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Monday, 20 July 2015

How do the arts move you?

By Andrew Mulenga

You probably go to bed after watching a favourite television programme or a movie, doze off to a novel and then wake up unintentionally humming away to a popular tune playing on the radio, maybe you even glance at a painting, drawing or photograph hanging in your living room before you step out of the house.

Visitors to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown,
South Africa read some comments in response to the question
If so, you consume and enjoy the arts without even giving it a thought, everybody does one way or another. But have you ever really asked yourself how the arts make you feel; poetry , film, dance, music, sculpture or paintings. Do they make you feel anything at all; do they make you happy, sad, or annoyed do they even move you at all?

“How do the arts move you?” this is a question that was posed to visitors at the National Arts Festival 2015 in South Africa last week. As part of “#artmovesme” a community engagement campaign being conducted by Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), a none-profit company whose primary aim is to: “promote mutually beneficial and sustainable business-arts partnership that will benefit society as a whole.”

The question was placed on a large inter-active board that has captivating artwork by Zimbabwe-born artist Sindiso Nyoni. Roughly the length of a wall from a fairly sized room, it comes with three hanging felt markers enabling passers-by to respond to the question by scribbling something on the wall.

BASA CEO Michelle Constant
“This particular board is the third iteration last time we took it to Hollard (an insurance company) and business professional all filled it in. It’s all very interesting to see how different it is in a business space and at an arts festival; here at the festival they scribble all sorts of thinks including graffiti. Some write terrible things, some great things, all of which is fine,” explains BASA CEO Michelle Constant.

She explains that although the board has been displayed in business houses during her organisations meetings with them, this was the first time it was being presented to the general public. It was strategically placed at the 1820 Settlers monument building, the hub of activities during South Africa’s largest arts festival.  

“More broadly we just want to start seeing what people are saying and why they are saying it. The big question is how you argue the importance of sponsoring the arts to the business world. You see, BASA’s function is to leverage the relationship between business and arts but what we have seen in the past two years is that given the current economic climate where the Rand is dropping dramatically the challenge is that businesses are shutting down on their marketing budgets,” she says.

Felt pens were tied to the board so
passers-by can scribble how they
felt about the arts
“Given that at the moment, they currently give most of the money to the arts through marketing one of the challenges for us has been to shift what our log frame is, in the past we have always said ‘business loves the arts and therefore business gives money to the arts’ now what we have had to say is if we do certain activities and we show business the value of the arts then business will consider giving to the arts, so we thought about a social campaign that will get people talking about the arts and why they are valuable to them.”
But although BASA's purpose is to: “attract corporate sector support for the arts and culture, whether financial or in kind and to lift the profile of the arts and artists within South Africa.” Constant points out that her organisation has sprung beyond South African borders and she recently returned from two regional tours, one in Zambia and the other in Mozambique respectively.

“I just returned from Zambia, and one of the reasons we went there was to have a meeting with quite a good number of businesses. This was set up by the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC). We are lucky in South Africa there is support which may not exist in Zambia but this is a challenge that you can lose very quickly,” she says.

The board attracted a lot of graffiti but a
good number of responses tried to
address the question
“We did not talk about setting up an independent body, but how we can support other countries, how we can support Zambian businesses and how we can support Zambian government to think differently. All of that is just around lobbying and advocacy”.
In Zambia, through NAC, she met with mining companies and other business houses. She believes they were very excited and interested in getting involved and that the response was extremely positive.

Constant indicates that her organisation puts the challenge to businesses in South Africa telling them that when they stop funding the arts, South Africa it will become like any other country that does not fund the arts. People will forget why they do it, how to do it. She points out that BASA wants arts sponsorship to become a principled argument and that if the arts are not funded there simply will be no more arts.

“In Mozambique we were working mostly with government, working with how members of the Ministry of Culture think about the arts and activate around the arts, it was interesting and very positive,” she says.

“In Mozambique the conversation was also with individual government officials, asking them when they last went to see an arts event, is it a few days ago, weeks ago, did they go a year ago it’s disturbing sometimes to notice how far ago they went that’s why these boards are interesting”.

Detail - The board was design by
Zimbabwe-born artist Sindiso Nyoni
She observes that lobbying for the arts brings perception to the fore and the argument becomes a matter of principal, and the only way you can prove principal is by showing the sponsors how the arts impact so many people and this inter-active board is a perfect example.

“Look, for the board here at the festival, these are not just grown-ups, these are also children, these are children that are having the opportunity to see the arts. With a board like this, it is the first time we have accessed the youth and society so it is very important to us, the findings are exciting,” she adds.

“As much as sponsoring the arts is serious, art is also play, so we like to keep it playful and do not mind the playful responses. Someone has wrote ‘Art is like a blunt pencil, I do not see the point’, well the fact that they have given it such an artistic metaphor is as good enough response, again it asks what is the point of art, or where is the point in producing or sponsoring the arts”.

After the festival, Constant and team’s next stop is the Reserve Bank of South Africa where BASA will be working around the banks extensive art collection and its relation to the staff. The team will be exploring how the bank gets its staff to engage in that collection and talk about it and how it impacts them generally.

Nevertheless, NAC must be commended in making an effort to draw upon the insight and expertise of BASA to engage the Zambian business community and attempt to remind it of the importance of the arts to society as well as appeal to the generosity of companies through their social responsibility programmes. BASA has the experience, it was founded in 1997 as a joint initiative between the (then) Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (now the Department of Arts and Culture) and the private sector, and it has peer agencies in the UK and Australia and has over 160 corporate members. Its aim is to promote mutually beneficial, equitable, and sustainable business arts partnerships that will over the long term, benefit the broader community.

But truth be told, the root cause in the lack of patronage of the arts in Zambia is far deeper than corporate houses, NAC might want to push further and the best way to nip the problem in the bud is to engage government officials directly, something similar to how BASA engaged Mozambique.

What would be really interesting is to have a scribbling board in the foyer during a session of parliament in Zambia. To ask Zambian MPs to write down what the arts really mean to them, how they are moved by the arts, when did any single one of them attend a play, a poetry session, visit an art exhibition or buy at least a piece of handicraft without mumbling. Yes a few of them do enjoy live music and are well known to have exceptional dance skills as has been exhibited in the press particularly when popular artistes from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo visit Zambia. But what do the arts really mean to a top Zambian government official? Are members of parliament aware that funding the arts as a sector is a direct move towards poverty alleviation and job creation? , tasks that are supposedly held to be among the roles of an MP.

Even now, as law makers none of them appear to be intent on quickening the process of enacting the draft “Arts, Culture and Heritage Commission Bill” as things stand the bill is still gathering dust somewhere, so perhaps the arts do not really mean much to them. Maybe the arts are a pencil whose point Zambian MPs and government officials cannot see. As of Tuesday this week, Zambian parliamentarians ruling and opposition alike are focusing on a pay rise for themselves. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi. This is not a spam or a non serious coment. Im a swedish woman who has inherited som art from David K Chibwe and from an Burton Kabamba. Im try to find any information about them and the value on the drawings I have,.but it seems imposible. When i google your page get the first hit. Can u help me?
    my mail is emalla10@ Please write their namnes in the mail so I know that is u or els the mail will get in to the trashmail.
    Best regards Malin, Sweden