World-renowned dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma has travelled from continent to continent to sold-out shows and has garnered a reputation of excellence for himself and his Vuyani Dance Company (VDC). This, however, is just one facet of his career as he is also a successful arts administrator and businessman. Creative Feel spoke to Maqoma about the business behind his twenty-five years of extraordinary dance.
… ‘When I go to funders I say, “give me this much in order for me to make this much so that I don’t come to you again with the same request year after year. Let us build a sustainable investment [together].” And so, when they look at the business model, they are more likely to say, “we like this, because it shows growth, development and that you are thinking beyond just the funding cycle.”’
During the critical period of 2009, the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) provided substantial
support of Vuyani Dance Theatre‘s (VDT) tenth anniversary programme, allowing the company to survive. In addition, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) provided a three-year funding grant, as apposed to the regular year-long grant. This proved to be crucial in allowing the company to increase its sustainability and Maqoma remains a vocal advocate for the pressing need for longer term funding.
‘When we got the three-year funding from the Lottery, we said, “let’s use this three-year funding in order for us to focus on all these key elements in the sustainability of the company – getting its image out there, creating a marketing model and developing audiences…” That started in 2010 and we’re here now, without a big funder behind us, because we started working on those critical elements… I could see the change. We are a perfect example of what long-term funding is able to do. Freeing you up to focus, to think about the business model, the system. A year-to-year thing is unsustainable in itself. Every year you go back because you haven’t had time to develop and test the ideas and see if things will work.
‘We’re also aware that we will never be fully self-sustainable… But what is important for funders to know is that, as a company, we are thinking about ways in which their investment can really go a long way, so that even when they are not there, we can still continue to function and the results of the investment can have a greater impact than what the money was intended for… For instance, Full Moon, which was a big production for us: how do we take elements of it and start selling those elements to corporates?’
Maqoma further emphasises the vital need for close cooperation with financiers whose feedback can help the company to deliver on (and exceed) expectations and focus on accountability. ‘Go to the shows, have those kinds of conversations – are audiences attending and if not, why? Those are critical conversations that we should be having with funders because there might be something else within the whole cycle that we might be able to solve together. The funding model might be a problem in itself. It happens a lot. Lots of communication should take place. We should all have a business model in terms of what the implication of funding is – the funders need to understand it and, as the receiver, we need to understand it.’…