Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Be Very Afraid


It wasn't all good news at  BASA’s (Business and Arts South Africa) presentation of the research they have conducted into corporate sponsorship of the arts. It was presented by Michelle Constant, its CEO, and was surprisingly short: the bulk of their findings can only be gleaned for a fee. I know they need the revenue but not sure how that serves both the business and arts community, especially considering Constant’s observation that there is very little research available on the arts. None of their findings were really surprising either: for example the business community believes that arts organisations are disorganised and not proactive enough – in other words they have a negative view of this industry. Through their research BASA also established that there is a clear division between what corporates view as social responsibility programmes and marketing initiatives (no surprise there either) – Constant believed that corporates could market their brand while sponsoring social responsibility programmes. The main problem that I have observed is that the kind of endeavours that companies consider as social responsibility projects tend not to be “high art” activities for obvious reasons; if they sponsor an event that is simply an art for art’s sake project then it is not seen as uplifting to society. The view that business appears to take is that supporting art and artists is in itself not perceived as being “socially responsible” . 


A representative from ABSA  suggested that his organisation was more interested in funding community based cultural  initiatives such as the KKNK, where their investment would bring in around R130-million to the community where that festival is held, who are also ABSA clients or prospective clients. One of BASA’s other key findings: in the case of sponsoring events that might solely fulfil corporates marketing objectives they need to be able to measure their success. In other words they want to be able to quantify and therefore justify their investment: they would want to do this by measuring how many more members of the public sign up for insurance, bank accounts etc after the event has been held. Constant suggested that arts organisations need to come to the party but I would propose that business needs to be more educated about the arts; that supporting artists in itself is about empowerment and social upliftment that the results of their investment cannot be quantified.  Of course, the government’s lack of funding on the arts and their attitude has affected how businesses view sponsorship. Constant tried to be up-beat about the results of their research but belying the giggles and witticisms one could perceive frustration.    

My second stop of the day was lunch at Canteen at Arts on Main with John Fleetwood, Jo Ratcliffe and David Goldblatt representing the Market Photo Workshop, Antoinette Murdoch from JAG and the two Austrian curators, Christine Frisinghelli and Manfred Willmann (who both work for the Camera Austria magazine) also attended. Frisinghelli and Willmann are curating the up-and-coming exhibition, I am Afraid, which will open at  JAG on Sunday. The exhibition ties in with an issue of the magazine which is devoted to the work that has come out of the Market Photo Workshop. I will only see the exhibition on Sunday… I was too busy to go and have a look at the show while they were hanging it yesterday but based on the photos in the magazine and the list of photographers chosen there are no real surprises. It is the usual line up of photographers considered to be the top graduates from the Market Photo Workshop; Zanele Muholi, Lolo Veleko, and Jodi Bieber. I liked Frisinghelli: she evinced an acute awareness about projecting European ideas onto South African work and thus has chosen to show collections or group exhibitions of work that were assembled long before she entered the scene. That said I am REALLY bored of photographs of the disenfranchised living on the fringes of society. FUCK ME but hasn’t photography evolved past this tired subject-matter… that’s kind of why I  liked Roger Ballen’s  last exhibition, which was a self-reflexive exploration of the attraction and construction of this staple element of documentary photography. He looked at it from both the photographer and viewer’s point of view… but I think the point he made was lost on local photographers and critics… I look forward to the opening on Sunday and really hope that I will see something that will excite me - I hate writing bad reviews.

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