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Nelson Mandela University is gearing up to launch its second public art piece in honour of Tat’ uMadiba and his values on education, that is symbolic of the journey and trajectory that the recently renamed institution is taking, on Africa Day on Friday.

Following the gazetting and launch of the new Nelson Mandela University name – which was an opportunity to reimagine its makeup and position it as a dynamic African university – a need to raise the level of institutional consciousness was identified.

This, by reflecting on the moral and social responsibility associated with embracing the new name, its implications on the institutional identity and strategic choices, as well as the transformations that are necessary in order to align the University more appropriately to the name.

The unveiling of the Mandela Bench, which will be placed in the area in front of the South Campus library, forms part of the University’s Centenary celebration programme that is largely anchored on the academic programme.

It is also part of the institution’s greater public art programme that seeks to populate public spaces on campus with art pieces, which are a contribution to reimagining the identity and culture of its campuses, particularly the North and South campuses as well as George.

Mr Michael Barry of the University’ Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage said the critical role of visual arts in public spaces on campus is often overlooked or not fully understood.

“The tendency for the visual arts to be seen as frivolous and perhaps less important than other ventures occurring within a university’s academic community is a trend that is seen across various stages of educational systems,” he says.

“Sometimes having specific pieces of art in a community can perform the social function of elevating that community's status.”

Public art is believed to play an important role in the academic community by fostering critical thinking, inspiring creativity and encouraging its viewers to see and move past tangible knowledge into that which can only be conceived through a process of deeper engagement and thought.

There is research that indicates that the arts are able to influence the making of shared meanings and new perspectives. On campuses, public art is the physical embodiment of institutional aspirations. It largely contributes to the creation and maintenance of the places where the University community can learn, live and dialogue in an environment rich in meaning.

Public art on campus celebrates the search for knowledge, while promoting the free exchanges of ideas. It is clear that the arts thus have the ability to enrich and transform an institution such as Nelson Mandela University.

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