Arts project aimed at preserving South African culture

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The programme is a partnership between the ACT and Nedbank’s Arts Affinity that aims to empower artists and small to medium arts organisations to become successful, income-generating entrepreneurs and businesses through a project development course.

ACT Thuthukisani Programme applicants from throughout South Africa are able to apply, and successful applicants each receive up to R45 000 to boost their projects and participate in an intensive three-month mentorship on entrepreneurship with micro-enterprise specialist, Willem Gous.

The approach is to drive each business to make money while achieving their creative goals. ‘All would-be entrepreneurs need to understand that even if you have the best, most creative idea in the whole world, if you don’t have paying customers, then you don’t have a business. Too many people spend their savings and grants on something that is built and birthed in their minds, but it has no real-world application’, says Gous.

The project selected for the ACT Thuthukisani Programme is called ‘South African Arts & Culture Thursday Knights 2022’, proposed by Lethabo Ramokgopa, who has a BA degree in Psychology and French from the University of Limpopo. “As a student and graduate I was fortunate to receive scholarships and opportunities to go to France, Holland and Germany, and I loved the cultural exchange. I loved learning how the world sees South Africa and to be in a space where I was able to offer a first-hand version of our country,” says Ramokgopa, from Polokwane in Limpopo.

“We have such incredible cultural diversity in South Africa and so I developed a project concept to help document, archive and preserve the art and culture of South Africa and to hopefully share it with the global market. My project is to create video productions of the many forms of cultural dance in Limpopo, and what they mean. I produced 10 videos that were then showcased every Thursday night between 17:00 and 18:00 on a dedicated YouTube channel,” adds Ramokgopa.

One of the many cultural dances in Limpopo is the legendary Domba dance, performed by young women during an initiation ceremony, symbolising fertility and sexuality as part of their transition into adulthood. Other dances feature older women, and older and young men, all culturally symbolic. “I started this project with funding from the National Arts Council. Through the ACT Thuthukisani Programme I want to take it to the next level and create a business that showcases the videos on multimedia platforms and to sell them to media houses in different countries around the world. This requires quality TV productions. I’m currently pursuing connections in TV networks in Nigeria and Germany. Ultimately, I would like to showcase cultural dance throughout South Africa and then extend this concept to all art forms,” Ramokgopa explains.

The idea evolved when Ramokgopa worked as a marketing officer at the Limpopo Arts and Culture Association before going on her own. ‘I had a database of over 1 000 artists in the province and on Thursday nights, the Polokwane Art Museum availed a space to showcase a whole range of artists – from musicians to sculptors to dancers – under the name Thursday Night, which ran successfully for three years,’ she says.

Gous’ take is that Ramokgopa needs to start generating a proper income from her project. ‘Lethabo is learning that your business is a reflection of your life,’ he says.

Ramokgopa says the mentorship has taught her to be specific about what is important to her, including her self-development and that of her business. ‘I always felt I needed to be available and accessible to everyone, often working at no cost, which had a negative impact on my finances. I have learnt to say no, and to stand up for myself, personally and business-wise. Those who value my services are willing to pay for them.’

Gous adds that ‘success is as much about saying no to things as it is about saying yes. Too often, to chase an opportunity, we say yes to the wrong things and no to the right things. Instead, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this moving me forward to where I want to be?” and it if is not, have the courage to say no, which is often difficult.’

This approach is having a positive impact on Ramokgopa’s business development as she is saying no to requests that distract her from her business focus of producing the cultural dance TV programmes.

‘I’ve always wanted to be a content producer and Willem has introduced me to another mentor who was a content buyer at the SABC, so that I can learn what it entails and how they operate. I’m reaching out to people daily and engaging with them to develop my story-telling and video production skills, and to learn how best to approach marketing and sales.’

‘This programme is all about the mind shift to business-focused arts and culture practices and self-sufficiency,’ says Jessica Denyschen, the ACT’s interim CEO.

Tobie Badenhorst, head of group sponsorships and cause marketing at Nedbank, explains that the ACT Thuthukisani Programme developed out of an ACT roadshow to all nine provinces in 2019. ‘The roadshow revealed that the ACT has enabled thousands of arts and culture projects to make a meaningful contribution to society, but that most of the artists and arts organisations in our communities need administrative and business skills development to work professionally and sustainably as artists and arts businesses.’

Denyschen adds, ‘The task is not an easy one, and it requires rigorous application and dedication for the projects to succeed in generating income and start turning a profit, but it is the way to grow from grant dependency to business sustainability.’

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