Lifelong dedication to communities’ art education

The commemoration held at the Curriculum Development Project (CDP) offices in Bertrams, Johannesburg,  on Saturday May 19 spoke powerfully of every-thing that arts educator Charlotte Schaer had worked for in her productive 65 years.

The inner-city space, a cheery compound shared by the One-in-Nine campaign, the Sophiatown Counselling Project and the Curriculum Development Project, is a gallery of mosaics, murals and photo essays that tell of the life-changing projects Schaer initiated or was involved in that used visual art in a three-pronged strategy for social transformation: income generation, counselling and advocacy.

From her early involvement with the National Education Union of South Africa, the National Education Policy Investigation, the drafting of the first arts and culture curriculum for schools as well as her underground publishing activities that resulted in the production of a book on struggle posters, Images of Defiance, in 1991, Schaer went on to establish countless community-based art education -projects.

She was a leading figure in many key local arts education moments during the past four decades, including the Art Educators Association, the Imiboni Yentsha workshops, all the post-1994 learning area committees, the curriculum advisory groups of the past decade and a half, the establishment of the Flemish government-funded advanced certificate of education in arts and culture and the Artists in Schools programmes with Wits University and many other initiatives. These included the Curriculum Development Project projects in Johannesburg, the advanced certificate of education programmes in Mpumalanga and Gauteng and collaborations at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

The Linnaeus-Palme arts education exchange programme between the University of the Witwatersrand and the Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft and Design in Stockholm, Sweden, was also made possible through her extensive network and vision for developing arts educators.

A fundamental right
Art in early childhood development was something she regarded as a fundamental right for children and she initiated countrywide training for practitioners. She also -published the Creative Beginnings manual for adults working with -children, written by Cape Town-based artist and educator Lindy Solomon.

In recent years, Schaer’s close partnerships with organisations such as People Opposing Women Abuse, the One-in-Nine campaign,the  Sophiatown Counselling project and the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition meant that her large and diverse family of friends grew enormously, many of whom came last Saturday to pay their respects and pledge to continue what she had urged them to start.

Schaer was more often than not at the forefront of these initiatives, offering compelling arguments for decisions and actions that helped people to understand why arts -education was integral to the radical understanding of social justice in a country that she was deeply committed to and loved.

This was a commitment that was often enormously demanding, but she never wavered in the extraordinary focus for creating spaces of heightened agency and reimagined humanity through her arts activism.

Theresa Giorza works in the arts division of the Wits school of 
education. David Andrew is head 
of art at the Wits school of the arts.

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