Interview with Annette Loubser

When first asking Annette Loubser for an interview, I received a response illustrative of her character.  She said, “Me? but I’m impossible! I’ve become an absolute raving lunatic! Do you want me to send my CV to you? You can have it ma guhhl.”  Not quite content with regurgitating a list of my supervisor’s achievements, I later insisted that she give me the details on her career as an artist, art educator, and most recently, museum educator. However, I did peek at her CV and learn that she began higher education at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, receiving a B.F.A. in painting in 1974. She later went on to receive her M.F.A in painting, her B.A. Honors in Art History, and a postgraduate diploma in Mural Painting and Stained Glass from various institutions. She last showed her own artwork in Johannesburg three years ago, but has not been engaged with her personal art practice since then.

Annette’s first experience working in museums was in Johannesburg, training tour guides and heritage practitioners working at Museum Africa to be educators. Commenting on the experience, she said, “that was the first time I really began to understand what a museum was, I always thought they were grey and stuffy…I’ve always preferred Zoos or Game Parks.” Annette was living in Johannesburg as a refugee from a rural area where she faced hostility as a white arts educator. Annette has taught at secondary schools and at the undergraduate level throughout South Africa since getting her Masters in painting in 1975. She was born in the Eastern Cape and influent in Afrikaans and English, and is extremely proficient in Spanish and Khosa.  Her first South African ancestor migrated to Cape Town from Java during the 1600s, only to get in trouble with the law and thrown in the Castle prison and later the prison on Robben Island.

Aside from working in Museum Africa, she considers the National Gallery to be her first museum job. She has been the senior educator of the Iziko art collections for three years. Her title entails programming workshops and tours for students, teachers, and the general public, administrative work, and organizing shows for the Gallery’s annex. We are currently working together on revising the collections policy so that it is more engaged with the primary and secondary school curriculum, in hopes of making new acquisitions relevant to students. Annette claims to have had many interns and volunteers in the past, and thoroughly enjoys working with them. She feels as though working with younger generations spurs new ideas and awakens the museum space.

Annette often speaks of the importance of multilingualism in museum education programs, as the workshops can be somewhat ineffective if the students do not speak English as their first language. She finds the most challenging aspect of her job to be “making the National Gallery accessible to the majority of the population.” Though it is difficult to assess her opinions on the inclusion of indigenous crafts in the gallery, she believes that it is necessary to de-Eurocize the National Gallery’s collection and advocates for the racial and cultural diversification of museum administration and staff. Annette seems to live for “well-designed education programs” that assist in making “new communities and new ideas.” It is extremely rewarding for her to make students “comfortable and excited within the museum space.”

Annette claims that her approach to education is both innovative and controversial-she got in trouble with Iziko for her first workshop that related to the Tretchikoff exhibition in 2011.  Annette brought a prop designer in to the classroom to design a workshop in which students made paper orchids to imitate those that Tretchikoff painted. Iziko staff was upset that Annette had brought in someone else to teach the workshop (rather than teaching it herself), but her persistent employment of local artists to lead workshops has effectively engaged the community with the National Gallery over the past three years. Some of Annette’s more successful programs include her work with CYAN and Laleila, organizations that, respectively, engage inner-city teenagers and former prisoners with the arts. These programs were each about a month long, and took place during October 2012 and August 2013. The participants learned how to draw and develop a personal art practice, write art education worksheets and literature, and teach workshops. Both programs culminated with an exhibition in the Annex, and many of the former students have begun their own artistic outreach programs.

My conversation with Annette has enlightened me not only to the challenges of art education, but to education within South Africa. When I asked her for advice on careers within museums and the arts, Annette spoke of the 2% rule; “If you get into this education business… you have to accept that only two percent of your students will become artists…only two percent will work in museums…only two percent will become art educators.” Her statement made me apprehensive of my own ability to succeed in the arts, however, I am privileged to have grown up and been educated within the United States. This privilege has bolstered my ability to pursue a career in the arts, even though it may be a competitive field. When Annette spoke of the two percent rule, I mainly realized how difficult and rare it is to have a career in the arts within South Africa. I did not feel as though this rule applied to me.