Sunday, May 03, 2009

Art Space Talk: Michael Drysdale (Part 2)

Community in Decline by Michael Drysdale

This is Part 2 of my interview with Michael Drysdale. To return to Part 1 click, HERE
Brian Sherwin: Michael, can you discuss your experiences in Richmond and the project in general? What is day to day life like in Richmond?

Michael Drysdale: It's been different, I still have half of my belongings in Johannesburg, we spent our first two weeks sleeping under my grandson's travelling blanket, as all our linen and 90% of our clothes were left behind on the initial trip down, and right now I'm still waiting for all my equipment and boxes, and work tables, which will be here in about two weeks, so we're kind of camping right now, and turning the whole thing into an adventure, I have no stove here, so we're doing barbecue's every night, and my poor grandson still doesn't have a single toy here, but we're all coping.

Richmond is a really small town, and I am used to having the streets buzzing around me 24/7, but here at 5.00pm the streets are deserted, everybody goes home and they close there doors and that's it till 7.00am, so that is taking some adjusting. There is only one store in the town and on Saturdays at 1.00pm they close and don't open again till Monday 8.00am, so that's been another adjustment, in that I have to have everything I need before 5.00pm weekdays and before 1.00pm on Saturday or I go without.
The streets are very quiet, bumper to bumper morning rush hour traffic, "What's That" here rush hour is five cars going past on mainstreet at ten minute intervals. The streets though are safe, I don't have to worry about being mugged anymore, I was mugged 5 times in one year in Johannesburg.

BS: Did the community welcome you? Are you accepted?

MD: The farming community are rather conservative, and they find it very strange that I have come here as a white man with a black grandchild, but little Theo is a charmer, and he is fast winning the hearts of the residents in the town, I thought he would find it difficult to fit in, but even though he doesn't speak the language, he has terrific leadership abilities, and has all the community children running around after him.
He had his first day at school and when he came home I asked him if he enjoyed his first day, only to be told "No Brampa, there were two girls following me around and I told them not to, and they wouldn't listen." So I gathered that he had a fabulous day. He's at an age where all that matters are transformers, cars and trucks, and things with guns and bombs, girls do not feature.

I spend most days going around in the community and getting to know the people, as my first step in being successful, I need to be accepted here, then everything
else will be easy.
Lunch at The Soup Kitchen by Michael Drysdale

BS: Can you go into further detail about some of the difficulties you have had in trying to help? I understand that it has not been easy.

MD: I have been coming to the soup kitchen everyday to read to the children, as they need an escape from reality as much as they need nutrition, and carrying storybooks around is quite a mission, but the soup kitchen doesn't always operate, so the children don't come, which is troubling as it should be running 7 days a week. Here we're still
working at getting the project up and running, I'm still trying to raise funding as well as equipment, as I can't start skills training until I do.
The property that I've been given to run the project needs to be secured, and repaired. I am down here currently without any form of fixed income, so I have nothing coming in, I have been blessed in that I have a terrific family to help me and wonderful friends, and I am grateful to them for keeping the wolf from the door so that I can get this project up and running.
Story Time by Michael Drysdale

BS: Michael you have mentioned that due to the state of the economy it has been difficult to do fundraising compared to the recent past. I'm sure fundraising in general always involves struggle-- that said, can you discuss how the situation has become harder in the last few months?

MD: Yes fundraising is always difficult, as most donors or Grant givers have very specific requirements as to what they are prepared to fund eg: some will fund children's education, others will fund water projects, and others will only fund projects that target women's issues, so generally it is difficult, and the norm is that for every 20 doors you knock on one will open, and you'll get a small portion of your requirements, so I probably still have a thousand doors to knock on.

The current economic crisis has made it harder, as donors who are usually large corporate entities, are feeling the financial pinch, and one of the first place where they cut the budget is on the disbursement of grants, usually because they are using funds to stave off bankruptcy.

But I have managed to gain absolute legitimacy for the Richmond Community Trust in that the South African Government will be involved in the project, I have a mandate from the Dept. of Labour, and the dept. of Social Welfare as well as The dept. of Agriculture, which is a major coup for me, as many donors, have as a funding requirement the involvement of central government.

I am a go getter, and no matter what I will make this project work even if it means flogging my photographs on a street corner to raise money, I'll make it happen, as this is a community in desperate need.

To read Part 3 of my interview with Michael Drysdale click, HERE

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

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