On Monday, 30 November, 28 very excited Kwa-Zulu Natal primary school children boarded a bus to head off for an arts and culture adventure: TBWA\Group\Durban sponsored the costs for the ‘management team’ from each of the four KwaZulu-Natal schools at which the company has helped to set up a Room 13 art studio, to attend a Room 13 Lekgotla in Johannesburg.

Room 13 is a studio run by learners for learners, supported by an artist-in-residence, within a school environment. The learners manage the studio as a business, electing their own management team each year and the artist-in-residence is their employee, not their teacher. Room 13 has proven to be an extremely effective way in which to keep children off the streets – they are encouraged to express their creativity, but at the same time are equipped with knowledge and skills which will serve them in years to come.

TBWA\Group\Durban’s Eira Sands spearheads the Room 13 initiative in KwaZulu-Natal and, to date, has helped four schools to set up this unique concept. She comments, “Each year, TBWA\Group\South Africa holds a Lekgotla in Johannesburg and sponsors the costs for the Room 13 children to attend. This meeting not only enables the learners from all of the 13 Room 13’s around South Africa to meet and mingle, it is also a valuable learning experience for them, as they attend workshops, presentations and social occasions. There is also an exhibition of their work, which is for sale to TBWA\Group staff, clients and suppliers. The children are extremely excited about the exhibition, as they love the opportunity to do some business and raise funds for their studios!”

The four schools, all in underprivileged communities, are Silwane Primary, in Inanda District; Dargle Primary in Dargle; Kwa Makuza Primary in Ugu District; and Kwa Cutshwayo Primary in Ntshilinyama, near Marionhill.

For most of the Room 13 children, it was the first time they had ever been out of their hometown, let alone the province. TBWA\Group\Durban’s D\M\Y PR & Events organised a suitable send off for the excited children: A team assembled at TBWA\Group’s Westville offices at 8am, armed with tea and Chelsea buns and Room 13-branded t-shirts and caps to bid the kids bon voyage.

With Room 13, the focus is on allowing access to art facilities while engendering entrepreneurial and leadership skills. As there is no formal syllabus or specific modules followed, the children at the schools are free to determine the activities in each Room 13. Some of the Room 13’s do more visual art, such as traditional painting and drawing; some do drama, poetry and/or story-telling; while others do arts and crafts. Many of the Room 13’s do a different discipline on each day of the week to be able to cater to all of the different interests.

Room 13 was started in a primary school in Scotland approximately 12 years ago. There are now 30 Room 13’s around the world: Six in England; two in Scotland; two in the United States; two in India; one in Turkey; one in Nepal; one in Mexico; one in China; one in Canada; and thirteen in South Africa. Of these thirteen, four are in KwaZulu-Natal and a fifth is due to open in early 2010. TBWA\Group\South Africa was awarded the Business Day/BASA Award for 'Best Youth Sponsorship', ahead of entries by some of the country’s biggest corporate sponsors.