Partnerships between art and the business world in South Africa

October 2004 -

In the post-apartheid world of South Africa, little money has been available for the arts. Business and Arts South Africa is now trying to bring together the business world and the art world.

The Awesome Africa music festival held in the South African port of Durban from 24 - 26 September 2004, was not just about the music. The festival also played host to a session organised for local companies whose purpose was to encourage investment in culture in the relatively poor province of KwaZulu-Natal. The driving force behind these efforts to bring the business world and the art world closer together is the organisation Business and Arts South Africa (BASA).

BASA was set up in 1997 by the South African government, which funds BASA to the tune of 4 million rand each year (almost 600,000 euros). 'The political upheavals that South Africa underwent in 1994 changed the cultural landscape too', says director Nicola Danby. 'The government didn't have enough money to support the arts, so the art world turned to the business world for help. Culture has the potential to bring together commercial and philanthropic interests. There is nothing more powerful than art.'

Companies can join BASA, paying a certain fee, the size of which depends on the size of their organisation. BASA helps the almost 100 affiliated companies to identify interesting artistic projects. The sole criterion for such a project is that it has to be a partnership between the business world and the arts. 'We look at the common benefits. Apart from that, we will listen to any idea.'

The partnerships have produced interesting collaborations. For instance, for many years now a rice producer has been sponsoring an Indian dance festival held in Durban in the hope of boosting his sales of rice to the Indian community. The clothing company Big Bang Down Clothes collaborates with the theatre festival Hlanganani-Kopanang in Reitz, in an attempt to acquire new customers and spot new trends. 'The best joint ventures are those between a local business and an artistic organisation, as the small-scale investment creates a huge social impact.'

'Companies are often willing to advise but things can get trickier when the talk turns to financial support', says Nicola Danby. All the same, seven years on she feels that there is now a greater commitment to the arts. 'What is even more important is that artists have found innovative new ways of attracting funding. Artists have become cultural entrepreneurs.'