Charlotte Schaer 1946-2012

It is with great sadness that we report that our South African friend and colleague, Charlotte Schaer, passed away on Monday, May 14th.

Charlotte founded and ran CDP (Curriculum Development Project – Arts and Culture Education and Training) in Bertrams, Johannesburg, providing training in childhood development, women at risk empowerment projects, counsellor training programmes, arts and social advocacy projects, refugee testimony through the arts… and so much more.

The connection with CMH began in 2005 when Mike White visited SA to research his book. Charlotte and others at CDP were vitally helpful to him, and it was the warmth of those meetings that led to Mary Robson, Dawn Williams and North-East teachers visiting in 2007 to do a residency with CDP, resulting in further relationships, ongoing to this day.

Charlotte’s reciprocal visit to the UK and her passionate presentation on CDP at a Durham University conference in 2008 made a huge impression on our education and anthropology associates here – we saw the possibilities of arts engagement in even the most adverse circumstances and it brought the liberation of the new SA alive to us.

In conversation with Mary in 2007, Charlotte said she felt that the two significant qualities of CDP’s work are responsiveness and responsibility.

“Being responsible is about identifying action that requires a certain positioning in relationship to whom you are serving… Speaking on behalf of others, doing on behalf of others… It is a constant challenge to truly start from where people are coming from.”

She spoke of doing everything possible not to misrepresent the authentic voices of the voiceless, but pointed out that the work is necessarily and proudly interventionist.

“Art is political, healing and subversive. The making of it takes you to subconscious, spiritual places. It is a very deep meditation.”

She faced her illness with positive vibes laced with dark humour.  She was a strong woman able to look trauma in the face, a genuine friend to the most excluded members of society, and as a CDP artist she wielded a vibrant palette for a rainbow nation.

She was working to the end – her last email sent from her bed, hours before she passed away. Her friends and colleagues will gather at CDP this Saturday to remember her, safe in the knowledge that the company will carry on, its base secure.


About Mary Robson

Mary is a Creative Facilitator. She works at the Institute of Medical Humanities at Durham University and in a freelance capacity.
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2 Responses to Charlotte Schaer 1946-2012

  1. Mary, thank you for this moving tribute to Charlotte. She is remembered by us in CMH with great affection and respect. I personally greatly enjoyed a stimulating dinner our at La Tasca in Durham with her This is very sad news.

  2. Louis Shakinovsky says:

    Thank you for your insightful note. I knew Charlotte longer than anyone else and miss her greatly.
    She was a wonderful aunt to my 5 Children who adored her. I have never known anyone bear such illness with total disrespect for it. She told me so often how much worse off were others at the clinic where she received treatment. She never once indulged in self pity. Her dark humour prevailed to the end. She lost all her hair and then said that people will not be able to tell the difference between us. She died with her laptop still on, still working and ever mindful of all of those people who needed her. I will miss my little formidable Sister – I do.

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