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Numbers, narratives and surfing big waves

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

I’m creative when I’m surfing big waves.

Michelle Constant     This was the answer I filled in on my icebreaker name tag at the BASA Research Colloquium, partnered by Hollard, in Johannesburg last month, where we shared two decades of research and best practice with business, academics and friends of the arts. It’s also a good description of BASA’s challenging work in recent years, surfing big waves in South Africa’s public, private and arts sectors, defining the moments between the numbers and the narratives.
     The numbers are impressive in themselves. To date, BASA has been able to leverage R440 740 824 in sponsorship from the corporate sector – that is R13 million of corporate support for every R1 million of supporting grant funds, in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture.
     The BASA Artstrack research has shown that, on average, 46% of South Africans feel more positively about a company that has invested in the arts. When it comes to music specifically, this level rose to 59% among audiences. (Indeed, the BMi numbers show a larger audience for jazz than for soccer in this country…)
     Historically, private sector funding for the arts has come from corporate social investment, but over the last decade, the BASA research has shown a shift. In attempting to understand why businesses fund the arts, we decided to ‘follow the money’; to see where the budgets for support of the arts came from. We call this a Shared Value Cycle, as we see a divergence of support coming from CSI and Marketing to HR for wellness, transformation and diversity; we see the arts supporting brand awareness and social currency, we see businesses engaging in the arts to grow cultural tourism. What becomes clear is that the principle of Shared Value is supported when creativity and the arts are seeded in a company’s core strategy. Companies like Nando’s, Merrill Lynch Bank of America, Spier, Hollard, Standard Bank, Absa, PPC, RMB, Investec, and FNB all demonstrate diverse engagements with the creative and cultural sector. In fact, this week I spent some time at Spier Wine Farm, with the Spier Arts Trust, and their approach to ESG (Environment, Society and Governance) is highly commendable.
Michelle Constant
     Indeed the Colloquium presentations proved the real calibre and creativity of business people that are engaging in the arts. Merrill Lynch revealed a focus on child-centred arts engagement with their support of the schools outreach at Wits Art Museum. PPC described to the audience the story of an Imaginarium winner – a sculptor from the Eastern Cape – through theatre. Standard Bank invited Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Nduduzo Makhathini, onto the stage to perform, taking the audience on an aural journey. RMB’s Yvette Nowell simply got down on the floor and danced, challenging the entire audience to do the same. What struck me was that we did not follow the numbers of RMB but rather the narrative – that as partners they are passionate, fun and innovative.
     All in all, the business presentations were powered by passion, by positive partnership and a belief in an inclusive future, fueled by creativity.
     So, what can the arts mean for South African business and, more broadly, for society? Speaker Laura Callanan, whose trip was supported by the US Embassy, is a New York native who founded the Upstart Co-Lab in 2015. She highlighted how artists offer creativity, an attribute that 60% of CEOs surveyed by IBM in 2010 felt was the most important leadership quality they were looking for. This is a compelling narrative. For Callanan, the ultimate nexus between the arts and business comes in the form of ‘artist innovators’. Think Leonardo da Vinci: a famed artist, who was also an avid and curious inventor. Indeed, it’s a strong argument for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) approach in education.
     South Africa’s creative economy contributed more than R90.5-billion to the national economy, or 2.9% of the GDP in 2013 to 2014, according to the DAC (Department of Arts and Culture) and SACO (South African Cultural Observatory). Over 60% of those practitioners are below the age of 34. In referencing Hugh Masekela in his SONA speech, ‘I wanna lend a hand/Send me’, the message to each and every one of us to engage as citizens, is a clarion call by President Ramaphosa. At BASA, we believe that the potential for cross-sectoral and positive growth is immense. It’s time to surf the big waves.

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