An Open Letter to Dr. Survé
By Illa Thompson

Dear Dr. Survé,

Change is inevitable and potentially exciting, although transition itself is often hard and unsettling. We all know that the mainstream media landscape is in the process of major transformation as globally consumers rely increasingly on electronic devices for information which compromises the future of traditional print media as we know it.

Consuming information, news and content has become a participative, engaging process with the emphasis on visual images and short punchy copy – an obvious challenge to the makers of traditional print media.

Change means that things will be done differently going forward, that there will be new areas of focus and evolving priorities. We all understand this. My anxiety is that in the transition, regional coverage of arts, entertainment, heritage, culture and leisure will be diminished and that arts reporting may not be considered to be a priority.

For the bulk of my professional life, I have dedicated myself to encouraging people to support the arts; to engage with the creative industries; to explore local films / productions / literature / festivals / exhibitions, and to meaningfully invest in the arts: financially, emotionally and spiritually.

I have seen first-hand the transformative power of the arts. I have seen them provide a catalyst for difficult dialogue about pertinent topics: de-colonisation; race and privilege; HIV/AIDS; gender divides; rape and abuse; drugs; homelessness; faith; xenophobia; LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) and countless other issues.

From deep within my being I am convinced that the arts – in their myriad forms and manifestations – are an essential antidote to a South Africa which is currently hating, burning and frightened. A fractious land divided by expectations, privileges, anger and differences.

The arts allow me to experience other, contrasting realities; discover deep and profound empathy; to find the personal in the political and to understand other histories and narratives in an intrinsically personal way.

To me, arts aren’t a luxury; they are not a privilege or a treat; they are not a rare box of special-occasion chocolates; to me they are as essential as breathing.

The arts guide me in how I think, how I act, how I respond, how I understand things better, engage with people more authentically; it provides clarity of vision; solace and comfort; power and passion. I am taught, guided, informed and nurtured.

So Dr Survé, as you crunch your numbers and contemplate how you will re-invent Independent Media’s new role as a national communication leader in our increasingly digital market place, please don’t neglect, compromise or disregard the power of your titles’ coverage of the arts. Please continue to support the work we do, please review, engage, promote and challenge all of the diverse art forms.

Typically the Independent titles have enjoyed a robust, mutually-beneficial, symbiotic relationship with the creative industries. I sincerely hope and pray with every fibre of my being, that this continues long into the future.

As Life of Pi author Yann Martel famously is quoted as saying: “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams… “