Peter Tromp chats to Dr Marlene Le Roux – CEO of Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town.
When pressed on her proudest moment as CEO of Artscape, the international award that she is on the verge of accepting in Spain does not appear to be close to the mind of Marlene Le Roux. Instead, it is to the “invisible” faces of the institution she heads that she draws her attention. “When a cleaning staff member came up to me and told me, ‘For the first time, I feel that I matter’ – that’s it for me; that’s when I felt that I was doing something right, because when you think of it, institutions like ours cannot function without these people, yet there is so seldom an appreciation for what they do,” she tells me.
It becomes obvious very quickly in a long form chat with Marlene Le Roux that she doesn’t just consider herself the head of an arts institution. As anyone who has interviewed her is likely to attest, Le Roux needs very little prompting to talk endlessly and breathlessly about her main driving force: social justice and the pursuit of redressing the imbalances of the past. It’s chiefly these qualities that have brought Le Roux to the attention of the Fair Saturday Foundation.
She is the first South African, and indeed the first disabled recipient of the Fair Saturday Foundation Award in Spain, which she’s being honoured with this month. The award aims to acknowledge, in particular, “the courage and determination shown by Le Roux as an advocate for human rights, inclusion and openness throughout her professional career, including her role as CEO of Artscape, the work she does as disability activist, youth development and women and gender empowerment.” According to the Fair Saturday newsletter, Artscape Theatre Centre was chosen for its “commitment to promoting essential values through its wide range of diverse and accessible programmes.”
Fair Saturday is a cultural movement with social impact, born in Bilbao in 2014, that happens annually. Last year around 600 events were held in around 100 places throughout the world, with more than 150000 people attending and generating “extensive cultural and social impact”.
Since 2017, the Fair Saturday Foundation has recognised international projects that have generated social transformation through culture. To date, winners of the Fair Saturday Awards have included organisations such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Sinfonía por el Perú and its founder, Juan Diego Flórez, Peter Gabriel as founder of WOMAD and Antonio Garrigues Walker of the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation.
When LeRoux got the call informing her of the honour, she initially hung up. “I thought it was a telemarketer or something; I didn’t even know an award like this existed,” she chuckles. Luckily they called back and by the time you read this, she will have accepted her award.
Don’t think for one second Marlene Le Roux’s appetite for social transformation can be satiated by being honoured on the global stage. “Human rights can’t be put in pockets. I’m an activist through and through and will continue fighting for the disenfranchised people of our communities,” she says, as I take my leave.
Watch this space for more to come from Artscape and their indefatigable CEO.