The Maboneng Precinct for me was one of the first places where I started learning about Joburg’s inner city. My dad works a block away from the precinct and he was the first to introduce me to it. Fast forward a few years and the precinct has grown from just the Arts on Main complex and a few surrounding buildings to an entire suburb mixing young hip clientele with city dwelling families.
Hayleigh Evans is knee deep in Maboneng to say the least
The Nicest thing about Joburg is…
Being in it!
1.Where are you from? What was it like growing up where you did?
I grew up in a pretty quiet suburb in the South of Joburg. It was nice… I think kids think anywhere is nice as long as they can ride bikes with their friends after school. The suburb wasn’t completely developed when we were growing up so we had loads of open space to play adventure adventure, which made my sister an I huge tomboys. All our neighbours knew each other and we had a great sense of community. I think its the nature of Joburg suburbs to be self sustaining, so you never never have to or get to realise that there’s a bigger city out there. You’d see it on class trips to the planetarium or family outings to see the Jeppe Street Christmas lights, but the interaction is so short and you’re so young that you never really think about it.
When it was time to go to high school, my parents decided that it was better for me to go to school in the North. I guess I never realised there was anything different about where I grew up until I was mocked relentlessly for my accent and the other kids in school didn’t know what a drag race was….
I’m glad I got to grow up on both sides of the city… while driving through the city every day to get to school (everyone else went on the highways to avoid the big bad city), I developed a fascination with the high rise buildings and the things happening on the street. Looking back, it feels serendipitous that that was the way of things and I get to live in the middle of those places now.
2.What do you do now and how did you end up doing it?
I’m an actress, co-owner the POPArt theatre and the brand and cultural director for Maboneng.
It all kind of happened in a roundabout way… but most simply put: As an actress, there’s a lot of downtime, so I was waitressing at night and downtiming most days. A friend of mine was opening a coffee shop (The cupcake factory) in a new development in downtown Joburg (Maboneng), so I was spending a lot of my time there while they were setting it up. From hanging out a lot there, I met Jonathan (the developer) who suggested I use my downtime to help out in his office. If I’m honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I signed on short term hoping to make connections in the creative industry and have some input in the regeneration of Joburg, which I am passionate about.
A few months in, I was so inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and creative opportunity that I approached friends of mine that I had studied acting with about the idea of starting a actors center (POPArt: People of performing art) in one of the retail spaces in Maboneng. This was just over 3 years ago… A short term “admin” role has turned into a full time awesome job and POPArt has turned into a full time theater.
The brand and cultural management basically entails putting together and promoting unique projects and events based on culture, design, urbanism and entrepreneurship, using the whole of Maboneng as a playground for these ideas. It’s an extremely fun and gratifying way to spend time and we get to work with energetic and inspiring people locally and from all over the world everyday.
3.Do you have any hobbies/side projects outside of work?
I wish I had time… but I tend to turn my side find ways to relate all my side projects back to “work”.
But I did recently get given a Cyclogy A2B metro bike to ride around and I am getting more into using cycling as a way to navigate the city.
Acting feels like a bit of a side project at the moment, but POPArt is currently working on a one woman show that I will perform, which we will hopefully put up before the end of the year.
4. What do you think makes Maboneng work…why do people keep coming back and others invest in the area?
If I had to pick one thing that makes it work for me, it’s the sense of community: that idea of being in a place where neighbours know each other and people really care about one another. I think that’s what it is for the people who live here or have businesses here.
I think what makes people keen to invest or what keeps people coming back is the diversity and quality of the lifestyle offerings in the neighbourhood as well as the sense of constant evolution. You can literally not visit for a week and, when you come back, something will have changed. I think that’s important for Joburg specific regeneration. The minute it plateaus, there’s a sense that it’s “just another attempt at Joburg regeneration”
5.Urban regeneration is a growing trend in Joburg, what do you think the biggest challenge is facing this movement?
I think the biggest long term challenge is accessibility. Public transport routes are slowly connecting to the city (but they don’t run late enough) and there are quite a few private transport initiatives, but we have a long way to go in terms of getting people to use public transport. Joburgers love their cars.
Making the city more accessible through transport projects would really help in terms of getting tourists into the city, but it would also help to make it a place that you can simply hang out, even if you don’t live nearby. Projects like the Night Bus are great.
6.Are Joburgers still afraid of the big bad city? Were you ever a bit hesitant to get involved in working with and in the city?
People love to talk about how bad things are… The amount of people who shit talk the inner city currently far out weigh the people who have been into the inner city and have seen the great work that a number of the regeneration precincts in the city are doing.
The truth is Joburg as a whole is unsafe.
If you had to look at proper crime statistics, there are far less incidents in the inner city than in the suburbs, but people don’t really want to hear that. It’s a chicken and egg situation because you have to get people to come and see and experience the inner city to shift their perceptions, but they often will have heard of the places, be inspired by reading about them, but then not come when they hear it’s in the inner city… But word of mouth is the strongest tool, so we have to keep creating unmissable attractions to get people into the city, who in turn will tell/ bring their friends.
We’re getting there, but we have a long way to go.
I never really considered that I should be scared to get involved or invest, but my parents had about 700 hernias before they came around to the idea of me living, working and starting a business in the inner city. They’re chilled about it now though.
7.What are three of your favourite things to do/ eat/ attend/ visit in Maboneng?
Can I say POPArt? Because it really is one of my favourite things to do! I love seeing newly devised pieces of theatre and what extremely talented people can do with a black box space, and I have the best time with my partners, the performers and the audiences. It never really feels like work.
For eating, the Sunday buffet at House of Baobab is a staple. The atmosphere is always warm and the staff and owners make it feel like home… I’ve sat there for hours trying out different African delicacies over a bottle of wine… and the best part is that I never have to drive home.
To simply do… (and it’s been this way from the early beginnings) is to round up some friends and neighbours, grab a bottle of something and go and have a drink on a rooftop somewhere… Whether it’s on a new construction site, or in a fully developed space, watching the sunset (or sunrise) over Joburg from high up with some friends is a fuss free winner!
8.What’s your favourite local/undiscovered spot in Joburg?
ZEBRA INN!!! aka Taxidermy bar
It’s a bar about 2 blocks up from the main strip of Maboneng. It’s open til late, has cheap drinks, great people, a juke box and a pool table. It’s completely unpretentious and kind of feels like I’m back in the South.