‘We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.’Martin Luther King Jr
Many artists have had little to no work for over a year and many still await subsidies from promised relief packages. The Hilton Arts Festival has launched a crowd-funding exercise to stay afloat, and theatres across South Africa have closed permanently or remain shut in the absence of a solvent model that allows for the performance of shows in an environment with reduced audiences.
The arts and its value will be something we will certainly understand when it is gone. Without it, we face a bleak, homogenous future, culturally poor and uninspiring. Our identities will be rootless. Our talent will leave these shores and we’ll be left with a life less rich, and a society unchallenged by the deep thinking and creative energy that the arts bring us. When we go to look in the mirror, we will instead find a blank wall. Before Covid-19, South African arts was already in crisis. Now, we have an ongoing arts emergency.
BASA’s inaugural ASSEMBLY, partnered by British Council Southern Africa Arts, was created to discuss the sector in a way that included the persistent undercurrents, themes and voices from business, marketing, and the arts. (The recordings are freely available at http://assembly.basa.co.za/).
During the ASSEMBLY, what struck a particular chord was the notion that, across the board, there is a need to define, or rather redefine, the value of the arts in our society. In her succinct talk, BETWEEN THE STATE AND THE MARKET, leading researcher and academic Johanna Mavhungu referred to Robert Picard’s observation that the arts bring unique processes and products to the market. That these processes are different to how business usually operates, and that the arts contributes scarce skills and people into the business environment.
Some brands have truly harnessed the nuanced curiosity of the artist by infusing their brands with creativity; Nando’s and Nike come to mind. But the arts can also lend a more distinct value as the conscience of a business; an internal disruptor that collaborates and renegotiates with the system.
The BURNING ISSUES panel drew together arts facilitators, marketers, and corporate leaders in a robust debate about the tension between the intent of the arts and the motivations of business. Can they see eye to eye? The partnerships celebrated through the annual BASA Awards are proof that they can, but successful partnerships are defined by clear rules of engagement and this comes down to mutual respect and a solid understanding of value.
As an agency committed to engaging business in supporting the arts, BASA is driving research to extract evidence about the work and impact of the arts – as well as the habits and thoughts of audiences. BASA ASSEMBLY also marked the launch of ArtsTrack No. 9, a biennial research publication comprising business-orientated intelligence to help shape decision-making about investment in the arts.
The need is wide and deep. South Africa’s systemic inequality has created a unique demand for funding to assist artists in gaining access into the market, but there is a necessity for multiple funding and development agencies, donors and partners, plugging into the ecosystem and stimulating the arts environment at all levels. As with many countries all over the world, too many artists are reliant on the State for funding, and while the State has a vital role to play in stimulating the arts economy, its most important role is in defining cultural policy and value.
Business has a role to play, not only in funding, but in integrating our cultural texture into the DNA of the marketplace. The relationship goes beyond fiscal ROI and into deeper layers of impact and social cohesion, imagination, and progress. The artist is driven by passion and so by their very nature they are often self-exploitative; compelled to carry out their craft by impetuses other than money. In an ideal world, artists are not exploited for their passion and dedication but rather find themselves free to define it and express it. Business has the power to breathe life into that essence and give space to the rumblings of our most creative minds.
BASA has long consulted with businesses to extract the tangible and profoundly rewarding gains of working with the creative sector. As a business keen to contribute to the country, this is more than CSI. It’s a commitment to the telling of our collective story, the preservation of our talent and energy, and the pleasure of a life lived for the expression of it. We can measure that.
On 28 May 2021, BASA will be diving deeper into the topics that arose from BASA ASSEMBLY, through a series of monthly broadcasts called THE ASSEMBLY CONVERSATIONS SERIES hosted by Charmaine Soobramoney and Mandie van Spuy to be broadcast via Social TV at https://bit.ly/3ugc967. The planned programme is as follows:
THE CREATIVE AGENDA
09.00 Friday 28 May 2021
Anchored by insights from the launch of ArtsTrack no.9, this episode takes a deep dive into the findings of the inaugural edition of BASA ASSEMBLY partnered by the British Council to unpack the content and data shared in more detail and to discuss how brands use (or could use) the research to inform their partnership strategies.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN A DIGITAL AGE
09.00 Friday 25 June 2021
This episode explores intellectual property from the perspective of the rights of creatives, how to protect these and stop exploitation, the challenges of COVID, the opportunities of 4IR, earning from your IP and exploring digital platforms.
09.00 Friday 30 July 2021
The roles of creatives and marketers aren’t always separate. Both are part of the value chain, unique and different but still connected to move the hearts of consumers.
CULTURAL SECTOR FUNDING AND BUSINESS MODELS
09.00 Friday 27 August 2021
The cultural sector requires agile and relevant business models to survive. This episode explores new systems and strategies towards building a thriving creative economy and sharing innovative policies towards sustainability at a local and global level.
LESS DUPLICATION AND MORE COLLABORATION
09.00 Friday 01 October 2021
Ecosystem building and collective value creation through strengths mapping and systematic collaboration. From programming, audience engagement to funding opportunities, this episode unpacks current barriers to collaboration.
Ashraf Johaardien (He/They/Xe) has over 20 years of experience across a spectrum of creative and cultural disciplines. He is a multiple award-winning playwright and the former Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival. Prior to that they held key positions at several academic and cultural institutions. In 2019 xe was appointed CEO of BASA.