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Supporting creativity and culture as a driver of tourism

Business & Arts is a monthly column by Michelle Constant, CEO of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA).

Gregory Maqoma’s work, Cion, at the Market Theatre may well be one of the most profound dance productions I have seen in many years.

The piece revealed the intrinsic relationship between narrative, music and dance as is not easily or often demonstrated. It also highlighted Maqoma’s extraordinary talent and skill as a leader in creativity. Maqoma is one of the students to graduate from the GIBS Social Entrepreneurship Programme and his ability to join the dots between creativity and the business of creativity is a joy and a pleasure to watch. The performance came a few days after watching another great show at the Market, The Suit. The Can Themba tale of a cuckolded husband and his wife is a brutal one, and the performances by Siyabonga Twala and Zola Nombona as the tragic couple were a powerful and moving indictment on the fabric of apartheid and the personal stories woven through. It’s not often that I am moved to tears in theatre, but director James Ngcobo’s production did exactly that. It is thrilling when time after time one walks out of the Market Theatre Complex debating and discussing. The space is vibrant and engaging and certainly answers some of the needs of a cultural city. I feel the same way about The Orbit in Braamfontein. Last night, after watching Standard Bank Young Artist Benjamin Jephta performing with Kyle Shepherd, Jitsvinger, Marcus Wyatt and an excellent crew, I felt that skin buzz you get when you know you are watching something special, something many people should see. I felt proud to be South African, and knew I was watching something that shines brightly beyond the venue and its locals – but how to promote it further?

I felt that skin buzz you get when you know you are watching something special, something many people should see.

A recent presentation to an equity firm on BASA’s operations reminded me of the challenges of growing and promoting cultural intelligence. If we are going to engage more holistically in society, then we need to exercise that cultural muscle. And whilst I don’t mean we should all go off and take a dance class with Gregory (although that, too, might provide some excellent arts-based intelligence. In fact, I recently read an article on the value of choirs in the workspace, providing both teamwork and transformation), I am talking about the attendance of events. Unless we include new creative and cultural experiences in our lives frequently, life is less lived. And yet it isn’t easy to find out where to go, what to attend. With the slow demise of arts journalism in the mainstream media, the onus lies more and more with the curious and the passionate mavericks who cover culture in blogs, social media, print media and other online and hardcopy spaces.

Over the last year, BASA has been working on a mapping system, mapping the cultural events and spaces of South Africa nationwide, as a means of support for both international and domestic tourists, with an appetite for creative South Africa. As we have aligned events to accommodation, to provinces and to the time of year, we are slowly starting to understand what is required to support the focus of SA Tourism’s fourth and fifth tourism pillars, i.e. City Life, and Cultural Routes and Roots. In supporting creative cities, and even a creative country, the cultural sector is supporting the SA Tourism campaign #IDoTourism – artists, performers, gallerists, venue managers, stage setters, lighting designers, the Gregory Maqomas, Benjamin Jephtas, the cast of the Molière production Tartuffe, the Market Theatre managers and the Orbit’s sound assistants, every single one is doing tourism – supporting creativity and culture as a driver of tourism, and thus of work. In order for them to do tourism, we also need to do tourism and attend events. I dare you to exercise that cultural muscle – it will be far easier than conducting an orchestra or going on pointe!

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