Bridging the divide between art and science

Posted on July 10, 2018

The University of Pretoria (UP) has launched a new Master’s in Social Science programme focusing on Tangible Heritage Conservation, which is the first degree of its kind in South Africa. The degree is made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (AWMF), which has been involved in South African higher education for the last 30 years. The first cohort of students will enter the programme in 2019.The degree will provide scarce skills to the field of arts conservation which is a multidisciplinary, applied science.

The master’s programme draws on the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences and will develop a new generation of highly skilled and professional heritage conservators to serve the needs of the southern African region.

Speaking at the launch of the programme, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, Prof Cheryl de la Rey commended the AWMF for its commitment to higher education in South Africa. She highlighted that support from the AWMF to UP over the past 20 years has helped to foster creativity, promote social justice and catalyse social mobility for the transformation of active learning communities. She noted that funding has helped ignite innovative intellectual and creative work that has bolstered public confidence in the role of the Arts and Humanities, in sustaining and strengthening our society.

The launch of the programme took place at the newly built Javett Arts Centre at UP’s (Javett-UP) bridge gallery that spans Lynnwood Road. The Centre is set to be a landmark creative laboratory which will showcase African art, culture and heritage and serve as a conservatory and gallery space for future generations of artists. Prof De la Rey made special mention of the symbolism of the Javett-UP as the place to launch the degree programme because the bridge itself served as a metaphor for movement, connectedness and the role that the arts play in linking the past with the present and the future. She said that, “it is the ongoing generous support of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation that allows University of Pretoria to continue to strengthen our core belief in the indisputable value of the arts for society in general and for education in particular. The immediate synergy between the Mellon Foundation and the Javett-UP is though the Mellon funded Master’s degree for which part of the practical work will be presented in an earmarked conservation studio situated in the Javett-UP.”

Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at UP, said, “Mellon awards have equally impacted the trajectories of our staff and students, allowing for the development of a new generation of young academics who serve the university and the country by expanding the frontiers of research and knowledge building through the allocation of postgraduate scholarships, staff development grants, research funds and the establishment of research themes such as capital cities, inequalities, public intellectuals, tangible heritage conservation, demography, decolonisation, and the human economy. Importantly, funding to UP has strengthened the idea and meaning of science – notably the idea that science is best achieved through learning in its societal, creative and humanistic contexts.” He said that the programme is at the heart of powerful private and public collaborations, to ensure the preservation, maintenance and restoration of arts and tangible heritage items for future generations.

Dr Mariët Westermann, Executive Vice-President: Programmes and Research at the AWMF, praised UP for its achievements and its excellent reputation in the arts and humanities. She said that the AWMF  was  excited to be partnered with UP on this project and that this initiative will not only help to make art accessible, but also provide a platform for the decolonialisation of art and the promotion and preservation of uniquely African art and heritage. Dr Westermann said that “in 10 years a new cohort of arts conservators will be representative of South Africa’s diversity and the world. They will embody and integrate art, science, history and South African and African arts conservation initiatives and skills and will be the envy of collections across the world.”

- Author Shakira Hoosain

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