Public Art in Joburg – the West Side Story Part 1

Taking a walk in Joburg’s inner-city city may just surprise you for all the right reasons… [The brilliant photos are by Wesley Poon]

Ask anyone who lives here to describe the city of Joburg and they rarely extol its beauty. Mostly they point out it’s a city without a sea and until the Nelson Mandela Bridge it was a city without any remarkable landmarks that aren’t communication towers or apartment blocks. And those are the polite remarks.

Over the past five years, it’s a little known fact that the city has installed an impressive and growing number of public artworks – at last count at more than 50 sites. In 2006 a strategy was put in place to use public art as a way of fulfilling a range of Joburg’s developing needs. It called for a public art levy, a common global practice, that would devote up to one percent of the construction budget on major city building projects to this end. This was implemented by the Johannesburg Development Agency at a time when the city has been undergoing something of a boom, and it will continue.

The unofficial public art in the city - District 9

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Why coffee is the key to urban renewal

#158. Go for a city walk. With the John Moffat Building at Wits University celebrating 50 years of being, today was declared a “Grand Day of [architectural] Celebrations”. So we joined the small crowd at the University for an urban walking tour taking in 40 of Joburg’s best historic buildings.
The route started at Brickfields, the social housing development that has transformed Newtown, bringing in high-volume residential accommodation that can sustain all the amenities that make city life worth living – coffee shops, a book shop, art galleries and restaurants. From there we crossed to the Market Theatre (once the Indian fruit market but that was in the the 1930s) to stand in Mary Fitzgerald Square and take in the view of Museum Africa on one side and one of the city’s hostel compounds for its mineworkers (now the Worker’s Museum) that was built in the late 1800s. Then this place was a crazy tented camp town that probably (to my mind anyway) looked and felt a lot like Deadwood Continue reading