The arts sector was in a precarious state prior to Covid-19 and the lockdown has devastated an already unequal sector. Boitumelo Motsoatsoe, Head of Programmes at Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), describes how creatives have had to adapt to a new way of working, and what companies can do to support artists and the cultural and creative industry (CCI) in the future.
Please comment on the state of the arts and culture sector in South Africa prior to Covid-19, as well as how the pandemic affected the sector.
Prior to Covid-19, the sector was in an interesting, transitional state, with dialogue centred around the huge inequality in access, transformation, declining audiences, and a lack of funding. Conversations on the advent of digital media and its effects on the sector were increasing as artists had already begun to engage and experiment with virtual platforms across the value chain.
The pandemic has been both a catalyst and a disruptor to the sector. It has provided many artists and cultural organisations with an opportunity to revise old ways of working and creating, and has helped them to reach new, more diverse audiences. It has helped to fasttrack the migration or incorporation of digital systems. But more importantly, it has drawn the focus to a critical issue – the sector’s acute reliance on public funding. With the cancellation of events and shows, and the diversion of funds to ‘essential’ sectors, it has highlighted the underlying issue of the perceived value of the sector, and the limitations of skills and knowledge to inform strategic planning.
How has the pandemic underscored the importance of art and creative outlets in society?
Many of us were able to endure the lockdown periods thanks to access to literature, film, online entertainment and so on, which offered both educational and entertainment value. However, it became apparent that the value of the sector was questioned and undermined. It was not considered ‘essential’ or important. We therefore need to find effective and aligned ways to articulate this value and leverage it in future.
How has BASA responded to the challenge?
Like most organisations, BASA was forced to pause certain operations and spend some time strategising ways to respond meaningfully to this new challenge. Since then, BASA has created a #HeyFriend campaign, which was used as a platform to drive conversations around how different people were responding to the pandemic. It was also used to showcase efforts by key players in the sector and to drive attention to the Artist Relief Fund BASA launched to assist South African artists who have been infected and affected by Covid-19. This included projects such as The Instagram Auction held with Between 10and5, UNFestival with UJ and The Mandela Day 67 Grants, launched with the IDC Gallery.
How has the pandemic affected development programmes in the creative industries, and what adaptations have had to be made?
The situation has amplified the need to refine how we execute our strategy. Both individuals and organisations have had to be more agile and responsive. BASA believes that dexterity and design thinking can support the creation of meaningful employment opportunities for youth and contribute to essential skills development in the creative sector.
The pandemic has highlighted growing inequality in a country that sees the underprivileged being further marginalised and excluded. Our programmes aim to be as holistic, inclusive, and accessible as possible. We have added a funding and mentoring aspect to the knowledge-sharing platform of the Scale-Up Programme, which is offered in partnership with Rand Merchant Bank and aimed at established individuals and cultural organisations. The Debut Programme – an initiative of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture in partnership with BASA – is designed to provide information and entrepreneurial skills development to emerging artists in all nine provinces of South Africa. Through strategic partnerships with community arts centres, local government and relevant agencies, the programme assists artists with everything from ideation to venture implementation. In the second phase of the programme, BASA aims to reach 450 young artists and will create a network through which the alumni will continue accessing knowledge, support, and information on relevant opportunities.
Beyond financial support, what are some of the ways in which companies can support the rejuvenation and longer-term development of the sector?
Strategic partnerships and collaborations are key to creating a sustainable provision of support, be it in skills development, capacity building or mentorship. There is currently a lot of duplication, particularly in the development space, as well as an enormous focus on relief funding – but it is crucial to offer organisations tools to help them build initiatives, projects and structures that will be agile enough to make it through future crises.