Q&A: Words on the Times – Carol Bouwer & Elana Brundyn, Norval Foundation – women leading in the arts in a time of disruption

AiW guests: Carol Bouwer and Elana Brundyn

“We must ensure that the women on our continent know that Elana Brundyn with her illustrious background in the art world, chose to attach her name as CEO to this great monument, and to serve with Nku Heita Nyembezi who is one of the most respected African women in leadership in our country and the world. I as a woman will also be learning from giants whose wisdom I will surely share openly.”

— Carol Bouwer, founder The Mbokodo Awards, an event to recognise women who have shown leadership, fostered growth and made efforts to strengthen the arts.

Elana Brundyn and Carol Bouwer

A long-time supporter of art and culture, SA’s legendary media entrepreneur Carol Bouwer recently joined the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees, alongside members Nonkululeko Nyembezi, Louis Norval, Steve Kettle, Mareli Voster, Gary Vogelman, Karel Nel, and Norval Foundation CEO Elana Brundyn.

Trailblazing women in the arts, Carol and Elana offer two Q&As for us here – their Words on the Times, an AiW Q&A set that aims to connect the blog’s communities through their experiences of the pandemic; and a further discussion that took place at the Norval Foundation, which provides an insight into the Foundation’s vision, in and beyond this time of disruption.

Words on the Times with Elana Brundyn.

AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your own work and the ways that the pandemic has altered your plans?

C. Norval Foundation website- https://www.norvalfoundation.org/kids/

Elana Brundyn: At Norval Foundation we have successfully put on 16 exhibitions since opening and in the process brought a lively array of cultural experiences and ideas to Cape Town and South Africa. We celebrate creativity, teach and stimulate questions about our world, and engage audiences of all ages by creating an enriching experience for all visitors. Artists, musicians, scholars, collectors and curators, and of course the general public have physically visited our exhibitions and public programmes. With COVID-19 we have had to close the Foundation and stop the programme. The artworks stand in the closed, dark galleries and no one sees or experiences the work physically, which is very sad especially for the many school kids we took on daily tours.

We had to find ways to still educate or teach using our exhibitions as a tool, and we developed Norval #60SecondArt clips and pursued new collaborations – most recently with Cape City Ballet. We are still finding our way daily in this new normal by researching and developing new ways to reach our audiences and share our art.

AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
EB: Working daily in my home office via Zoom calls and many many mails.
It has been wonderful to see how the Norval Team works together effectively from a distance.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
EB: Looking out of my home office window and seeing majestic Table Mountain does lift my spirits. I have been inspired by peoples’ inner strength and the deeper sense of gratitude, almost a post-traumatic growth.

I remind myself of the Darwin quote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”

AiW: How can our communities support you?
EB: I hope that business will be exploring stronger and creative partnerships with cultural institutions. We need each other for relevance and responsibility.

Words on the Times with Carol Bouwer.

AiW: Can you tell us a bit about your own work and the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered your plans?
Carol Bouwer: As a new member of the Norval Foundation family, my initial enthusiasm was aligned with finding ways to attract new art lovers and young minds determined to be part of the new art paradigm in our country. What COVID denied me it also compensated in that the Foundation quickly tapped into the newly focused energy of the nation. I think through the art education inserts online, the new audience has not only been attracted but it has been kept captivated through compelling content. Personally our talk show has kept me busy as we prepare to go back on air. The preparation has had to include COVID friendly guidelines to keep everyone safe -and that has been a huge learning curve. In terms of travel I have never been grounded for so long and it has been a welcome break! I think I miss travel less than I miss the rituals associated with it!


Norval Foundation, courtesy of Dave Southwood

AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
CB: Because of limited access to staff, I have renewed skills that had become stale. I can’t walk to someone’s desk and say do this or do that and as it feels tedious to call for menial jobs, I am now doing them myself and increasingly happy about it. I work from home which is not kind on my physique (regular refrigerator runs) but it is teaching self governance when it comes to time which I welcome.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
CB: I belong to a group in the community that has been donating and making food for those most in need and it has taught me not to assume that the world is filled with selfish attitudes. It has been heartwarming to see our numbers swell daily to be of service to others and I am determined to spread that goodwill. I have found that people are kinder.

AiW: How can our communities support you?
CB: The art world has not received many of the benefits from government that industries have, the best support you can give me is to support artists! Across the divergent disciplines, musicians, sculptors, painters to dancers and actors! Buy their services and spread the word about their talent!

Yinka Shonibare CBE
Wind Sculpture SG (III), 2018. In the Sculpture Garden at the Norval Foundation. Photo by Dave Southwood.

In the Q&A below, Lucienne van Pul talks to Carol and Elana about their critical vision for the Norval Foundation spaces, the #60SecondArt initiative continuing beyond Lockdown, and how they aim to further the museum as a site that testifies to “other cultures, identities and faiths in ways that go beyond the spoken or written word”.

The Norval Foundation is currently developing protocols for when the museum eventually reopens, with controlled numbers in the restaurant and galleries. In the beautiful sculpture garden art can be enjoyed in nature, with social distancing and safety in place.

Lucienne van Pul: Carol, with your background as a television presenter, producer and production company owner, you bring fresh insight to the board. How do you see this translating into your new role?

Carol Bouwer: I believe what is critical for us to use my experience as a producer to bring curated experiences into the foundation. Ensuring that we curate learning, entertainment and cultural appreciation experiences that enhance the quality of life of our people. I also believe that it’s essential that I assist the Norval family in communicating the most critical part of their vision, to help South Africans see how spaces are created for their own introspective growth that interrogates their history through the arts as well as education.


Norval Foundation

LVP: You’ve joined the team at Norval Foundation in their mission to become a globally recognised art institution that encourages a wider museum-going audience in South Africa. In this time of strategy and planning, can you share your approach?

CB: As with all our global partnerships, whether in the philanthropy space or beauty industry; we bring the right people along. I have always been cognisant of my calling to never enter any space alone. I will bring with me an engaged family of supporters who are highly accomplished but who are also in growth mode who learn as I learn, grow as I grow and stagnate if I dare to. The Mbokodo Awards have also helped me travel the world for significant art events that allow me to broaden the conversation about what we aim to achieve. Through the talk show Motswako we have worked over the years to remain in conversation with the nation and it’s a platform that will be helpful as we engage the nation on the breadth of culture. I am also conscious of the need to up my social media game to remain culturally informative while attracting new arts ambassadors. I remain proudly South African but globally engaged as I see the benefits for our people when we share our heritage with pride and via conscious communication.

LVP: Your experience and know-how of the arts and media landscape in South Africa will prove invaluable as Norval Foundation continues to plan high-quality exhibitions and public programming to broaden our understanding of the visual arts. Can you reveal some of your plans for the museum?

CB: I truly believe in an organic plan to ensure that we attract media as well as social partners to Norval Foundation, not because of commercial agreements but because there is recognition of the enormity of what this family has bequeathed our nation with. Louis Norval has undertaken the audacious task of sharing his love of the arts with the nation by gifting Cape Town, South Africa and indeed Africa with a premium institution on par with any in the world.

Louis Norval is facilitating education and empowerment for the nation, we simply need to tell the story of this vision and our people in all their glory will walk alongside us. I also think the most eminent South Africans have chosen to lend their muscle to the Foundation. We must ensure that the women on our continent know that Elana Brundyn with her illustrious background in the art world, chose to attach her name as CEO to this great monument, and to serve with Nku Heita Nyembezi who is one of the most respected African women in leadership in our country and the world. I as a woman will also be learning from giants whose wisdom I will surely share openly. The first thing I am excited to do is to support Mareli Voster’s instinct for community upliftment which will be the heartbeat of Norval Foundation. The health of our country is dependent on the health of our communities and Elana has a deep understanding of this. I am immensely proud to join this group of accomplished individuals – only mentioning the women for brevity!

LVP: Elana, how did this exciting development of welcoming Carol to the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees come about? How will Carol’s involvement further build on Norval Foundation’s vision?

Elana Brundyn: Like so many of us I have admired Carol greatly for the wonderful work she does, as well as her passion for philanthropy and female empowerment. She started The Mbokodo Awards, recognising women who have shown leadership, growth and have dedicated their lives to improving the arts. She is a UNICEF ambassador, working to assist impoverished children in Africa. Carol inspires me through her willingness and hard work to improve the world around her.


Norval Foundation, courtesy of Dave Southwood

Having been fortunate to be an adjudicator on the Mbokodo Awards in 2017, I got to know the woman behind her persona. We understood the value Carol could bring as a Trustees on the Norval Foundation Board, so we approached her in the hope that she would join. Running a successful museum requires a very wide range of skills. And I believe Carol will contribute not only to the strategic direction of Norval Foundation, and help to ensure good governance, but Carol’s incredible relationships and unique skillset will bring a valuable perspective to a young museum in Africa. We are delighted to welcome Carol on this journey and look forward to the grace, glamour and kindness she will surely bring to the role.

LVP: You are celebrating two decades in the contemporary art industry and have been instrumental in placing South Africa on the international art map. You serve as a trustee on the Harvard Centre For African Studies Advisory Board, Stellenbosch Outdoor Trust, Norval Foundation and the Gerard Sekoto Foundation. Please tell us about your own work on the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees?

EB: I believe in the influencing power of creativity and the creative industries, especially the museum platform. Museums tell stories for the advancement of knowledge. For years, I dreamt of being involved in art initiatives where I could contribute to the greater good of both artists and art lovers, beyond the confines of a commercial gallery. This was realised over the past five years building Cape Town’s public platforms including Norval Foundation and Zeitz MOCAA.

I see my role on the Norval Foundation Board of Trustees to ensure, in collaboration with the other trustees, that the foundation acts in accordance with its mission of making art available to our community and to manage our activities and objectives. I believe we are acting as ambassadors and seeking out relationships and partnerships that can contribute to building Norval Foundation’s programme, reputation and capital fund. We are responsible for researching and setting a strategic framework which enables Norval Foundation to flourish.

Norval Header_14

LVP: A former commercial gallerist, you are a frequent presenter on museum planning and management in Africa, and at professional conferences and art fairs such as MiArt, Milan 2019; Abu Dhabi Culture Summit 2019, Sotheby’s Les Rencontres Panel Discussion 2018 and AKAA Paris 2018. These are interesting times for the arts, please tell us your views on the role of the arts and museums at this strange moment in time?

EB: My view is that museums are no longer merely centres for culture, but vital educational institutions that can have a profound effect on society as well as on public discourse. Museums can testify to other cultures, identities and faiths in ways that go beyond the spoken or written word and provide ways for us to understand other people’s realities, histories and influences. This uniquely compelling form of communication is what makes art, design and creativity in general such a powerful force in favour of better understanding and empathy – both of which we need much more of in the world today.

In this time of disruption, the role of the arts is to take stock of our role in society and the value we bring. Introspection is very important in critical, power-shifting moments. We need to remember that we are people–centred organisations and we need to use data to gain insight into our visitors’ perceptions, behaviours and expectations. We have recently launched our Norval Foundation #60SecondArt initiative which will continue past Lockdown. We need to rethink our curatorial programmes and embrace inclusion and truth-telling. I am reminded daily in these turbulent times, that you don’t change the world simply by looking at it but you change it through the way you choose to live in it.

For more Words on the Times – connecting writers, thinkers, curators, artists, creatives, makers in our experiences of the pandemic and current times, see the blog category here.

Categories: Conversations with - interview, dialogue, Q&A, Words on the Times

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