Colourful palette: The Design Indaba Conference and Festival 2018 is at the Artscape Theatre from February 21-23, with simulcasts at five venues across the country. It will again be packed with a piquant menu of mind food, designer objects, performance, festivities and calls to action. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF
Colourful palette: The Design Indaba Conference and Festival 2018 is at the Artscape Theatre from February 21-23, with simulcasts at five venues across the country. It will again be packed with a piquant menu of mind food, designer objects, performance, festivities and calls to action. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF

From the founder of Airbnb providing innovative solutions for refugees in 2017, to the founder of what3words, a revolutionary geographic digital mapping tool, the overriding commitment of participants at the annual Design Indaba Conference and Festival remains how to better the world — one pixel, brick or recycled plastic bean at a time.

In what has been a tumultuous month for the country, and while the citizens and visitors of Cape Town reel between the volatility of the #Zexit unfolding on the national political stage and the #dayzero #impeachdelille crises, it feels like it is time to move out of the drama of #hashtag political spectatorship to one of active citizenship.

So the regular February Cape cultural calendar — from the Investec Cape Town Art Fair to the grand-daddy of cultural events, the 23rd annual Design Indaba Conference and Festival — provides a welcome diversion and an opportunity to actively participate in SA’s cultural and economic recovery.

The indaba, which returns in 2018 to the Artscape Theatre, shares its opening day on Wednesday with the national budget speech and is also simulcast at five venues across the country.

It is again packed with a piquant menu of mind-food, designer objects, performance, festivities and, most significantly, calls to action. As the organisers note: "It’s the annual do-tank at the intersection of innovation, business, social impact, design and creative expression."

While the cultural and creative industries are often relegated to Cinderella status in SA’s tumultuous economic and political deliberations, they account for about 6.72% of all employment in SA, according to the South African Cultural Observatory, which is the Department of Arts and Culture’s research arm.

The industries directly employ almost half-a-million people — slightly more than mining – and contributed over R90.5bn to the national economy (2.9% of GDP) in 2014.

Staggeringly, this exceeds the contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP (2.2%).

Clearly, the time has come to reinvest in the cultural and creative industries — and that is the mission of the indaba.

From the more than 40 speakers in three days of conferencing through to installations and performances, each meticulously curated contribution is underpinned by a notion of social impact and responsibility: "A better world through creativity".

It was awarded Best Conference in the World by the conference industry, and the annual highlight is the grand finale when founder, magician and maestro Ravi Naidoo unwraps an unimagined project of deep significance to SA’s cultural, social or impact landscape.

In 2014, it was globally lauded superstar architect Thomas Heatherwick unveiling an almost inconceivable project: the transformation of the disused grain silos in the Waterfront into the first Museum of Contemporary African Art. The Zeitz Mocaa, designed by Heatherwick and financed by philanthropist Jochen Zeitz, opened its doors last September. Heatherwick will be presenting at the indaba again in 2018.

And in 2017 the prototype of a commemorative Arch for Arch was unveiled at the finale, with the venerable Archbishop Desmond Tutu present. A commission of the Design Indaba Trust, which is committed to "leveraging the power of design to help fuel the creative economy and improve life for real people", it was a collaboration between two previous contributors, global architectural behemoth Snøhetta and the committed Local Studio.

They presented their beautiful Sophiatown community project, the Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Centre, to delegates in 2016. The permanent arch was unveiled on Tutu’s birthday at the entrance to the Company’s Gardens alongside the iconic St Georges Cathedral, and another was unveiled at Constitution Hill in December.

From ideation to reality, from conceptualisation to implementation, the programme at Design Indaba is a magical mix of established and emergent, upcycled and recycled — unveiled with flourish and pizazz — and 2018 should be no different.

From such significant industrial design illuminati as Tom Dixon and do-tank impact architect Alejandro Aravena to biotechnologist Neri Oxman, digital provocateur Natasha Jen, Afrofuturist Sunu Gonera, and SA’s poet-hero Lebo Mashile, the conference will again blow a few brain cells.

Providing a view on SA’s immediate future is the exhibition of the always inspirational work of the Young Creatives as well as the celebrated Most Beautiful Object in SA.

A kaleidoscopic neon installation by famed UK designer Morag Myerscough will dominate the piazza outside the venue with the Nightscape sound and light performances — complemented by a culinary pop-up from Bertus Basson — will entertain well into the night, spilling over into the city and hopefully sowing seeds for projects that will reach far beyond the flight path of a Gupta jet.

For those who care about the minute details of typography, the cutting edge of colour, shape and fashion (design aficionado Li Edelkoort returns to her regular Saturday slot) or how to change the world with earth-shattering architecture, Cape Town is the place to be next week.

The Design Indaba Conference and Festival 2018 is at the Artscape Theatre from February 21-23, with simulcasts at five venues across the country. The #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL and NEXT18 Trade Exhibition is from February 22–25 daily at the Homecoming Centre.

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