by Simangele Mzizi 30 Nov 2022
Homecoming Centre

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Former Fugard now a vibrant cultural hub

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the former Fugard Theatre complex has been transformed into a vibrant multi-functional venue and cultural hub in the CBD’s East City.

Owned by the District Six Museum, the building that once housed the beloved and iconic Fugard Theatre in town has become a lively venue aptly called the District Six Homecoming Centre. We spoke to one of the acting directors of the museum, Chrischené Julius, about the venue’s remarkable turnaround.

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Chrischené Julius
Acting director, Chrischené Julius.

What does your role entail?

I am part of a leadership team of three acting directors which includes Nwabisa Moshenyane and Nicky Ewers. We have been overseeing the District Six Museum, which owns the District Six Homecoming Centre, since the previous director left and during the pandemic period. Our role is to ensure that we recover after the impact of the pandemic which affected our different income streams.

What was the idea behind resurrecting the space into this multi-functional venue?

The building has always belonged to the District Six Museum, and we hold it in Trust for the District Six community. When the Fugard closed in 2021, the theatre came back into the Museum fold, and we tried to figure out how to use this asset to our advantage to sustain us as an independent community museum without operational funding from the state.

How did Neighbourgood property development company come on board?

We met with quite a lot of people and eventually identified Neighbourgood as an ideal partner to manage the property for us. The vision was to create this hub for arts and culture and any event you can think of under the sun that could also materially help us survive as an institution. We also wanted it to be a space where people could also feel at home. We feel lucky that Neighbourgood is on board with their expertise in events and property management.

Currently, this building houses the administration, education and exhibition arm of the District Six Museum. Co-working spaces and permanent offices are also available to rent. Then we have the theatre spaces used for various events and a whole range of productions. The building also houses a coffee shop called Café Societi.

How has the space been received by the public since opening in June 2022?

It has been positive. The fact that there is a new space available for theatre, comedy shows, dance productions etc. has been well received by Capetonians and we have also relied on Neighbourgood’s network to bring in events. Even during winter, our venue was busy, and we are booked for events up until June 2023. I think people have been looking for a new space after the pandemic and there seems to be a desire to come back to the CBD.

What’s the secret behind the venue’s success?

The partnership between the District Six Museum and Neighbourgood. We have been able to draw on each other’s expertise to create a model that allows the museum to become sustainable and to continue its work with former District Six residents as well as the returning generation of District Sixers.

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Homecoming Centre

Why is the venue significant?

The Museum purchased this building in 2003. It used to be an old warehouse shop, Sacks Futeran, that serviced the community with soft goods. Our vision was to transform it into a space for “homecoming”. The District Six land claims process was also unfolding, and people were returning, and so we wanted it to be a community centre.

That said, when people think of the District Six Museum, they think of the museum opposite Cape Town Central Police Station, but the core of our work happens in the Homecoming Centre and that includes educational programmes with university and high school students and craft and development workshops that happen every Tuesday. So, a lot of our fundamental community work happens in this space and that is why the building is there. As District Six grows, we want the space to support the return to District Six.

What do you think is unique about the CBD’s East City?

What we refer to as the East City, a lot of District Sixers refer to as District Six. People have always felt a connection to the area. We have seen new businesses open, and the museum and Homecoming Centre are aspects of that growth. I struggle with the word “unique” in general, but I think when you walk into the East City, you still get a sense of the neighbourhood that was here. I know people are not looking to come to any events to be reminded of forced removals, but I think there is a historic fabric in the area that relates to District Six with which people can engage.

What message would you like to send to Capetonians?

Everyone is welcome here. These spaces are important in Cape Town, where historically we feel we do not belong, or we do not go to certain spaces. The Homecoming Centre is exactly that ... If you are on our doorstep, come and visit. Have a coffee at Café Societi or come watch a show. This kind of community spirit, whether you are from District Six or not, is important and is the essence driving the way we manage the building.

  • Neighbourgood, founded by Murray Clark, is a co-living and workspace company that owns and operates Neighbourgood developments in the Cape Town CBD and further afield.

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IMAGES: CCID