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The top 25 creative partnerships empowering artists in South Africa

Business and arts partnerships are BASA’s ikigai. What defines a successful partnership between corporates and creatives, NGOs and artists, brands and illustrators? Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) CEO, Ashraf Johaardien, muses on 25 partnerships that caught his eye in 2022.

BASA’s flagship event, the BASA Awards, is an ongoing testament to the power of creative partnership. This year, the Awards saw a big shift to social impact projects and it is increasingly evident that creative inputs and collaboration are being strategically built into the planning and execution of multiple projects.

Top 25 business and arts partnerships BASA 25


Education was at the core of The Museum of Plastic, a digital museum that was interpreted by creatives as an ode to plastic in a time where plastic no longer exists. Partners Cooperative Innovations, Baz-Art and GreenPop were behind this project, which drew international attention and was included at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. The partners took the Beyond Borders BASA Award for their global reach and impact.


Community Development Award winners, Urban Space Management and MojaNation also took the SMME Award at this year’s BASA Awards for the Newtown Improvement District Revitalisation Project. The project saw artists reintegrated into the Newton urban space, known for its jazz and musical legacy, drawing life and creativity back into the area. This is not a new idea, but there is a fine line between creative infusion and gentrification. Ensuring art is not just window dressing for a rental increase is key to the authenticity of urban renewal projects.


The Corporate Social Investment Award collectively went to Spier Arts Trust, Bridges for Music Academy and Clout/SA for the Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival 2021. All these partners work tirelessly to weave creativity into all they do, consistently providing a platform for artists and creators to shine.


In the same spirit of ongoing nurturing and dedication to the arts, Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust were also recognised with a Long-Term Partnership BASA Award for the Nando’s Creative Exchange. Fast food and high-value artworks may seem like strange bedfellows, but Nando’s has made them cosy over the years, accumulating 24 500 art pieces, the largest private collection of contemporary Southern African art in the world. They also run four programmes together and support more than 150 artists, with artworks showcased in more than 1 200 Nando’s restaurants worldwide.


The First Time Sponsor Award went to Jaguar South Africa and #GiveHerACrown for their gender-based violence project #GiveHerACrown. The women’s empowerment platform used the power of storytelling and the arts to raise awareness and funds. Harnessing creative activism appropriately is often the best way to separate ideas from the noise, giving them meaning and instant accessibility.


BMW Group South Africa and Southern Guild made some noise of their own when they brought Rich Mnisi in to edit their collaborative project, RICH Magazine. The magazine promoted Rich’s ideas and ethos as well as his artworks (furniture, in this instance) while also promoting the latest launch from BMW. The project, which won them the Innovation BASA Award inspired new followers of the brands, and BMW have gone on to work with Mnisi again. Companies that truly and respectfully value the creative lens have much to gain.


We may still be reeling from the immediate economic effects of COVID-19, but step back for a minute and the perspective widens. Hardship called on us to ask for help, to collaborate and conquer and that is exactly what Gearhouse Splitbeam and The National School of the Arts did in The Dome@NSA – Outdoor Venue. The arts school found itself unable to continue staging performances indoors during COVID-19 but industry veterans Gearhouse Splitbeam stepped in with the ultimate tented structure. With much of their gear dormant at the time, it was a sensible use of energy and a major investment in a new generation of artists. The partnership won them a Sponsorship-In-Kind BASA Award.


Our Chairperson’s Award this year went to Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct for their Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival. This distinctly African take on digital creativity is incredibly exciting and circular in its design. Rooted in the sector, it is programmed annually in response to development needs identified by sector practitioners. It also demonstrates year-on-year how the Festival and the creative and tech industry have evolved, simultaneously feeding off each other for creativity and critical reflection.  


Last year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) was gracefully executed online thanks to their partnership with Absa, and this long-time sponsor continued the journey as the Festival rebooted its live experience this year. It can be challenging for bigger corporate sponsors to be agile in a fast-shifting space, but this partnership stands strong thanks to high levels of trust built up through their history.


MTN is another big corporate sponsor that has held a steady presence in the arts. The five-year partnership between MTN SA Foundation and UJ Art Gallery has evolved into a collaborative vehicle for their shared vision in the MTN X UJ New Contemporaries Award Programme. Taking its impetus from MTN SA Foundation’s original New Contemporaries Award, the programme nurtures a young guest curator who in turn selects works from contemporary artists. The new MTN X UJ New Contemporaries Award Programme places special emphasis on digital media, in line with both MTN and UJ’s 4IR strategies.


Halls’ ‘#BreatheForIt’ campaign saw the brand significantly jacking up their street cred by engaging South African illustrator and street artist, Karabo Poppy. The project mentored South African artists, giving them fifteen seconds of fame through curating design works in Braamfontein. Furthermore, Halls set up mentorship and skills workshops to empower artists to take up space.


Distell and the National Arts Festival (NAF) have been evolving their partnership around the Distell National Playwright since 2017. The project is a vital catalyst for bringing new scriptwriting to the surface. Additionally, writers are encouraged to work in any South African language. Finalists receive mentorship to complete their plays and the winner’s play is produced and staged at the NAF. This year’s finalists were all women and presented powerful ideas that need to be nurtured for the South African stage. Both partners are invested in the arts, but Distell’s support on this project is literally helping shape new stories for the South African stage, a space which the NAF continues to nurture.


Google’s mission to digitise and share cultural content on their global platform saw collections from Durban’s Phansi Museum, along with eight other institutions across South Africa, preserved and made accessible to the world. This also makes for a new layer of research for scientists, historians and scholars who can access information more quickly.


H&M and Yay Abe were all over the news when they splashed out with an exciting new collaboration this year. Yay Abe illustrator, Russel Abrahams, brought vibrant local energy to the somewhat demure Scandinavian brand and won the brand a new place in South Africa’s cultural heart.


As part of the global Converse City Forests campaign, Converse launched their fourth city forest mural in Jewel City, Johannesburg with Seth Piemental AKA African Ginger. The title of the mural, Our Story, tells a tale about day-to-day life in Jozi, not only recording a creative expression but also beautifying urban space.


Another sneaker brand finely attuned to the urban creative space and giving voice to its creatives is New Balance. Their collab with legendary street artist Falko One saw him bringing his signature elephant designs to the walls of Johannesburg. Honouring the work of an artist who, for over 30 years, has been intrinsic to shaping the street art scene, was a significant creative moment.


The Feel Good Series, a collab between Mamakashaka and Tunecore was a monthly day party that turned up every last Saturday of the month at Jozi’s newest rooftop venue. A chilled blend of funk, soul, R&B, house, hip-hop, reggae (and more) took ticket holders through a day of good vibes and community but also put artists and musicians at the centre of their events.


Cape Town’s Instagram is currently splashed with pics of the new installation by Faatimah Mohamed-Luke and Al Luke (the creative minds behind Mrs + Mr Luke) for Our Future Cities, who partnered with BLOK to create a vibrant pedestrian crossing in Sea Point. Urban activists, Our Future Cities, said the mural represents equity and diversity. Cape Town also received its first ‘Pride’ pedestrian crossing in the rainbow colours that have become the international symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community. The crossing was painted in the Somerset Road area of Greenpoint, an area known for its thriving LGBTQIA+ nightlife.


German cult shoe brand Birkenstock are also dipping a toe into the local collab space, not with a complete shoe design but definitely with a hot contemporary local lens. Three SA tastemakers, fashion disruptor and creative Yasmin Furmie, co-founder of Moea Design Cassandra Twala, and Mzukisi Mbane, founder and creative director of ImprintZA, are featured in the summer campaign against a bold, African inspired re-interpretation of Birkenstock’s distinctive sole pattern.


Working with like-minded organisations, Tywg creates multi-faceted experiences, workshops and campaigns in collaboration with like-minded organisations invested in the sustainability space. Their Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards celebrate designers who use sustainable practices, promoting their work to consumers. Working with multiple partners, their 2022 Awards saw an activation with the Mount Nelson Hotel that invited the sustainable fashion designers into a high tea fashion show, broadening the audience of these important sustainable creatives.

Twenty One

Staying with sustainable creativity, the Beach Co-op also partnered with Twyg, Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages and various other organisations to produce a series of interventions around beach plastic, called Plastic Free Mzansi 2022. These included beach clean-ups and a creatively illustrated online drag-and-drop recycling game designed by Stella Hertantyo and Gerlinde Vassen, with artwork by Moss and Sea Studio and Canva. The game showcased the ‘Dirty Dozen’, the most common beach plastic offenders. The use of multi-level interventions means the campaign reached out to many different audiences in a common call for better consumer behaviour.

Twenty Two

Investec’s support of the Cape Town Art Fair has been integral to its growing success. Positioning art in terms of its investment value has elevated this event from a showcase to a serious buyer’s market, where new and established contemporary artists and galleries are seen by big crowds of art lovers and collectors.

Twenty Three

Recognising South Africa’s extraordinary writers is the defining reason that Sunday Times and Exclusive Books have partnered on the Sunday Times Literary Awards. Both are invested in readers, in thinkers and in buyers, and this award is a much-needed and distinguished platform of recognition for the country’s writers and the development of more readers.

Twenty Four

Gucci worked with Congolese-born artist Cinthia Mulanga to celebrate the evolution of their ’Diana’ bag with a series of paintings that featured the signature bamboo-handled tote. The paintings featured black women in various settings, a departure from the largely Western slant on this brand and a significant courtship with an ever-evolving African market.

Twenty Five

Hennessy Back to the City returned with a full-blown line-up of music, street art, and culture in Newtown Johannesburg last month. The event focuses on hip-hop and rap and is a natural fit for Hennessey, who claims they are the most mentioned alcohol spirit brand in the music industry (mentioned in over 2 500 songs). Back to the City founder Osmic Menoe agrees that the partnership is a natural fit, “This partnership is a breath of fresh air, not just for the festival but for the culture. The connection is genuine, and this is just another giant leap in the genre’s expansion.”

The list above was created as BASA marked 25 years. For the last quarter century, we have been encouraging and showcasing partnerships between business and the arts. What we have learnt is that partnerships, like relationships, are complicated but perhaps like relationships, mutual respect is the X factor. The most successful partnerships are heading in a similar direction, invested in similar outcomes and are a cultural fit for one another. The work is sincere, genuine and not a cheap thrill or a flash in the pan. Cultivating these relationships is the work of time and investment.

Top 25 business and arts partnerships BASA 25 Ashraf Johaardien
Ashraf Johaardien

BASA has consulted to multiple businesses and arts organisations about cultivating good partnerships. To find out more, visit

Ashraf Johaardien is the CEO of Business and Arts South Africa. 

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