This 25 March sees the launch of the BASA ASSEMBLY, a two-day showcase of creative research taking place in a hybrid live and digital setting. ASSEMBLY is intended as a vehicle for showcasing BASA’s latest research into the creative sector; as well as work being done by its partners and stakeholders. Participants can look forward to a programme featuring insights from leading arts practitioners and business thought leaders.
Ahead of the official launch, we spoke with one of the co-curators of the event, BASA Head of Research, Madeleine Lambert, to find out more about ASSEMBLY, the need for creative research in South Africa, and the value of partnerships and collaboration across business and arts sectors.
Creative Feel: First off, could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about the work you do at BASA?
Madeleine Lambert: I started out in theatre, music, design and craft, but while I was completing my BA in Dramatic Arts at Wits I became interested in arts administration and management, and soon realised that this was a much-needed field of expertise and a strength of mine. This led me to pursue a Masters in Arts and Culture Management and teach arts management in the Wits School of Arts, supported by a National Research Foundation scholarship and internship. Between this experience and my work as one of the co-founders of South African non-profit performing arts collective, Flying House, I learned the value of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and research for growth and advocacy within our sector.
When an M&E position opened up at BASA, I saw it as an opportunity to put my knowledge and skills to use in a different environment – helping BASA understand, improve and communicate its impact, as well as grow understanding of and support for the creative and cultural sector. Now I’m Head of Research, responsible for aligning the organisation’s M&E with strategic goals and facilitating its integration into continuous programme development and quality improvement; contributing to funding/partnership proposals and reports; participating in programme development and advocacy; and establishing and implementing strategies for sharing research to position BASA as a thought leader and support its stakeholders.
Research underpins all aspects of BASA’s operations, and we have a raft of research documents drawn from programmes, arts-based initiatives, and ad-hoc research projects. These provide crucial insights into best practice, shifts and trends, all of which are being used to advocate for the value of arts-business relationships, inform the next generation of arts-business partnerships, and benefit the creative and cultural sector and its partners.
A longstanding and key research property in this regard is the biannual ArtsTrack research, which tracks consumer engagement in arts and culture, their perceptions of businesses sponsoring these activities, and estimated sponsor investment. The impetus for BASA ASSEMBLY, ArtsTrack offers BASA members a powerful tool to make the most of the shared value that partnering with the creative and cultural sector can bring.
CF: What can creatives, arts practitioners, and businesses alike take away from the BASA ASSEMBLY?
ML: While much of BASA’s research is exclusively a benefit available to our members, we acknowledge that research exists to develop and share knowledge to enrich society, so platforms like ASSEMBLY enable us to participate as active citizens by sharing some of our key findings more broadly, while still serving our loyal members and providing them with added value.
What is particularly important for BASA, linked to the organisation’s identity as a catalyst and facilitator, is for ASSEMBLY to serve not only as a platform for BASA’s voice, but also to invite and stimulate larger conversations with purpose, and give new and varied voices the opportunity to be heard. BASA ASSEMBLY gives our diverse stakeholders an opportunity to engage with leading practitioners and thought leaders within the creative and cultural sector, as well as those actively supporting or partnering with the sector through funding, sponsorship, investment and the like, and to access some of their latest creative sector research, resources, and insights.
You can expect two days of live and pre-recorded virtual engagements across social, digital and media platforms, comprising thought-leader presentations, round table and panel discussions, interviews and facilitated conversations, and podcasts on a variety of topics, all centred around the theme ‘Creativity Now: Cultural intelligence in the time of Covid-19’, which asks what insights cultural intelligence can offer in terms of rebooting the creative economy, in a world where we are trying to figure out what the new normal is.
Full programme details are being announced in phases leading up to the launch on 24 March 2021 – follow @BusinessArtsSA on Facebook, @basa_news on Twitter and @bizart_za on IG, or visit https://basa.co.za/ to keep abreast of those developments.
BASA ASSEMBLY will also give access to resources, such as Jozihub SMMEsmart, a project recently launched to assist small business owners to access vital business information via WhatsApp for free; and taking the BASA ASSEMBLY content forward, BASA will host a monthly conversation series from April 2021.
CF: How have partnerships between business and the arts shifted over the past year?
ML: Despite (and possibly because of) the economic climate placing increased pressure on corporate spend, we have continued to see more companies turning to alternative and cost-effective opportunities like arts and culture sponsorship to better leverage resources and achieve desired impacts within their target markets, and the estimated arts and culture sponsorship spend increased by a whopping R18 million from 2018 to 2019.
Having said that, Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions resulted in the majority of events being postponed or cancelled, and many sponsorships were put on hold. In light of this, BASA made provision for Artist Relief Grants by extending its Supporting Grant programme (funded by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, and usually limited to projects in an existing relationship between a business and arts organisation) and launching a funding campaign. Apart from individual contributions, the campaign attracted business support, receiving donations from the likes of RMB, Hollard and the IDC, and resulting in collaborations with BASA members Between 10and5, UJ Arts and Culture and The Solidarity Express to raise additional funds for the campaign. This enabled us to approve 160 grants to a combined value of over R1,4 million so far, and medical relief applications are still rolling in as we continue fundraising.
Technology and online content have taken centre stage in terms of connecting with consumers and enhancing the fan experience, and this is an opportunity both for arts, culture, and music practitioners, as well as the brands supporting them, which has been embraced (to varying degrees) in an attempt to keep the sector alive and retain partners.
CF: What are some of the main points of interest being found in recent research by BASA?
ML: BASA’s ArtsTrack research shows that arts and culture activities attract substantial audiences, with more than half of South Africans indicating that they follow arts and culture, and over two thirds being regular music listeners. Furthermore, this project quantifies arts and culture audiences and their demographics, as well as how their consumption patterns have shifted over the years. Not surprisingly, we’ve seen a rise in online and social media engagement, particularly in response to Covid-19, and our latest ArtsTrack No. 9 report considers these shifts, trends and opportunities in more detail.
For businesses wanting to tap into and connect with these markets, arts and culture can offer value-for-money opportunities that help them achieve their objectives. ArtsTrack confirms that consumers look favourably on brands sponsoring arts and culture, and that sponsorship spend on arts and culture has increased over the past decade, particularly when it comes to music.
CF: How does BASA’s own partnership with British Council Southern Africa Arts factor into the research that the organisation is able to do?
ML: Strategic collaborations with a variety of partners are key in enabling BASA’s research – as a relatively small team, we have limited capacity for rolling out research projects and need to draw on the expertise of others and pool resources to complement and enhance what BASA brings to the table. This also offers us different perspectives and the opportunity to engage with further-reaching data, as well as new networks and research participants.
In the past, different partnerships with British Council have enabled BASA to access, implement, and participate in research within South Africa and further afield, looking at a range of issues such as audience development, public private partnerships, private sector investment in the creative and cultural sector, youth employment and entrepreneurship in the sector, sectoral challenges and barriers, etc. These informed advocacy, resulted in collaborative and independent development and improvement of programmes and resources benefitting the sector, challenged us from a digital perspective, and connected BASA with other players to support and deepen our work.
Our collaboration with British Council Southern Africa Arts on BASA ASSEMBLY allowed both partners to drive relevant conversations and cross-pollinate ideas, increase audience reach, and access a wider and more diverse group of contributors. It has also sparked new conversations around potential research collaborations going forward, which could broaden the scope of both organisations’ research offerings.
CF: What is the importance of the research that underpins BASA’s operations and how can this research be used to grow the arts industries?
ML: Historically, documented research in the South African creative and cultural sector has been limited, which makes it challenging for the sector as a whole to learn from our own work and that of our peers; to improve our work, its impact and how we communicate and share what we do; to advocate for, as well as grow understanding of and build credibility for the sector; and to attract funding and investment to the sector and demonstrate return on investment. We unpack this further in the BASA ASSEMBLY facilitated conversation on the place of research in the sector and its impact on investment, and I strongly believe that organisations like BASA have a responsibility to prioritise and resource research that can grow the sector and its credibility, and make platforms like BASA ASSEMBLY available to raise awareness of these issues and get others involved.
BASA’s research and M&E data informs the organisation’s strategy, which in turn guides our operations, programming and communications, and helps BASA and our partners achieve our goals and measure that. As noted previously, this research helps us develop resources, share opportunities and roll out appropriate, impactful and improved programmes that truly serve our beneficiaries, thus contributing to the growth of the sector by capacitating creative and cultural practitioners and organisations. Sharing our success and that of our beneficiaries and partners builds credibility, not only for us, but also for the broader sector, and research is vital in tracking and documenting those stories, both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. Furthermore, this data proves our impact and the return on investment for partners, and we use that to leverage those relationships and secure new ones and other sources of funding.
ArtsTrack in particular incentivises BASA membership, and many of our members have indicated that they use this data in their own strategic planning to inform their partnership and sponsorship decisions. Particularly for the brands well-established and recognised as supporters of the creative and cultural sector, ArtsTrack affirms their reputation and investment strategy, and motivates to their boards and investors for continued engagement in the sector. For those considering entering into arts and culture sponsorship, and for the creative and cultural sector, ArtsTrack provides valuable insights regarding audiences and sponsor engagement, and it gives BASA the opportunity to reignite the conversation around arts and arts sponsorship, between key players within both business and the arts.