Community Engagement


At a departmental level, community engagement activities have always been present in all three divisions at the Department of Visual Arts but in different guises. The community engagement activities encompass curricula and non-curricular activities, ranging from volunteerism, community outreach, service-learning and participatory action research. The community engagement activities in the Department are directed by the respective course directors and are carried out by both staff and students alike. The intention of the varied community engagement activities or projects at the department is firstly to acknowledge the department’s social responsibility and its contribution to quality assurance of the education it provides. Another, equally significant intention of such projects is to promote and develop social responsibility and awareness amongst students. It is essential for students to be sensitive to influences within society that have an impact on their field of study/profession.

Mobile solutions for social innovation

Third-year students in BA Information Design at the Department of Visual Arts participate annually in a collaborative project with a leading South African company, the Praekelt Foundation, a technology incubator that develops mobile technology solutions for social good. The project, part of the third year Imaging and Visualisation subject, is themed “Mobile Solutions for Social Innovation”. For example, in 2013 students were required to develop a mobile phone application that could be used to aid doctors involved in delivering community oriented primary healthcare to various sites across the city of Tshwane.

Social innovation is becoming increasingly important within a South African context and can be a powerful way to address many of the social problems that the country is faced with. In the light of this, this annual project inspires students to consider the human implications of design.


Centre for the Study of Aids Poster Project 2013

During a 2013 project entitled Graphic intervention: Posters for social change, third year Information Design students were asked to design posters to create awareness of AIDS and AIDS prevention on campus. The project, facilitated by Chenette Swanepoel, challenged students to come up with new visual metaphors that would be meaningful to contemporary students and encourage dialogue amongst them through humane and humorous ways.

Students engaged with fellow students on campus, exploring various social issues related to AIDS in order to respond to their project brief. Students also had the opportunity to engage with Mary Crewe, Director of the Centre for the study of AIDS, who gave the students an insightful introduction to the complexities surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic and initiatives to prevent AIDS within the history of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.  

During the course of the project students reported how their engagement with research on AIDS and their engagement with students on campus made them understand the topic from a much broader perspective as well as question their own perceptions and attitudes to AIDS related issues, including sexuality, sexual and social behaviour of students in general. As such, Information Design students realised that as designers, participation in this kind of project means that they can make a difference through their work, especially to change misperceptions about topical issues.

SanParks and SANParks Honorary Rangers 2012-13

Researchers from the Fine Arts, Information Design and Drama disciplines at the University of Pretoria collaborated in an environmental awareness project. The project, titled Art interaction: cultivating environmental awareness in young learners, is a SANParks, SANParks Honorary Rangers and University of Pretoria initiative that involved a number of key players namely lecturers and students as well as teachers and learners from Mogale Primary School in Mamelodi.

Various visual technologies were considered in the creation of character puppets, educational toolkits, performances, games and activities for the purpose of environmental awareness and education. The creative process was organic and open, with different groups of students slotting into the project at intervals. For instance, third year Fine Arts students created animal characters imbued with moral, ethical and social codes; these “hidden” values were extracted by subsequent groups of students and applied to other creative formats. 

As research within arts education, this interdisciplinary project serves as a case study to highlight similar pedagogical aims which traverse the respective arts disciplines. More specifically, the case studies shows how the performative qualities of visual technologies intersect with aspects such as artistic imagination, social engagement, cultural agency, community, narrative, action research, user testing and prototyping to address social and environmental change. 

SANParks sponsored the first phase of the project (mascots and puppets). The public environmental awareness programme at Mogale Primary School was sponsored by SANLAM.

Cool Capital Biennale 2014

Cool Capital Biennale 2014 is a citizen-lead initiative to bring about visual, perception and actual change to Pretoria, by means of a multitude of small interventions. The aim is to introduce the public to a wealth of art, architecture, urban- and graphic design, as well as sculpture creations, while affording them the opportunity to interact with these civic interventions. The event is inclusive and open to any individual, or group” (

Various departmental interventions include: 

Animated short films by final year Information Design students (2013) were created based on students’ personal interpretation of the city of Pretoria. Students were asked to focus their attention on the residents, workers, activities and landmarks of the urban centre of the city and to propose tactical urban interventions. According to the lecturer, Chenette Swanepoel, visual design has evolved beyond the sphere of market place communication to incorporate messages that influence behaviour and change attitudes within a social context. The designer has become a change agent working towards better solutions for social problems, designing to improve life not promote consumption and therefore this project aimed to allow students to adopt this social role as a designer. Student proposals/animations are showcased on the Cool Capital website

Several public interventions, performances and artistic collaborations, created by third year Fine Arts students (2014) will unfold at sites in Pretoria during the course of the year. The project, entitled Intersections, is based on experiential operational modes, where artists interact and respond to the specifics of place. Students traversed the city on foot or via public transport to gain a better understanding of communities and spatial practices within the city. The project was co-authored with Professor Kris Van’t Hof of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Artesis University College Antwerp (Belgium) who visited the University of Pretoria on a staff and student exchange. For information on specific dates for events, please view the Cool Capital website or the student-led Art Ninjas group on Facebook.

Fotad (Future of the African Daughter) 2013

Third year Information Design students created a public service announcement (PSA) to promote the cause of Fotad, a girl-child development project for girls from Diepsloot aged 12 to 19 years. Gqibelo Dandala, the CEO of Fotad briefed the students on the requirements for a PSA and provided background on the cultural paradigm of the Diepsloot girls. The students were expected to engage with the cultural milieu of the Diepsloot community in order to develop communication material that reflects empathy.

During the subsequent discussion on youth issues and leadership within this social context, many concerns were highlighted i.e. the sugar daddy culture, Aids and HIV, poverty and the lack of infrastructure. Students focussed on these issues during interactive sessions with the Fotad girls on the St Stithian premises. The anecdotal data gathered during these sessions was used to inform the content their animations.

Feast of the Clowns 

The Feast of the Clowns, hosted by the Tshwane Leadership Foundation (TLF) in conjunction with the City of Tshwane, is an annual festival committed to community-building, social cohesion and awareness-raising for social concerns, through the arts, play and celebration. 

In an attempt to broaden the audience of the Feast of the Clowns, and to overcome social and cultural divides  in Pretoria, a university initiative named Feast@UP aimed to “bring the city closer to the campus and the campus closer to the city” (Feast@UP). This vision of bringing campus and city closer together is what sparked the initial interest in the Feast and informed the Information Design students’ participation in 2013. As a means to promote and celebrate the Feast of the Clowns, students created temporary, creative interventions and in such a way contributed, albeit in a small way, to this significant event in the city. The tactical urban interventions implemented by the students momentarily transformed Burgers Park, the location of the project, in order to encourage real-time cultural and creative dialogues amongst the participants. The project was an attempt to help build social and creative capital amongst inhabitants and to foster a bridging form of social capital where diverse groups of people could interact and consequently, drive political involvement.

Design for Development 2012

In March 2012 the final year Information Design students participated in a Design for Development project at the Baviaanspoort correctional facility. The project required students to identify specific needs within the correctional facility context and to conceptualise innovative design solutions that are aligned with the overall goals of the South African Department of Correctional Services. 

As part of the project, students visited the correctional facility on four occasions and interacted directly with the offenders in focus group settings. Throughout their research process, students identified needs related to issues in health care, education, and skills development, amongst others. During the latter sessions students had the opportunity to test prototypes of their design ideas and gain feedback from the user community. Students also interviewed wardens and social workers to help them identify relevant needs and challenges within the correctional facility. As a short, three week project, students were able to conceptualise, develop and test prototypes.

Throughout the project students were required to reflect on their experiences, by means of writing reflection essays and also by documenting the project in log books. In such a way students were encouraged to consider their roles in affecting social change, both within the specific project setting and the larger context of their environment and profession. 

Kumba Iron Ore (2012)

Kumba Iron Ore invited first year Fine Arts students from the Department of Visual Arts to participate in their BEE Procurements in Mining art competition. The artworks were exhibited and documented in a catalogue. The sponsors selected fourteen winning works for their collection. 

Basil Read (2012)

First year Fine Arts students were invited to participate in the Basil Read Living Sculpture competition to create site-specific artworks for their corporate headquarters in Boksburg. Five first year UP students were awarded joint first prize, second prize and joint third prize to the value of R47 000.

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