Craft can help empower communities and alleviate poverty. This is the belief of Niel Nortje, MTN SA Foundation’s Art Collection Manager.

Niel says that almost any material can be used to produce good-quality, marketable items that develop the opportunity to alleviate poverty and become a self-sustainable, confident and contributing member of your community.

Having managed the MTN Art Collection for the past 20 years, since its official launch in November 1998, Niel is one of the judges of the 2019 Innibos National Craft Awards.

“I will be looking at the different uses of materials and the quality of the workmanship applied to produce the pieces. The materials I am specifically interested in are low-cost, recyclable or alternative materials rather than traditional ones such as wood, metal, clay, fabric and beads,” he says.

“If there is an item beautifully crafted out of plastic, paper, tin, wire or even glass and it is of the same quality you would see from the best beadworkers, woodcarvers, metalworkers, potters and seamstresses, this will definitely draw my attention.

“I believe there is a dire need to make profitable crafting available to the most impoverished communities, especially to women, by demonstrating how almost any material can be used.”

Niel says that NPOs and craft development organisations have worked tirelessly towards achieving this goal. “Despite the great strides that have been made, the struggle continues and there is still much that can be done – I believe a demonstration of access to materials can assist with this endeavour.

“I feel privileged and honoured to have been awarded an opportunity to contribute towards the Innibos National Craft Awards, which is essential to developing platforms and opportunities for crafters to participate in, compete with, and produce items of an ever-increasing quality for an increasingly demanding market.

“The MTN Foundation’s involvement with and support of capacity development for crafters goes back to 2011 and was a strategic deliverable for the arts and culture portfolio until 2015.”

He says during this period the Foundation partnered with organisations such as Art Aid, Umbalabala, the African Arts Trust and many others to develop skills and the quality of products among crafters in all nine provinces.

“Therefore,” says Niel, “participating as a judge in this competition feels like returning to a familiar place where an old friend has been waiting, still holding a torch for the one of the noblest of causes.”

Niel obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Unisa in 2007 and completed an Advanced Project Management diploma in 2010 at Varsity College. He is currently enrolled for a Masters in Curatorial Practice, again at Unisa.

He received his curatorial training under the mentorship of renowned academics and curators Ronel Kellner, Philippa Hobbs and Nessa Leibhammer.

The MTN Art Collection includes 1 400 pieces. By managing the logistical aspects of the collection, which travels nationwide for exhibitions, educational outreach programmes and social development work, Niel has established valuable connections with a wide range of specialists, curators and service providers in the art collection management field, and continues to work closely with artists, curators, gallerists and directors of public museums and other cultural institutions in SA.”

The closing date for SA crafters of all genres to submit their entries into the Innibos National Craft Awards is April 12. 2019. Entry is free. For more information and ENTRY DETAILS, please visit