During the past 50 years the African Art Centre has provided thousands of artists and craftspeople with opportunities for self-employment and the realization of their talents. Originally a project of the South African Institute of Race Relations, the Durban African Art Centre has, since 1984, operated as an autonomous, non-profit organization. For the first three decades of its existence, it was guided by the late Jo Thorpe, who virtually single-handed, put Durban on the map as an important centre of black artistic development.
Today operating from premises in Florida Road, Durban the African Art Centre has adapted to the changed political, economic and artistic landscape and expanded its operations. It is proud to be recognized as the longest surviving South African organization involved in the development and promotion of black artists and craft-workers.
The number of artists and crafters supported by the African Art Centre has increased exponentially over the fifty years as have the returns they have realized through their talents. Development and training programs have grown in number and scope and reached ever widening groups of individuals and communities, both in the geographical and sociological sense.
Many African Art Centre artists have achieved international acclaim – Azaria Mbatha, Tito Zungu, and Reuben Ndwandwe – but thousands have had their lives dramatically improved through the recognition of their talents.
The African Art Centre has reached out to the poorest communities, rural women, the disabled, unemployed, youth, HIV/AIDS affected persons, frustrated artists craving recognition and development and made huge differences to their quality of life. Starting with providing an outlet and public exposure the Centre moved into nurturing and training individuals and groups whether in townships or remote rural areas. Occasional Saturday classes have developed into sixteen years of Velobala Art Classes (teaching in Fine Art, Jewellery design and Print Making) provided free at the Department of Fine Art at the Durban University of Technology to disadvantaged persons.
Since 2003, the Centre has funded and hosted the Artist of the year Award which gives the artist the financial security to concentrate on creating art. This exhibition is eagerly anticipated by discerning private collectors as well as museum and gallery curators and does much to preserve the heritage of KwaZulu Natal.