EDITORIAL: Galvanising the power of arts
Business in SA is — globally speaking — an unusually active sponsor of the arts and is a great example of its galvanising power
Business and Arts SA (Basa) held its 20th annual award ceremony on Sunday, an extraordinary record for an extraordinary organisation. Awards were presented to businesses small and large, including Standard Bank, Sasol, M-Net, General Electric, Rand Merchant Bank and the Gooderson Kloppenheim Country Estate Hotel.
Business Day is a longtime supporter of the event, held in 2017 at the Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Humankind and sponsored by Hollard.
Business in SA is — globally speaking — an unusually active sponsor of the arts, and this joint government and private initiative, which began early in the democratic era, is a great example of the galvanising power of the arts and what can be achieved by thoughtful, dedicated work. On its double-decade anniversary, it’s worth recalling and recording why business should continue taking an active interest in the arts.
The point needs to be made for obvious reasons: as a developing country, SA should prioritise its meagre resources, and artistic endeavours will always be seen as a lesser priority with so many families struggling to put a regular plate of food on the table. Yet, even in a poor country, artistic endeavour is a crucial creative impetus; it generates surprising business opportunities and, most of all, performs the vital function of building nationhood.
Many businesses are attracted to sports sponsorship mainly because of the intensity of public support for a limited number of sporting codes and the concentration of eyeballs in bite-sized packages. Arts sponsorship is a different kettle of fish. It’s very diverse, ranging from film and dance to an ever-expanding range of formats such as land art. It can be controversial politically and socially, which is often a turn-off for business, which tends to seek safe sponsorships. And it can be maddeningly ethereal. Yet the time and money spent on arts events greatly exceeds that spent on sports in almost all dimensions.
Cultural and creative industries employ more than 440,000 people
There are two arguments for business to support the arts. It should do so without any preconceived agenda because artistic expression is the one untrammelled, unmediated, organic form of expression in a world that is excessively rule-bound. It provides everyone, including business, with an ungoverned insight into their world from which they can and should draw inspiration and creativity.
The second argument is practical: the arts help to build a mentality of creativity, the arts tend to drive tourism and build quality of life in very concrete ways. Crucially, in a world where problems are becoming more complex and co-operation is increasingly necessary, the arts provide a welcoming doorway to positive social interaction.
The Department of Arts and Culture figures for the sector are eye popping. In 2014, the latest date for which figures are available, the creative economy contributed R90.5bn to the economy, representing 2.9% of GDP. Cultural and creative industries employ more than 440,000 people. In value terms, that is about half the mining industry, and although the numbers are not strictly comparable in employment terms that’s more or less the same as the mining industry. This is not a small sector.
Basa is unusual in terms of its global counterparts in that it has developed beyond a corporate social investment or pure marketing model into developing shared social investment models. Basa CE Michelle Constant argues that arts entrepreneurs should investigate opportunities such as selling equity in their businesses instead of relying on a grants or donations model.
In a context of lower economic growth, arts sponsorship is likely to be even more stretched than it is now. But in some ways, it is more crucial than it has ever been.