Wall art: This mosaic produced by students of the Spier Arts Academy is at Nando’s King Cross restaurant in London. Picture: SUPPLIED
Wall art: This mosaic produced by students of the Spier Arts Academy is at Nando’s King Cross restaurant in London. Picture: SUPPLIED

I’m creative when I’m surfing big waves. This was the answer I filled in on my icebreaker name tag at the Business and Arts SA (Basa) research colloquium at which we shared research and best practice with business, academics and friends of the arts.

It’s also a good description of Basa’s challenging work, surfing big waves in SA’s public, private and arts sectors, defining the moments between the numbers and the narratives.

The numbers are impressive. To date, Basa has disbursed R34.4m to 1,487 projects, which have been able to leverage R440m in sponsorship from the corporate sector — that is R13m of corporate support for every R1m of supporting grant funds, in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture.

While sport still dominates business sponsorship, the arts sponsorship spend in SA has increased from R136m in 2000 to an estimated R524m in 2015.

Music sponsorship increased by R55m from 2013 to 2015, according to the Basa Artstrack researched by BMi. This is separate from the funding that has gone into upskilling projects in the arts sector in SA and across the borders.

Research has shown that, on average, 46% of South Africans feel more positively about a company that has invested in the arts. For music, this level rose to 59% among audiences.

Historically, private sector funding for the arts has come from corporate social investment, but over the last decade, research has shown a shift.

In attempting to understand why business funds the arts, Basa 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 corporate social investment and marketing to human resources for wellness, transformation and diversification; 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.

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.

So what can the arts mean for business and society? Keynote speaker at the colloquium Laura Callanan, founder of Upstart Co-Lab, which pioneers ways to grow the arts as a sector of the economy, highlighted how artists offer creativity, an attribute that 60% of CEOs surveyed by IBM felt was the most important leadership quality they were looking for.

For Callanan, the nexus between the arts and business is in the form of "artist innovators", people who are primarily artists who apply their skills beyond studio, theatre or concert hall. They catalyse public-private partnerships. "Their imagination is their ‘super power’ and they’re incredibly prescient about what the future holds for us."

Think Leonardo da Vinci, the famed artist who was also an 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.

SA’s creative economy contributed R90.5bn to the national economy, or 2.9% of the GDP in 2013 to 2014, according to the Department of Arts and Culture. More than 60% of those practitioners are below the age of 34.

In referencing Hugh Masekela in his state of the nation speech, "I wanna lend a hand/ Send me", the message to each and every one to engage as citizens is a clarion call by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

At Basa, we believe the potential for cross-sectoral and positive growth is immense. It’s time to surf big waves.

• Constant is CE at Business Arts SA.