The Bag Factory, formlly known as The Fordsburg Artists’ Studios, is a non-profit organisation established as a Section 21 Company in 1991 to provide studio space for visual artists and promote the visual arts. Under apartheid, South Africa endured numerous cultural setbacks as a result of restrictive governmental policies and the international cultural boycott imposed against the country. As a result, generations of South Africans were cut off from the international art scene. Due to this country’s historical legacy and owing to local educational institutions’ necessary focus on technical and skills-based learning, with an emphasis on subjects like maths, science and accounting for job creation purposes, South Africa’s education system suffers from a marked deficit in humanities education. The Bag Factory was created to overcome these setbacks by supporting local visual artists, promoting the visual arts in South Africa, encouraging international networking through its residency programme, and catching up with the rest of the world by ‘filling the gaps’ in arts education offered by educational institutions.
The building, located strategically in Newtown/Fordsburg, near the Oriental Plaza, contains 18 studios, as well as workshop and exhibition spaces. It attracts audiences from areas surrounding the city, notably Soweto. Since 1991, the Bag Factory has provided one of the very few, and at times the only, dedicated spaces for visual arts studios in Johannesburg. Over the years, it has focused on developing a programme that stands for inclusion and diversity, built on an idea of open access, particularly to individual constituents and community groups who had been historically excluded from mainstream education and creative resources.
Over the last 21 years, Johannesburg has gone through radical changes. The area around the Bag Factory, for instance, is developing into an active cultural precinct attracting artists and local audiences to an ever-growing number of events. In recent years, new commercial spaces have also opened in the city, offering visibility and a possibility of commercial success to a growing number of artists. While these developments are contributing to a healthy and diverse arts scene within Johannesburg, few spaces have focused their attention on artists’ professional development through experimental projects and activities that instigate dialogue and exchange of ideas, critically engaging practising artists and communities in the processes and developments of making and appreciating the visual arts, as we have. In this, the Bag Factory has maintained a distinctive role within the life of the city with its studio provision scheme, its exhibitions and residencies, but also with its educational workshops and training opportunities for artists and community groups, and organisations led by a diverse group of artists and specialists. Local collaborations have included working with the Artist Proof Studios (printmaking), the Johannesburg Art Gallery, FUNDA Community College in Soweto, the Market Photo Laboratory (photography) and other NPOs, as well as schools, colleges and universities.
The Bag Factory provides a service to:
• resident artists (who hail from around the country and continent)
• visiting artists (from other provinces, regions and countries)
• the Johannesburg arts community (including curators, viewers, critics, students)
• other community organisations across the country (schools, prison rehabilitation programmes, social upliftment projects)
• artists who wish to upgrade their digital skills and require training, computers and equipment to do so.