United Proactive Artists (UPA) is a non-profit organisation relying solely on donations from philanthropic individuals and corporate. However, from these donation self-sustaining projects for artists will be founded.
UPA is founded to assist indigent artist with regard to their well-being, minimum standards of livelihood, to meet medical bills in times of emergency ill-health of artists with no wherewithal, and to look after them in old age in addition to the governmental social grants. This is the prime objective of organisation UPA.
The secondary objective of UPA is found constant work for artists, both young and old – imminent projects will be announced for next year to this end. These are to stage year-round festivals for performing artists where they can perform their works and have a constant source of income.
For art disciplines such as film and painting UPA will start by funding small-scale productions and works towards exhibitions. For writers it is to fund three-months writing retreats.
UPA will derive certain percentage from works that it has funded once they are sold either via third-parties or through the organisation’s self-initiated projects.
The artists behind The Walk for Cultural Change:
Bekezela Vusi Mhlongo is an artist, filmmaker and producer who wears his heart on his sleeve. As a playwright he has created the anti-xenophobia revue titled The Voice from Kilimanjaro for which he won the award that recognises people who sensitise society to xenophobic issues. The theatrical piece has toured extensively abroad and play at some notable theatres in the country. He has also produced and directed two documentaries Mgababa From the Ashes and Realities Beyond Fame that had been broadcast on the national PBS channel SABC 1.
Mgababa From the Ashes is based on Mhlongo’s coastal suburb, five minutes outside of Durban central, which, as the rest of KZN and East Rand on the reef, saw fiercely violent clashes between ANC-aligned UDF and IFP. Mgababa From the Ashes was flagship of SABC 1 documentary series TRC From Below, the TRC in the title being based on South Africa’s famed attempt at a post-Apartheid quasi-judiciary truth-confession and reconciliation process known as Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) between former perpetrators of political terror and its victims. This was SABC PBS sectoral media truth and reconciliation exposé. Realities Beyond Fame was an uncommissioned, self-initiated two-year documentary on the plight of artists which always had a broader vision and intention than being a mere film.
It is from here that the extra-art social investment project in the form of The Walk for Cultural Change, which has its aim to found a non-profit organization run along business principles to assist and fund art projects. Mhlongo has practically established a home shelter for many indigent and struggling artists in his own place of abode in Yeoville, north-east Johannesburg, where he lives. However, he will be the first to admit that the place needs proper furnishing and refurbishments. But still many artists who came to Johannesburg with no place to stay have lived in Mhlongo’s place, and, as such home is likely to be a revolving-door location, there are many that currently resides there.
Mhlongo originates from the coastal residential suburb Mgababa, five minutes off the coastal resort city Durban. He has been around Johannesburg for more than ten years trying to make ends meet as a theatre director and a filmmaker. He is the founder of the film production house Afrowood Multimedia, which has produced the two said documentary films. He foresees Afrowood Multimedia not just as production house but as encapsulating the goal of creating a viable film industry in the country:
“Afrowood is not the name of the company. Or rather, should I say that the name of my company is based on filmmaking in Africa. Afrowood can rival Hollywood. Why not? We can do so with proper investment in filming and looking after artists. Africa should be the place where all African artists aspire to make it. Artists should know that if you haven’t made it in Afrowood, then you haven’t made it yet,” he says with a wicked chuckle.
As a cultural activist with a deep social conscience Mhlongo has been involved for close to eight years with an immigrants’ rights organization that fights xenophobia and provide social and legal assistance to immigrants in the country called International Community Unifier (ICU), which is based in Johannesburg CBD. His theatre work Voice from Kilimanjaro is the flagship piece of the organization ICU in its effort to raise awareness about xenophobic behaviour that engulfed South Africa as it entered post-apartheid political dispensation.