Sonja Hodgen, editor of Screen Africa’s monthly Adcetera column, attended launch of The Jupiter Drawing Room (Jhb) and Vega’s new Imagination Lab on 1 April at the Drill Hall in Johannesburg.
She writes: Imagine its 1910 and the space in which you’re sitting in the largest military Drill Hall in the Southern Hemisphere, a visible sign of the power of the British Empire. Troops in this Drill Hall are involved in significant events that shape South African history from quelling mine worker strikes and rebellions to involvement in World War I and II.
Fast forward to Dec 1956 and these walls now hold 156 members of liberation movements, awaiting trials for treason. It is the largest amount of freedom fighters arrested at one time making the Drill Hall the only space large enough to confine them all.
Fast forward to the 1980s and white, predominantly male, youths fill the space, military conscripts called up to protect borders and quell so-called civil unrest.
Quick cuts to images that highlight changes at the Drill Hall over the next 20 years. Abandoned by the military, it becomes derelict, frequented only by the homeless, an emblem of inner city decay in Johannesburg.
Cut to two large fires raging through the space and then slow motion on the smouldering ashes. Will a new era mean rebirth for the Drill Hall?
Now it’s 1 April 2008 and directly across the road is the Noord Street taxi-rank, the busiest taxi-rank in the southern hemisphere. Today the historic Drill Hall space is filled with a sense of expectancy, creative energy and celebration. A bunch of interesting looking people milling around, drinking lemonade and sitting on crates, while Joseph Gaylard (Joubert Park Projects) relates the above brief history of the Drill Hall.
It the launch of the new Jozi Imagination Lab, a space where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are given the opportunity to explore the creative world and are promised a fast tracked, solid education in the advertising industry. It is the 6th Imagination Lab, a joint Vega (The Brand Communication School) and Cafe (Communication and Advertising Forum for Empowerment) initiative, but the first inner city Lab and the first to be founded on a 50/50 partnership with an advertising agency, The Jupiter Drawing Room.
It represents a huge commitment to young creative talent by The Jupiter Drawing Room, a place already known for its commitment to nurturing and developing staff.
Inspired by a visit to the opening of Soweto Lab, Alison Deeb, Managing Director The Jupiter Drawing Room was motivated to get on board. “It was the quickest decision we have ever taken. What an honour to be able to give back to an industry that has served us so well.
“The agency has made a long term commitment with start up costs of more than R500,000 and a further R600,000 per annum for three years. In addition, Jupiter (Jhb) staff will offer a minimum of 100 hours per annum in the form of meaningful, relevant lectures. The agency is also inviting its clients to take part in this opportunity to help share their knowledge with the industry of tomorrow.’
Jupiter (Jhb) chairman Mohale Ralebitso says the industry has always complained about a shortage of talent and this is the chance for them to invest in change: “Most agencies have addressed Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) requirements at the top end in terms of shareholding, but it’s at the incoming level that we need to place more emphasis.’
Ralebitso and TJDR (Jhb) Business Director Kagiso Musi were founding members of The Communications and Advertising Forum for Empowerment (Cafe), which was founded to fast track transformation in the industry more than eight years ago and both feel strongly that the Labs are the one project that is truly making a difference.
Gordon Cook, Co-founder and National School Navigator of Vega The Brand Communications School, says it will take approximately 20 Imagination Labs, in addition to the tertiary schools in branding and advertising, to meet the current demand from the brand communications industry in South Africa.
He believes the inner city Lab offers a model partnership between academic institution and agency and is excited about the diversity the Jupiter Lab will offer: “We now have six existing Labs and this is the start of our vision to have several Labs in each province because creativity resides everywhere in SA.’
At the Drill Hall Lab today creativity is brimming over, with vibrant artwork on display, a live presentation from the new students and smiling, enthusiastic faces.
Lungi Mlotshwa, former student at the Imagination Lab in Alexandra, now True Love Magazine Picture Editor, talks about how Lab’s programme has changed her life, nurturing her creativity and giving her the belief she can achieve anything. Likewise Queen Ndingi, now Production Assistant for the Loerie Awards.
The Drill Hall has been a landmark in inner city life in Johannesburg. From the might of the British Empire to Apartheid South Africa to the inner city decay it has symbolized the many changing face of the city. It feels fitting that now this extraordinary location is filled with youthful eager faces, brimming with potential and energy, heralding a positive change in the cities profile, a new symbol both for the advertising industry and the city itself.
Graham Warsorp, Chief Creative Officer The Jupiter Drawing Room highlights these changes by pointing out that while Johannesburg was founded on our valuable gold resources, the resource we will grow to value the most highly in the future will be our human resources.
“The future of this city will depend on you,’ he tells the new students.
Indeed the future will also depend on the vision and imagination of companies like The Jupiter Drawing Room who know that in the words of Garth Walker, “if you can imagine you can do anything.”
Or in the words of another creative genius who, like those here today, imagined a bright future, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us.’ (John Lennon) Just imagine.