1945 – 1949
Our Art Centre was the initial idea of Mr George Veldsman, dramatist and headmaster of St. Philips School, Chapel Street in District Six. At the time, youngsters were troublesome in the streets and there was talk of more reformatories. In 1945 George Veldsman met with Sydney McKie and Ursula Strydom, both teachers at the school and together they decided to do something about the problem. It was agreed to use the school premises after hours to provide an after school programme and thirteen teachers volunteered to instruct children in whichever activity the teacher was competent.
Activities included painting, needlework, clay-modelling and boxing, to name but a few. Thus three hundred children began working in classrooms, and in the school hall – every week redirecting surplus energy into creative activity.
The Rotary Club donated ?100 towards the start of work and later the education authorities supplied some materials. After one year the children’s paintings were exhibited in the Argus Gallery in Burg Street. The exhibition was well received. After several appeals to the Education Department, finally in 1949 it recognised the immense potential of an Art Centre, the first of its kind, to be a means of self expression for Cape Town’s less privileged children.
1950 – 1969
As early as 1950, the Art Centre was relocated and housed in a wonderful old building (recently disclosed to have previously been a synagogue) in Victoria Walk Woodstock.
The facilities available were a photographic room, painting studio, craft room, print room, textile studio, ceramic block an reference library.
Teaching was of an outstanding quality. The Principal was Sydney McKie, and the teachers at that time were Ursula Strydom, Vernon Fisher, Esther Perkins and Joan Lawrence. The programme catered for everyone:
- Grade R to Grade 12 –visual arts and crafts
- Evening classes for adults offered painting, drawing and ceramics
- Saturday classes for those unable to attend during the week
- In-service teacher training programmes
This progressive and growing institution was not to survive the wrath of the Group Areas Act. In 1969 the government decided that Woodstock Hospital needed to be extended, that the Art Centre was to be demolished and the land used for the extension of the hospital. The Art Centre was demolished and sadly to-date the land is still vacant.
1970 – 1985
The Art Centre’s predicament was brought to the attention of the Rev. John Forbes (later the Dean of Pietermaritzburg). At the time John Forbes was the Warden and Estate Manager of Zonnebloem. It was he who came to the rescue of the Art Centre which was then headed by August J. Hopley and assisted by Vernon Fischer and Manora Isaacs.
The Art Centre took up residence in a three roomed prefabricated building on the Zonnebloem Estate around 1970. Austere conditions aside: no running water and storage cupboards in the studios, the Art Centre survived and was returned to District Six. This move to smaller premises 2kms away resulted in a dramatic change of programme and students.
1986 – 2008
In 1986 due to financial constraints, the Education Department merged our Art Centre with the Battswood Art Centre in Wynberg. The Children’s Art Centre thus became a satellite campus of the Battswood Art Centre. The result was a loss of autonomy for the Art Centre as it then fell under the directorship of Mr Ross who was responsible for managing both Art Centres which were situated 40 km apart.
In 1997, Mr Mills, the Estate Manager of the Zonnebloem Estate, granted the Art Centre – another prefabricated building, which comprises of an additional three large studios with ablution facilities. These additional premises allowed the Art Centre to cater for additional learners and schools- enabling the entire local Primary School community access to excellent visual art education resources on a weekly basis.
2009 – Present
In 2009, the Western Cape Education Department granted The Children’s Art Centre its autonomy and we were once again allowed to operate independently and focus on the best interests of our current and prospective communities.