That South Africa is brimming with talent across the arts is not in question. In music, fashion, visual arts, theatre, television, poetry, writing, design, you name it, South African artists measure up with their international counterparts. However, more often than not, the media reports on the dire financial situations artists find themselves in. This in part is due to the lack of business and management skills, an aspect of the arts that is typically not recognised as a core function of an artist’s profession. Take for example a designer. The costing of a design does not only involve the fabric. It also involves:
The designer needs to take into account a number of expenses and incorporate those into their design work. Designer Lorato Liphuko who is the creative director of the Tessie Brandon label comments on her experience in the fashion industry and running her own label as a tough road to manoeuvre. Liphuko comments:
“I wish I had paid attention when people said the design element (which is the exciting part for a creative person) is only 10-percent [of the work], while the admin is 90-percent. It’s true! Prior to starting your business, to avoid costly mistakes, spend as much time as you can learning the business at someone else’s enterprise. That person’s business should be profitable on paper of course. Before you jump ship, to avoid losing your mind, prayer is essential.”
To outsiders, the world of fashion is about glitz and glamour, catwalks and models, parties and fun. Little is understood about the amount of work and the late nights that go into producing that wonderful dress. Furthermore, many designers entering the industry have poor understanding of the business component of running a fashion label. Ultimately, it is a business that requires financial and strategic management and planning.
International jazz artist Bob Baldwin details his experience of 25 years in the music industry in his handbook You Better Ask Somebody! Staying on top of your career in the friggin’ music business. In the handbook Baldwin explains the importance of understanding what you seek to gain from the music industry whether through a record label or as an independent. He writes:
“I’ve learned over the years that even though artists work incredibly hard to be where they are in their career, the truth of the matter is that, in most cases, they are rarely compensated fairly. They are the last paid in most instances, but especially in these two areas: record company contract and gig contract. You can help to reverse that trend by taking partial or full ownership of your recordings so that you can get a larger percentage of music revenues and control some of the administration procedures.”
Using his own extensive experience in the music industry, Baldwin shares his knowledge by outlining issues such as contracts, e.g. artist management and recording, creative control, royalties, publishing, copyrights and other business and legal considerations that should inform how artists shape their music as businesses. His intent is that his experience helps young artists in particular, to take control of their talent and creativity and plan for successful careers.
The key aspects of forming or growing a sustainable business in the creative industries involve:
Artists combine vision, creativity, intuition and discipline to plan and problem-solve their work. It is for artists to learn how to apply their creativity and artistic planning skills to their careers and businesses. As with other types of business, it is important for artists to understand entrepreneurial concepts, tools and resources to advance their personal and career objectives as artists. This entails understanding the process of business planning, how to develop a business plan that will guide their careers, and most critical the financial planning that is so important in an industry where most artists do not receive a regular salary.
The arts sector has been identified as a critical component in the New Growth Path for economic development in South Africa. Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile has said of the creative industries:
“South Africa’s cultural and creative industry is a good revenue generator, and still has great potential to produce more and contribute to job creation. … Research in many parts of the world such as Canada, the United Kingdom and India, shows that the cultural and creative industries are a major economic contributor to economic growth and job creation. In line with this international trend, there is also growing consensus in our country that the cultural and creative industries are a significant contributor to economic growth and job creation.”
Incorporated into the strategy is how the creative industries are to contribute to the national effort to create five million jobs within the next 10 years. Linked to the developed strategy is the proposed establishment of the National Skills Academy for the arts industry. The academy is envisaged to coordinate and integrate the various arts and training initiatives in the country. Mashatile said it should strengthen efforts to build the necessary skills base required to ensure sustainability of the sector. Elaborating on this point, Mashatile said:
“The academy will become the ‘Centre of Excellence’ responsible for producing the best in our country that are capable of competing successfully on the world stage. The establishment of the academy will require that we work with other national departments and provinces.”
The National Skills Academy is a necessary component in developing independent and self-sustaining arts businesses. Arts businesses are well poised to create jobs in the industry if they are equipped with the know-how in business and financial management. Recognising that business skills are essential skills for artists will help raise their profiles nationally and internationally. It is through skills and knowledge that South African painters, dancers, theatre productions, writers, designers, poets, musicians, will be able to optimise their talents and work towards placing themselves on international platforms.