mode who learn as I learn, grow as I grow and stagnate if I dare to. The Mbokodo Awards have also helped me travel the world for significant art events that allow me to broaden the conversation about what we aim to achieve. Through the talk show Motswako we have worked over the years to remain in conversation with the nation and it’s a platform that will be helpful as we engage the nation on the breadth of culture. I am also conscious of the need to up my social media game to remain culturally informative while attracting new arts ambassadors. I remain proudly South African but globally engaged as I see the benefits for our people when we share our heritage with pride and via conscious communication.
Your experience and know-how of the arts and media landscape in South Africa will prove invaluable as Norval Foundation continues to plan high-quality exhibitions and public programming to broaden our understanding of the visual arts. Can you reveal some of your plans for the museum?
I truly believe in an organic plan to ensure that we attract media as well as social partners to Norval Foundation, not because of commercial agreements but because there is recognition of the enormity of what this family has bequeathed our nation with. Louis Norval has undertaken the audacious task of sharing his love of the arts with the nation by gifting Cape Town, South Africa and indeed Africa with a premium institution on par with any in the world.
Louis Norval is facilitating education and empowerment for the nation; we simply need to tell the story of this vision and our people in all their glory will walk alongside us. I also think the most eminent South Africans have chosen to lend their muscle to the Foundation. We must ensure that the women on our continent know that Elana Brundyn with her illustrious background in the art world, chose to attach her name as CEO to this great monument and to serve with Nku Heita Nyembezi who is one of the most respected African women in leadership in our country and the world. I as a woman will also be learning from giants whose wisdom I will surely share openly. The first thing I am excited to do is to support Mareli Voster’s instinct for community upliftment which will be the heartbeat of Norval Foundation. The health of our country is dependent on the health of our communities and Elana has a deep understanding of this. I am immensely proud to join this group of accomplished individuals - only mentioning the women for brevity!
Elana, how did this exciting development of welcoming Carol to the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees come about? How will Carol’s involvement further build on Norval Foundation’s vision?
A: Like so many of us I have admired Carol greatly for the wonderful work she does, as well as her passion for philanthropy and female empowerment. She started The Mbokodo Awards, recognising women who have shown leadership, growth and have dedicated their lives to improving the arts. She is a UNICEF ambassador, working to assist impoverished children in Africa. Carol inspires me through her willingness and hard work to improve the world around her.
Having been fortunate to be an adjudicator on the Mbokodo Awards in 2017, I got to know the woman behind her persona. We understood the value Carol could bring as a Trustees on the Norval Foundation Board, so we approached her in the hope that she would join. Running a successful museum requires a very wide range of skills. And I believe Carol will contribute not only to the strategic direction of Norval Foundation, and help to ensure good governance, but Carol’s incredible relationships and unique skillset will bring a valuable perspective to a young museum in Africa. We are delighted to welcome Carol on this journey and look forward to the grace, glamour and kindness she will surely bring to the role.
You are celebrating two decades in the contemporary art industry and have been instrumental in placing South Africa on the international art map. You serve as a trustee on the Harvard Centre For African Studies Advisory Board, Stellenbosch Outdoor Trust, Norval Foundation and the Gerard Sekoto Foundation. Please tell us about your own work on the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees?
I believe in the influencing power of creativity and the creative industries, especially the museum platform. Museums tell stories for the advancement of knowledge. For years, I dreamt of being involved in art initiatives where I could contribute to the greater good of both artists and art lovers, beyond the confines of a commercial gallery. This was realised over the past five years building Cape Town’s public platforms including Norval Foundation and Zeitz MOCAA.
I see my role on the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees to ensure, in collaboration with the other trustees, that the foundation acts in accordance with its mission of making art available to our community and to manage our activities and objectives. I believe we are acting as ambassadors and seeking out relationships and partnerships that can contribute to building Norval Foundation’s programme, reputation and capital fund. We are responsible for researching and setting a strategic framework which enables Norval Foundation to flourish.
A former commercial gallerist, you are a frequent presenter on museum planning and management in Africa, and at professional conferences and art fairs such as MiArt, Milan 2019; Abu Dhabi Culture Summit 2019, Sotheby’s Les Rencontres Panel Discussion 2018 and AKAA Paris 2018. These are interesting times for the arts, please tell us your views on the role of the arts and museums at this strange moment in time?
My view is that museums are no longer merely centres for culture, but vital educational institutions that can have a profound effect on society as well as on public discourse. Museums can testify to other cultures, identities and faiths in ways that go beyond the spoken or written word and provide ways for us to understand other people’s realities, histories and influences. This uniquely compelling form of communication is what makes art, design and creativity, in general, such a powerful force in favour of better understanding and empathy - both of which we need much more of in the world today.
In this time of disruption, the role of the arts is to take stock of our role in society and the value we bring. Introspection is very important in critical, power-shifting moments. We need to remember that we are people-centred organisations and we need to use data to gain insight into our visitors’ perceptions, behaviours and expectations. We have recently launched our Norval Foundation #60SecondArt initiative which will continue past Lockdown. We need to rethink our curatorial programmes and embrace inclusion and truth-telling. I am reminded daily in these turbulent times, that you don’t change the world simply by looking at it but you change it through the way you choose to live in it.