Charlotte Schaer (1946-2012)


The commemoration held at the CDP offices in Bertrams on the morning of Saturday 19th May spoke powerfully of everything that Charlotte Schaer had worked for in her remarkably productive 65 years. The inner city industrial space, now a cheery compound shared by the One in Nine campaign, the Sophiatown Counseling Project and the Curriculum Development Project (CDP) is a gallery of mosaics and murals and photo essays telling of life-changing projects that use visual art in a three-pronged strategy for social transformation: income-generation; counseling and advocacy.

From her early involvement with NEUSA, NEPI and the drafting of the first arts & culture curriculum for schools as well as her underground publishing activities that resulted in the production of the book on struggle posters, Images of Defiance, in 1991, Charlotte went on in the mid-nineties to establish countless community-based art education projects supported by a funder-based that was the envy of many other education NGOs. Educationist Sue Cohen noted that when many Maths and Science education NGOs went under, Charlotte kept the CDP going.

Charlotte Schaer was a leading figure in many key South African arts education moments across the last four decades, including the establishing of the Art Educators Association (AEA), the Imiboni Yentsha workshops in and around townships in the Johannesburg, Soweto, Heidelberg and Vaal regions, all the post 1994 Learning Area Committees (LACs), the curriculum advisory groups of the last decade and a half, the establishing of the Flemish government funded Advanced Certificate of Education (ACE) in Arts and Culture and Artists in Schools programmes with Wits University, and many other initiatives. These included the CDP projects in Joubert Park, Johannesburg, the ACE programmes in Mpumalanga, and Gauteng and collaborations at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The Linnaeus-Palme arts education exchange programme established between Wits University and Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft and Design in Stockholm, Sweden, was also made possible through her extensive network and vision for developing arts educators. She was central to ensuring these projects took place – often against great odds.

Art in early childhood development was something that Charlotte saw as a fundamental right for children and she initiated country-wide training for ECD practitioners with the help of funders like the Jim Joel Fund, Flora Foundation and Banyan Tree. She published the Creative Beginnings manual for adults working with children written by CapeTown-based artist and educator Lindy Solomon. In recent years, Charlotte’s close partnerships with organisations like People Opposing Woman Abuse (POWA), the One-in-Nine campaign, the Sophiatown Counselling project and Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition meant that her large and diverse family of friends grew enormously, many of whom came on Saturday to pay their respects and pledge to continue what this tiny but formidable woman had urged them to start.

Charlotte was more often than not at the forefront of these initiatives, offering compelling arguments for decisions and actions that helped people to understand why arts education was integral to the radical understanding of social justice in a country that she was deeply committed to and loved. This was a commitment that was often enormously demanding, but she never wavered in the extraordinary focus for creating spaces of heightened agency and re-imagined humanity through her arts activism.