About us

The Windybrow Arts Centre is a repurposed mining engineer’s private mansion in Johannesburg’s inner city Hillbrow area, although it includes on its property a purpose-built theatre constructed in the 1980s that is currently being gutted and remodeled. Originally built and named ‘Windybrow’ in 1896 in the early mining boom years of Johannesburg, the house has been through many iterations as a Boer war officer’s mess, a boarding house, a nursing college residence, a nursing museum and finally since the 1980s as a performing arts centre under various managing bodies. Throughout its history the building has had phases of disrepair, to the point of almost been scheduled for demolition, and renovation and revival through new use functions. The Windybrow has been in the custody of the state since 1945 when it was incorporated into the nursing college on the adjacent erf and in 2017, after yet another failure of management, it was placed under the stewardship of the Market Theatre Foundation.

The building’s position in Hillbrow is complex. The area is a mixed-use area, characterized by a high degree of informality in trade and housing, and home to a wide diversity of working class and poor people from all over the African continent. And here stands this architectural symbol of white mining capital and all the racist colonial practices that enabled its building and the racist Apartheid practices that would have served its preservation. Yet, as an arts centre it has been producing politically and socially progressive work since the 1980s, suggesting the possibility for the building to be positioned as an act of assembly. Rather than imposing a colonial footprint on Hillbrow, The Windybrow might be a centre which enables connection through drawing people into performing arts engagement and radiating performing arts engagement out. The Market Theatre Foundation’s history as an arts organisation key in the struggle against Apartheid and its ongoing work in arts for social justice since the advent of a democratic South Africa in 1994, makes it well-placed as a managing body to overturn the colonial legacy of the Windybrow and mobilise it as connector through the arts across social divides. This work started with the physical restoration of the building by Urban Works Architecture and Urbanism in 2017 and a year-long participatory research programme run by community-engagement NPO, Sticky Situations. In 2018, a youth theatre company, KwaSha, took up residency in the Windybrow Arts Centre and an after-school programme was initiated for young people in Hillbrow. In 2020, Johannesburg Awakening Minds and in 2022 the Johannesburg branch of ASSITEJ South Africa moved into the Windybrow Arts Centre. A literacy programme was established for children and youth in 2022. Text by Alex Halligey, first written for Prague Quadrennial 2022 Performance Space Exhibition.
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