#CreativeUprising Q&A: Thobile Chittenden of Room13

#CreativeUprising Q&A: Thobile Chittenden of Room13

Over the next few days in the lead-up to the ACT | UJ Creative Conference, we will be posting several op-eds from our ACT Team members as well as the conference presenters & performers. This will allow the delegates to interact with some of the key themes and ideas around this year’s #CreativeUprising.

Today’s Op-Ed Q&A comes from Thobile Chittenden from Room13,  catch her in conversation with Motsumi Makene on Thursday 27th July 2017 where she will be looking at the role of the community in creativity amidst the 4th Industrial Revolution. 



THE ARTS & CULTURE TRUST (ACT): Please briefly describe the work that you are involved in?

THOBILE CHITTENDEN (TC): I run a social marketing company that is passionate about uplifting youth and families, a not-for-profit that specialises in educational and behavioural change programmes. Through face-to-face interaction and on–the-ground intervention, we aim to create a sense of individual responsibility. We believe in creating shared value for our clients and the power of collaboration and innovation. Our vision is to make meaningful, measurable and magical differences in the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged youth.

ACT: Why do you feel that creativity and the creative economy are essential for South Africa? 

TC: I’m sure most people are aware of Africa’s youth bulge; 60% of the workforce in Africa is under 30 years old and it is critical that South Africa turns its fast-growing young population into a dividend rather than a burden. Education and training for future skills is a vital part of realising this potential. We are also very aware of the challenge we face in terms of youth unemployment. The root of unemployment is not only a lack of jobs; but a key underlying issue is also the inadequately educated workforce. This challenge is likely to be amplified in the coming years due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Study, the result could be a loss of over five million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies, including South Africa. Building the right talent for our jobs of today and tomorrow is therefore critical.

“How?” you may ask, well the answer is simple – through teaching creative thinking.

According to World Economic Forum (WEF) the top 3 skills in 2020 will be:

  1. Complex problem saving
  2. Critical thinking and

It’s essential that the upcoming generation of South Africans are whole brain thinkers and that they use both the left and right hemisphere of the brain in order to solve social and economic problems in innovative and meaningful ways.

ACT: Room13 works as a ‘third space’ for many. How does the work that you do foster confidence, skills development and open up opportunities for participants? 

TC: Room 13 as you rightly say is that “Third Space” that all of us as humans need- we have our homes as the first space, school or work as the second but we all need that third space in which we can express ourselves- whether it be the sports field, the gym or even a club. Room 13 is a safe and free space for youth to unfurl their imagination and express their creativity in visual and/or performing arts. We have a strict “no judgement” policy which allows the learners that attend to gain the confidence they need by testing their thoughts and feelings in a secure and protected environment, this also ensures that anyone feels like they can participate, meaning that Room 13 is not just for select “talented” few- it’s for anyone and everyone because we believe that we are all creative. In addition, this enables students to develop and grow at their own pace. Our artists that facilitate the studio sessions do not follow a formal curriculum as we believe that this opens up an opportunity for healing from the difficulties that the learners often face in the first and second spaces. However, Room 13 is not just about creative expression. We also teach key entrepreneurial skills enabling the programme to become sustainable as learners need to find inventive ways to fund basics such as art materials and outings.

ACT: Since the advent of #RhodesMustFall, the full potential of the voice of the youth has been realised. What are your thoughts on this? 

TC: I think this is just the beginning, and that our full potential has not been realised yet. Working in the youth space for over 10 years I know the struggle of trying to get corporates and governments to listen to and action the requests of the youth. #RhodesMustFall is the result of these parties not listening, but gave the citizens of our country a huge wake up call. Now, slowly but surely they are starting to understand the importance and the role of the youth. This is why platforms like the ACT | UJ Creative Conference are so significant because it provides an opportunity for the youth and the various decision makers to interact, discuss and work together on solutions that affect us all.

ACT: What is the importance of conferences like the ACT | UJ Creative Conference for organizations like Room13 and the arts & culture sector in South Africa as a whole? 

TC: The ACT | UJ Creative Conference is vital, as I truly do believe in the power of collaboration and I think the #CreativeUprising Conference assists in providing a platform for this. Instead of struggling in silos we can learn, partner and teach each other. I am certain that the majority of the obstacles we face in the arts and culture sector are shared. I think that the coming together of the various groups in this industry can create a strong movement for Arts Education in South Africa. We are seeing corporates and government departments rally behind the support of Maths and Science, Entrepreneurship and ICT initiatives and the arts are being sorely neglected. We as a collective need to change this narrative and voice, share and provide evidence of why the arts are just as important and why they need at least an equal proportion of funding. I think that the conference is a great way to discuss this strategy.

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