Thursday, January 24, 2013

Art in the Open Air

One of the things that I love is listening to music in the open air, especially classical music. My favourite event is Opera in a Convent Garden.  All my friends know that Paul and I are unavailable on the first Sunday of February as we are picnicing to the most beautiful music in a wonderful setting. Others are the Kirstenbosch concerts, Nederburg Starlight Concert and De Waal Park.

I like being able to sit back comfortably in my deck chair or on the ground close my eyes and just revel in the sounds and experience. I also enjoy having my glass of refreshment and snacking on tasty treats. Very different from sitting in a chair in an auditorium. It is a perception (not reality but it clouds my thinking) of the formal venues such as City Hall as being uncomfortable. However that is never the issue when I am there. Curious, but maybe the paradox of being human.

I know that more informal settings increase the difficulties of performance in terms of the requirements of musical instruments, logistics and of course the weather, but somehow the performance is more personal and much more enjoyable.I suppose it raises the isssue of the need to present a perfect performance (possibly the high art agenda) versus the need to meet audience demands. Is it acceptable to respond to the demands of the audience if it will affect the "quality" of the performance. There again should art not be adapted to go to its audience rather than hide behind "high art" hidden in the theatres? How can we be an art loving nation if it is not all around us? But is there money in getting art out there? Lots of interesting questions...

There are quite a few articles on individualising the performance experience. the LA Times looks at how the Music Centre is using the outdoor park as a performance venue. BBC News has an interesting article on The Silent Opera. That sounds like a really interesting way of experiencing opera.

Reimaging performance venues

In my mind break even is the holy grail of arts management (here in Cape Town). How do we continue to provide the services and bring about the change we want and still pay the bills. Surely living out your passion shouldn't be soul destroying? Hence I am always interested in articles about generating income in the arts and pushing the boundaries of service delivery. An invaluable resource for this is ArtsJournal. which provides a weekly summary of articles from around the world. Brilliant!

The article from the LA Times "Grand Park holds grand potential for Music Centre" is interesting in how the managers of the Music Centre developed new strategies to increase the use of the centre and the surrounding area to increase both the revenue and audience size. The Centre management moved from landlord to impressario with huge benefits to the centre and the local performing arts community. Performances were taken out of the auditoria and performed in the recreational space in the surrounding park - sounds like Cape Town's "Infecting the City". They introduced Active Arts a free grassroots arts development programme. That would be wonderful for our own emerging artists - many of whom are absolutely fantastic performers.

It is a great article with much food for thought.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


by Taryn Saunders

In fairy tales and fables, we are told right at the beginning who the hero is, who his friends and allies are, and who is trying to lead him off the path and into the slaughterhouse. But as we know, more than once upon a time in a Justice System not so far, far away, this is not the case at all.

The Three Little Pigs is an Animal Farm-style tale in contemporary South Africa with an intelligent script, sharp acting and plenty of farm puns. Two pigs (police officers) have been brutally and mysteriously murdered. We follow an intense investigation into the case as the last little pig ploughs through bureaucracy, violence, lies and stupidity to find the cause of his brother’s death. The twisted plot comes to an even more twisted end.

The characters, brilliantly performed half animal half humans, are very familiar, especially to a South African audience.  James Cairns, Albert Pretorius and Rob Van Vuuren give focused and detailed performances. Their physical comedy skills are used exceptionally well in characterising the various animal-humans that populate the pigs’ world. One would not be blamed for thinking that they are in fact half-human mutant creatures. The dialogue is machine-gunned at the audience with brutal wit and satire as barbed wire looms over a straw-strewn interrogation room.

In a country populated by spokespeople who ramble like chickens, journalists who pick like vultures on the carcasses of fact and fiction while high-powered wolves run dodgy operations tracked by little pigs, the parallels are more than co-incidental. The Three Little Pigs is one of the best satires on our stages in a long time. It is an important story told in an exceptional way. We never know who the Big Bad Wolf is, where he is, and we’re always afraid.

If George Orwell could comment on the production in a quote from Animal Farm, he’d say:
“There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word-- Man”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

6 Steps to Surviving 2013

Kerryn Krige has written an excellent article giving tips on where not for profit organisations need to focus for stronger, sustainable organisations with greater impact. It is really worth reading the full article. Briefly the 6 steps are:
1. Look beyond the jobs mantra
The need is to focus on building sustainable organisations and businesses. Entrepreneurs create the jobs in the business sector and systems are needed to help them succeed. There needs to be a strong social focus in entrepreneurship so that the increased employment opportunities are linked to positive development.

2. accountability - getting our house in order
 Kerryn proposes that it is only an accountable, robust civill society that can hold others to account. NPOs need to commit to the Codes of  Good Governance. She suggests that accountability and transparency are central to survival in 2013.

3. monitoring and evaluation
basic measurement is essential for non-profit leaders to challenge their assumptions of what does and does not work. This knowledge creation makes it easier for organisations to form partnerships which can lead to a natural consolidation of the sector.

4. from programmes to activism
This seems like a return to our old roots of holding government to account rather than providing services. This then requires that donors to support activism and the rights movement. It feels like the wheel is turning and it is a good call for non-profits to rethink what they are about.

5. rise of the community based organisation (CBOs)
Donors prefer to channel funding through well structured organisations who can look after the funding. This means that less money gets to the programmes. There is a call for the development of the institutional structure of CBOs to be able to access donor funding.

6. making profits out of non profits
Kerryn calls for organisations to take a longer term view on the type of funding needed to survive. This is similar to the field of social entrepreneurship where there is a profit motive on some programmes to subsidise the development work. The African Social Enterpreneurs Network (ASEN) is a fabulous resource.

It is time for Civil Society to join mainstream thinking

Kerryn Krige has written a fantastic article on 6 Steps to Surviving 2013. It is based on her participation in the "Looking back, Looking forward" forum at GIBS. Social development  has reached the agenda of business schools. There is a recognition of the important contribution of civil society in building South Africa. Although this is something that we practitioners have always known, it has been difficult to get the government and business sectors to acknowledge the important contribution that we make. Kerryn notes that it is in the non profit sector where the potential for real change lies and that government and business need to start engaging with the sector if they want to move forward. There is the realisation that society is more than rules, profit or jobs. It is also the engaging of people to create long term solutions to pressing issues. It is necessary for us in the not for profit sector to create a co-ordinated approach where our expertise is used to build the better society for which we all strive. We have a window of opportunity and need to take it.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I attended an interesting talk on why branding is important for community organisations such as Rotary. I thought that the points were particularly relevant to arts organisations and hope that you will also benefit from the ideas shared.

Your reputation is more than just a logo. It is the values that you stand for, your opinions and what others say about you. You need to guard you brand, like your reputation, zealously and be passionate about  what you do.

Branding is th organisation's reputation and what it will offer its clients and the wider community. It is the collective understanding of the organisation by those clients. Branding is an experience which touches the emotions, senses and perception. It is important for your message to touch the senses - hear taste and see the experience - to ensure that people remember you.

It is important that the clients have a consistent, authentic experience that they can trust. Branding needs to be part of every interaction (touch point) with the organisation service, product and all activities. It states the difference between the competitors, increases your recognition and encourages customer loyalty.As such the organisation needs to build trust by consistently meeting and exceeding expectations, always delivering on the promise. Be authentic and real by being honest and transparent about what you do.

address to arts graduates

Address to the graduates of the 2012 City of Cape Town Arts Training Programme

I was honoured to be asked to address the graduates from the accredited arts training programme run by the City of Cape Town. 

Congratulations on the completion of your courses.

Today I would like to talk about the importance of such programmes which skill and nurture people to enter the arts in a more professional manner. We need people to work towards a unified industry where there is an agreement on what we want to accomplish and agree on a code of ethical conduct and good practice. You have the skills and opportunities to make such a contribution towards this industry.

The arts industry is both a wonderful and frustrating sector which has the potential to transform society. The arts are fundamental in developing new ways of thought and interpretation and imagining the way we want our world to be. The arts provide the nation with its identity, passion and soul. It helps us to express ourselves and to come together to be proud of our country and our culture. It is that undefinable ingredient that moves us from survival to a life of infinite possibilities - the difference between a pencil sketch and a full blown multimedia spectacular.

Given that there are some curious conversations about the arts which affects our ability to grow and be recognised. One is that the arts do not have any value because there is no direct economic benefit; hence the reference to the creative industries or arts industries in an effort to gain recognition. There is also the idea that anyone can “do” the arts and that it is some form of recreation. However the same people will also complain about the lack of world class talent in South Africa.

People are ignoring the tile, skill and investment needed to grow the arts and an industry. This is where courses such as this and accredited training is vital in building a South African arts industry. We need professionals, who can efficiently create and present the arts; who can move us away from the debate to celebrating our world class artists. We need you to present South African art in a manner which generates the recognition of our talent, personal enjoyment and enrichment which in turn nurtures the income and business structure. This is a huge request of you but by successfully implementing your training you will be doing this and so much more.

Thank you for inviting me to your graduation. I am looking forward to observing your growing contribution towards the South African arts industry.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The business of the arts?

Most people know that I am passionate about the concept of turning the arts into a paying business. Where artists can earn a decent living and be recognised for their talents and ability to translate our daily existence into works of art (visual and performing arts)

The Daily Maverick has published this brilliant article "The art scene cocktail round: Anyone bored yet?" Andrew Miller makes some interesting points about the current support of artists, especially visual artists and type of training that the arts really need. It is noted that the majority of genuine entrepreneurial activity amongst the youth appears to take place in the arts - so where is the support for these people?
Andrew Miller makes three valuable recommendations:
 1. Accept that the broad world of the arts is as much a business as a creative calling – and support it accordingly with real BDS.
 2. Move (far) beyond the idea that an expo or arts showcase has inherent value for the artists.
 3. Aggressively seek to expose young artists and creative business people to real digital literacy.  

Imagine what the arts would look like if we could we move from subsistence, survivalist arts businesses to operational entities that employ people? Worth thinking about

Monday, November 26, 2012

Branding for not for profits

I often think of branding as being a commercial marketing issue only for big business. Is it not taking valuable time and resources away from our services and helping people? Oscar Abello has written an interesting article on why branding is important for small nonprofits He argues that a lack of branding means that small grassroots groups don’t get the credit they deserve for being the world’s frontline soldiers in the struggle against poverty. Fundraising platforms gives organisation access to tools to be able to tell their story, connect with people and organisations and attract more resources for their work. Branding gives the organisation the opportunity to tell their stories about their place in fighting poverty, highlight successes and the people they have helped and encourage key partnerships with other organisations and the community that they serve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

the importance of educating the audience

Misson Paradox is a wonderful blog which addresses arts marketing. I found this post to be very interesting and helpful. This post reminds me of the initial purpose of encore - to educate and inspire people to support our local arts. Nice to know that an instinctual response is on track.

A vital element of good arts marketing is the ability, and willingness, to teach. People don't engage with things they don't understand.

That's a barrier that separates people from art.  This is especially true for more traditional art forms like opera, classical music, ballet and theatre.  Art has it's own language and customs.  You may not notice them anymore because you have become so close to the art.  That's understandable, but it's also a problem.

When you start the marketing process it's helpful to see yourself as a teacher and your audience as smart, but slightly anxious, students. So maybe you shoot a series of videos explaining exactly how musical theatre gets made. Maybe you find an entertaining way of explaining a complex opera. Maybe you do a series of blog posts with dancers explaining moves common to the work.

Just remember that your goal here is to be a good teacher.  Your goal isn't to lecture.  Your goal isn't to make yourself feel smart at your student's expense.  Your goal is to make them a smarter, more informed, consumer of the artform in general.

Why?  We remember and value great teachers.  If you become one your value to your audience increases.

The art we do comes and goes.  One play today, another tomorrow. Great teaching remains.

Use your marketing platform as an opportunity to teach.  It will make your work much more effective.


Our thoughts and comments on performances and the performing arts in the Western Cape, South Africa.