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 Where to for arts funding in South Africa?

Musicians & Music events - To Review or Not Review? Buskers or Beggars?

The second series of letters / arguments center on the same old on-going whinge - in two parts. The first is how the Music Media try to develop & build without legitimate historic foundations, or how their attempts to help transform a music industry without roots & direction, doesn't fool or interest anybody. It's only local anyway! It's not as if SAfrican music doesn't have an interesting growth path to follow & a colourful & entertaining history to tell & sell along the way. The real thing is just as entertaining, if not more so than the two extremes: the shallow commercial mainstream in the one bank & the deep academic rooted research that needs a degree to crack safe, on the other. It's not easy staying in the middle of the mainstream; sometimes we have to swim up against the current status quo. That's rock & roll for you!

The music media, by their own gilt-edged admissions have no idea of where we come from - outside of what they are fed from these two extremes - so how would they be in a position to advise, guide or know where in the world we are going?

Where to for arts funding in South Africa?

Business and Arts South Africa hosts an International Network of Business Arts Associations. Here is the paper given by Artslink.co.za editor Darryl Accone.

(Copyright 1997-2001, > info@artslink.co.za < All rights reserved.)

If only it could be said that this is neither the best of times nor the worst of times for arts funding in South Africa. But the arts are in a parlous financial state, short on patrons and with long odds of shedding Cinderella status.

First, it must be granted that there other, more pressing needs in the new South Africa. Imperatives such as healthcare, education and provision of running water place the arts well down in the hierarchy of government delivery. Indeed, much of the thinking behind policy in those areas informs the way in which the National Arts Council disburses funds. Central NAC criteria include redress of historical disadvantages and access to performing and creative arts now and in the future for those who were denied them in the past.

Nonetheless, there is a compelling argument that without cultural reconstruction and development, no amount of infra- structural development will suffice to nurture the nation's spirit and soul. And Government hascertainly not done its case any good with the ill-considered and haphazard approach that has characterized the implementation of arts policy and the running of the arts ministry and its operational arm, the Department of arts, culture, science and technology (DACST).

Lumping science and technology with arts and culture has ensured that S&T prevail over A&C: arts are a junior sibling, with fewer rights and less money available to it. The NAC - in theory an independent body operating at arm's length from the arts ministry and DACST - had R25-million to grant thisyear; in 2000 the figure was R20-million and R15-million in 1999. That annually rising figure is not expected to increase in the foreseeable future, meaning that in real terms money from Government to the arts will decline appreciably.

What is likely to change - and arguably for the better - is the NAC's grants philosophy. It has declared an intention to fund large projects of national significance, which would lead to the creation of fewer works of potentially greater quality. Hitherto the approach has seen a spreading of funds as widely as possible, encouraging crafts projects and facilitating performing arts by so-called non-professionals, among others.

Even in Rand terms, however, R25-million is no great amount as annual statesupport for the arts. That sum is being amplified by money from the national lottery, the Lotto, the first batch of which was distributed to the arts in late September, but the whole lottery question is at best a double-edged development.

Who would have thought the arts in South Africa would swop the oppression ofthe jackboot for that of the jackpot in just seven years? Those of a bettinginclination, for one. Get-rich-quick-fix vultures in the form of casinos, the Lotto and cellphones are feasting on culture. They have turned the nation into gamblers and gabblers, eagerly imbibing a new opium for the masses.

The result is that disposable income previously spent on arts and entertainment is now going down the maw of games of chance. While the individual punter might be excused for wishing to be an instant millionaire, the Government's encouragement of a jackpot mentality borders on the sinister.

The Lotto is an artificial mechanism to swell the fiscus, a form of indirect taxation that cunningly relies on both naive hopefulness and downright greed. Television programmes such as Who wants to be a Millionaire? and Greed arise from and add to the frenzied atmosphere.

But among the chief responsibilities of Government is to create and manage a truly productive economy. Setting up a national lottery and allowing the country's financial centre, Johannesburg, to be enclosed in a ring of casinos, is an abandoning of that obligation.

Gambling houses and the Lotto provide limited employment and good fortune to only a minority of winners. They are not any kind of solution to the physical, economic, social and soulful problems of a developing country.

Such talk raises the spectre of the well-intentioned but moribund Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). In the post-1994 election euphoria, I argued repeatedly in various forums for the role the arts and culture could play in a reconstruction - or establishing - of a national spirit. That remains so today, but the environment in which such calls are made is far less auspicious.

Arts funding is hobbled not only by the present and future imperatives of a developing country but also by the historical burden which preceded those, the shift in corporate thinking from social responsibility to added value and disparate factors such as climate and social temperament.

Nowhere is the legacy of the cultural pretensions - and cultural cringe - of the former government more starkly visible than at The State Theatre in Pretoria. Ignoring audience demographics and common sense, which indicated that Johannesburg was the appropriate place for such a theatre, the National Party churned up a sizable portion of Pretoria's main thoroughfare to erect an edifice of staggering ugliness and hauteur. The administrative capital of the country, with its foreign mission and embassies, would henceforth forever have easy access to high culture, generously funded and supported by the state and indicating the degree of South Africa's sophistication

Politically, as an application for First World status, the State Theatre failed; in truth, it could never have succeeded. But, more seriously, as a cultural tool to propagate the dominance of the high arts, the State Theatre exerted an influence on South African arts and culture that lingers in those fields just as apartheid's legacies continue to define development and debate.

The much-vaunted resurrection of the State was a political rather than an artistic decision. Quite simply, the ruling African National Congress could not be seen to be unable to guarantee a space in the capital for performing arts old and new. Though weighed down also by the cultural cringe factor, the ANC's agenda is far broader than that of its predecessors. In what might be interpreted as an audacious high-wire double act, the ANC has ambitions of preserving vestiges or at least a sense of the high arts while funding and providing stages for previously neglected performance forms. Former performing arts councils have been abolished to be replaced by playhouses that do not mount their own works but receive them from outside: they rent space and facilities while maintaining the infrastructure at state - tax-payers' - expense.

As yet this policy has yielded no demonstrable economic benefit - which would be a narrowly Thatcherite measure of value - nor have there been significant contributions in terms of education and social inclusion. It is early days, though, and besides - why should Government be solely responsible for funding the arts?

Massive benefits accrue to sports sponsorhips in South Africa. Tax write-offs, extensive media coverage, obligingly good weather and the approval of a sports-mad public all contribute to making the backing of sporting events or particular teams an exceedingly lucrative and rewarding venture for corporate sponsors

There are fewer advantages to being patrons of the arts. No tax write-offs, minimal - and, regrettably, dwindling - media coverage and little publiccachet. Throw in the demise of corporate social responsibility as a motivating factor - the already outdated management dictum of added value having only just reached these shores - and you have a particularly unprepossessing environment for arts sponsorship.

Nevertheless, there are hardy sponsors who have carved out niches for themselves. For nearly 20 years, Standard Bank has sponsored the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. (Though the bank's sole sponsorship of the annual event came to an end with this year's festival.)

First National Bank sponsors the Vita Awards for excellence in dance, theatre and Fine Art, as well as three major dance festivals per year. The Arts and Culture Trust, founded by Nedbank, Sun International and Vodacom, runs important annual awards acknowledging the roles of the media, publicists, administrators, cultural projects and so on.

Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) has an impressive slew of member companies, a matching grant scheme that has facilitated a sizable number of arts projects and a yearly awards ceremony giving recognition to effective sponsorships. It plays a vital role in making arts sponsorship a more attractive proposition for corporations and, together with Government, forms an effective public-private partnership in the very particular field of arts funding.

The age of the title sponsorship, unique patron, niched funder may however be yielding to that of the coalition of sponsors, an arrangement of enlightened self-interest that retains much of the cache of single-sponsorship while distributing the responsibility of propping up the bottom-line.

Business loves monopoly but the arts should welcome coalitions of backers as much as the monolithic monosponsor. The Aardklop festival shows how.

No single-name branding exercise, no exclusive naming rights exemplar, Aardklop (literally, earth beat) has no fewer than 15 sponsors, divided into main sponsors, founding sponsors, senior sponsors and guest sponsors

In unity strength? Indeed. Take any one of those away and you would have a lesser event. Ask one of them to shoulder the entire festival and you would not have an event. Enlightened communal self-interest, which allows a sizable share of the kudos at a fraction of the cost, has been long in coming to the world of South African arts festivals. Always ranged against such a development was the striking - and strikingly successful - example of the Grahamstown Festival.

Set against the expected stasis in State funding, the growing importance is clear of private enterprise coalitions of sponsors and the matching and hatching facilitation provided by BASA.

Whether such ventures will help the arts evolve into a carriage-drawn Cinderella rather than the scrabbling creature of the moment, is moot. One thing is certain: arts funding in South Africa has before it a long walk to freedom

Copyright 1997-2001, Artslink.co.za. All rights reserved.
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To Review or Not Review?

While reading this well researched & wonderfully presented work of art (see >> www.antikvar.dk , email: booktrad@post8.tele.dk << & referring to what the Arts Link / PANSA are debating -ref: Are artists doing enough to support the media? my blood coagulates. Adding insult to injury I came across this little piece (below) about why arts journalists don't need to review arts events.
And I quote:

I personally believe (and this is just my opinion, and has no basis in reality) that people do not read reviews, why would I want to read a review when I was there and experienced the event first hand. Why would someone who didn't go to an event want to read a review? chances are they were not there because they didn't want to be there, so no interest in reading what they are not interested in/do not want.

Reviews could serve an organisation producing an event, but doesn't benefit the consumer.

I believe the future is in ... (don't want to let the cat out of the bag.... again. -might just find a certain site using the concept)

Just my opinion. (Quote ends)

We are often told that it is not the Arts Media's task to promote & market arts & artists; now it is suggested that the arts media should not document & comment on artists & arts events. What exactly is the arts media's job then? To promote & preview product? Perhaps this is the sort of DNA defect that I hear we inherited from our colonial forbearers - that life in Africa is cheap? The sort of thinking that claims music & art is a commodity - not a way of life or part of life - but an exclusive extension to it; a consumer luxury. You know what happens when you let the kids loose in the sweet shop?

As we (musicians) understand it, reviews are not only supposed to measure material strength, creative worth or entertainment value at the time - reviews are for those of us who were not fortunate enough to see the show or the performance; they are an essential element in how contemporary music develops & transforms; in years to come, when the gloaters & the reviewers are long forgotten & buried the contribution by all involved becomes part of our cultural landscape. Provided ofcourse that those who are doing the reviewing know what it is they are talking about. And right there we have this problem - do they? Without roots how & where do future generation of artists & arts media people grow? Merry, merry quite contrary?

In the 35 years that 3rd Ear Music has been involved with the music & the record industry - such as it is - there have been 2 books of note written about SAfrican Music & Musicians by Music / Arts Journalists skilled in the art of media & communications. (Muff Andersson's Music in The Mix - 1984 & Tom Jasiukowicz & Garth Chilvers' History of Contemporary Music of South Africa - 1994). That's it for professional dedication, commitment & conduct of our collective Music Media & Arts writers? Even the bush people used to do better than that by carving out their lives in Rock reviews!

(The SA Rock Digest - by Steve Segerman & Brian Currin - is an example of this age old passionate tradition; a labour of love, documenting & reviewing SA Contemporary music; the SABC / DACST / ASAMI / MUSA should be paying them for their invaluable service.)

If we want to know anything about music & musicians, arts & culture from Liverpool to London, popular or not, we can go to a website or a library & learn. There are literally thousands of music books written by music & arts journalists, reporters & DJ's in the UK & USA that speak volumes for their industry's dedication to the profession. It goes without saying (or debate?) that British artists support the media they can trust, each by simply doing what it is they are born, chosen or trained to do.

(When our arts media complain that their editors don't take them seriously or that there is no money in being an arts journalist - I can't feel too sorry for them. What is it that they are supposed to do? Fill space in between the adverts? Musicians too are not taken seriously - by anybody, including their record companies; to be heard & to get going & to earn a living we cannot rely only on gigs, record sales & mainstream popular support. We have to make many plans or get another job. Even a plumber has to know the history of plumbing to make the water works; ask almost any SAfrican music media person - radio DJ, TV, print, anything about music history in this country, and outside of what they have been fed from the record industry, they know nothing! Sad but true!)

We still know more about New Orleans & Liverpool than we do about Sophiatown & Hillbrow - more about Hendrix & Dylan than Linda or Lucey 11 years after liberation? The SABC are only filling one aspect of their mandate - entertainment. What about music education, information & history? The SABC does it with politics, economics & sport - but with music they have become a shop front window for the Record Industry, competing for a slice of the market pie with independent commercial radio stations at the taxpayers expense.

Not since Doc Tracy's English Service programmes in the 50's have we had a local Music culture programme of note - a review of the music being made & a reflection of the communities that make that music; a mirror of the cultures involved. We do not have the money I hear. The independents that do produce contemporary cultural shows on SAfm - Richard Haslop, Richard Nwamba, Michelle Constant etc - are doing it more for love than money I understand. Given the lavish lifestyles of the Corporation's directors & the expensive marketing strategies the SABC employs to convince us that we are the creative pulse of Africa, I would say that money (or sponsorship) is not the problem at all.

20, 50 or 100 % local content - recorded studio product - will only reflect or mirror a small & elite stratum of society. Technically produced top-down product (& professional media-presented) studio recordings will one day crack the overseas market we hear? Why don't the SAB & the department of Sport send a recorded Video Tape of Bafana Bafana to FIFA & save us all a lot of money & the media expense of sending a team of live players to the world cup? People would love to sit back & watch us play with ourselves again.

3rd Ear Music has been politely threatened by certain elements of the media - friend & foe alike - we will not be heard (on the SABC? Radio 2000? SAfm?) for as long as we keep making media noises that they do not appreciate. Biting the hand that feeds you etc. etc. Outside of the odd bone thrown to keep us revolting rockers happy, those debating around the media table keep a safe PC distance - so there's no harm done. We scrounge & survive anyway. And so it is! 3rd Ear Musicians suddenly don't fit the format or are not up to standard, because we bark?

We are obliged to shoot from the lip; to make a noise - to put foot in mouth & whatever other obvious & clichéd (s) words we can cross to make music media people cringe & moan; just to point out what is so embarrassingly obvious?

More than 70% of this country's artists / cultural workers (I'm beginning to hate that handle) do not have access to pen & paper & now they are expected to professionally package & feed the very media that know nothing about them, their past or their future, with PC generated press-kits - or else be damned? And now we hear that reviewing the arts will not serve the consumer's interests? It's a strange, strange world indeed!

David (3rd Ear Music Durban)

Gwen Ansell replies: Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2001 4:05 PM
Subject: The Dave Marks/PANSA debate

Dear Dave Marks

Uh oh! I knew the Liesl Jobson piece would start a ruckus and was hoping I could sit on my hands until it died down. You see, these columns we write for Artslink don't earn us a penny unless some print publication does pick them up and pay that miserly R570 publication fee (often less than R1 per word, with the going freelance rates in the industry far higher). Try living on that it's almost as tough as being a musician.

For the record since I'm a desk-jockey, I'm presumably allowed to use that cliché, - I don't agree at all with Jobson's piece. (And that's what a democratic medium is all about.) From personal experience as an inspector in the jazz police, all the musicians I investigate are only too eager to tell me about their projects. Where they have the resources to do so, they send me pre-release samples, decent photos and anything else I need. And this is not PR puffery, but honest, deeply analytical reflection on what they're playing and why. Jazz musicians at least are a delight to report on. So don_t blame the musicians. Who, then? Not the journalists either. As I've noted before, there are few brownie points to be scored in the newsroom for being on the arts beat. As an editor of mine once berated me: "You've got an MA in politics why on earth don_t you write about something serious?"

And you can see, can't you, that when the only arts story to make front page is Nina's pink knickers, arts reporting isn't going to be granted much weight? I'm afraid we have to look once more at news organisations and the marketing-led values they currently espouse. Why don_t we write reviews? We do. News organisations don't want to use them. Artslink reviewed almost every important show (and lots of the small ones) at Grahamstown within hours of their going on stage. Editors could have had hot, steaming showbiz news from us before even the radio critics spat it out. Did any paper use the service? Not one even hit our special site. We put up reviews of the Northsea Jazz Festival as it happened. Used? Not a word. We reviewed Joy of Jazz extensively last weekend. Don't even ask.

We know from our e-readers that while people often disagree with us, they think we're a good team; they like our writing. So it isn't a quality issue, but a policy issue. And since we do it for love, not money - but still need to eat - we, too, may end up producing more previews, because we need the R570 and previews often get used.

It's an old South African tradition to shoot the messenger rather than engaging with the message. But, Dave, be careful about pointing the gun at Artslink. If we (and the other valiant real arts journalists out there, like some of the guys on "Hola" and "Groove," and Tebogo Alexander and Roger Lucey and Sandile Memela and quite a few more) duck out, arts coverage in this country will end up a lot less substantial than what Nina wore in the Jacuzzi

Yours in music

Gwen Ansell

Dear Gwen,

Most Music people (and artists) appreciate what Artslink's Journalists & DJ's (and SAfm) are doing or trying to do - contributing & sharing their expertise & skills at a fraction of its worth. So saying, it's not my place (or job) to mouth off about issues outside of our narrow & limited sphere of engagement. I shoot from the lip in frustration & don't mean to hit the messenger. But you must appreciate where we come from - precisely because we have no idea of where we are going! I don't have your talent & skills to say what needs to be said in 500 words or less. This doesn't mean that we should not be heard. So forgive me if I go off here & there. The delete button is still but a motion away.

SAfrican Artists - and contemporary musicians in particular - are no closer to transformation & development of a music industry in this country, than we were in 1970. Promises & ideals, post 1990, have been blissfully broken, not only by us revolting musicians, but (as you point out) by the mediocre mainstream driven music media, who have collectively dashed all hope of developing and transforming a local music industry. The station for the well informed still knows more about New Orleans & Liverpool than they do about Sophiatown & Hillbrow - even though there are many individuals within the SABC who try to focus on local history & artists.

It's nothing personal - it's what we've inherited; for example, it's 11 years on and the National Public Broadcaster still refers to the record industry as the music industry? Wouldn't you think it odd if the SABC kept referring to the TV Industry when infact they meant the Theatre Industry? Or the Film industry or whatever? Same actors & audience.

If SAfm & all the other commercial radio stations fondly believe that by complying with an enforced percentage of (so called) local recorded content, that their obligation to the transformation of local music (arts & culture) will be met, what else can I say? The record industry & 0.01% of the people who produce records (myself included) will by very happy - dancing all the way to the mainstream banks. But, whatever we (I) say, please do not take it personally. We don't have 300 000 listeners or readers. 3rd Ear Music has always worked in small groups & communities of musicians - many of whom cannot even read or write and we have no more than 10 maybe 20 Website hits a day by musicians who can.

On the other hand I feel obligated to help protect the piano player from being shot at; more especially for reasons that have little or nothing to do with what it is we are playing. Hate to mention this but sport is sponsored entertainment too - & when administrators or projects jeopardize the livelihood, conduct, development & transformation of sports, the media & the ministers come to the rescue - for better or worse. (Please try & read our piece on reviews & the recent release of some wonderful foreign books about SA music & Musicians).

The arts media has very little quality access to SAfrican information & history, outside of what is being reinvented by the mainstream industry professionals. This could be one reason why the 'serious' editors & radio controllers do not take the arts media staff or artists seriously. We don't go out to work - we go out to play! But so too do serious sport people - go out to play too.

There are many talented & sussed media people out there who promised that they would work to transform & develop the arts (the music media & the National Public Broadcaster in particular). Now suddenly they are being distracted (almost) exclusively by weird events - that don't really fall into the arts - the Jacuzzi watchers, the gladiator followers or the bored big brother bedrooms? I'm not putting that down...people have to eat. But, isn't this the domain of the commercial independents - and not the taxpayer's Public Broadcaster or the more committed arts media? We all know that SAfrica can offer far more than what the sponsors & media force feed our market driven nation with. The international success of SAfricans on the world stage is proof of this. This is what the directors, sponsors & radio controllers need to be made aware of. That's not my job.

3rd Ear Music has been ostracized for many years; it used to be because we were too political, now it's because we cannot handle the media (with respect), we don't fit the format or our musicians are simply not good enough. That's an insult when we look & listen who we have recorded & archived for over 35 years. And this attitude toward any musician who dares mouth off has actually gotten worse! The music media continue to re-invent our history & pay lip service to those who can afford the lunches & the PC polished promos & pres kits. And when we object or whinge & point out - politely at first - that there is more to us than what meets the ear & eye, we are ignored, avoided or shot down.

I'm not suggesting that we get boring & dig too deep & destroy what roots we do have. Collectively we can avoid the intellectual property land grabs & cultural commissars that are positioning themselves as we speak; this time they have big business on their side. The ICASA, IBA & the record industry's local content drive is one example of this cultural genocide - which was previously considered racist or ethnically divided.

We get a response to these concerns when we shout & scream. Put finger in ear! We will not be silenced!

But thanks for your concern & dedication. Much appreciated.

3rd Ear Music Company (Est. 1969)

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