The case for the arts in business

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By Clodagh Da Paixao, The Fulcrum Group

In late 2015, we lost a Fulcrum team member in a car accident. Suzanne Shaw was on her way home after setting up her first art exhibition as a curator when the accident happened. Fulcrum had always supported Su’s artistic exploits, both through hosting exhibitions at our offices (which she curated) and by getting involved in a number of arts-related projects where she and others at Fulcrum saw value for the arts community and our brand.

With the launch of our new brand identity in August last year, we were presented with an opportunity to take our brand promise “we see it differently” and translate it into our involvement in the arts, at the same time finding a meaningful way to remember Su.  From a business perspective, “we see it differently” sets the tone for how the Fulcrum team is continuously driven to deliver for the industry and our clients – to always challenge the status quo and find solutions.

When we opened the call for entries for the Suzanne Shaw Creative Award for young curators, part of the brief was to curate an exhibition that revolved around the concept of  seeing things differently, allowing the curator to push the boundaries of both the curatorial experience and the edges of where art and design meet. 

Having come through the process, I spent some time reflecting on our involvement in the award and how it contributes to the promotion of arts and the value that it adds to so many people’s lives.

1. Art is therapeutic

In our case, art gave us cause to come together to celebrate the life of Suzanne Shaw. The creative award process was a fitting tribute to a woman who approached everything with her trademark gentle passion. The exhibition marked a definite shift in the grieving process for many of the team, Su’s family was at the exhibition, too, which was amazing.

2. Art starts conversations…

These conversations aren’t always warm and fuzzy! Some art is merely meant to be pretty, while other art seeks to convey a message. You may agree with the message, or you may not. The benefit lies in acknowledging the message and orientating it within your own point of view. It might endorse your opinions, or make you change your mind about something. It might make you angry or happy or sentimental. If it manages to do that, it has done its job.

3. Art creates jobs

There is an enormous group of people in South Africa who make a living in the arts. From the bead-workers who sell their wares on the side of the road, to the theatre producers with homes on the Atlantic Seaboard. Through our support for the arts we have not only brought direct revenue in for several artists, but also facilitated skills development in the arts, notably through the Suzanne Shaw Creative Award. Part of the prize for the winning curator, Layla Leiman, was a three-month curatorial development programme at the Bag Factory artists’ studio. During this time, Layla was mentored by professional curator Aysha Waja and gallerist Candice Berman, who were our partners in the award. This has given her exposure and experience, which will undoubtedly serve her well in her chosen career.

4. Art encourages creative thinking

… and creative thinking encourages innovation. You don’t have to be able to draw or write or act or sing to be creative. Often all you need is a little prod that gets you out of your box. It’s so easy to fall into a routine of doing things the way we’ve always done them. Art helps us to activate the parts of our brains that see things differently, and that’s a good thing in the business world.

5.   Art helps to build relationships

Our involvement in the arts has helped us to form new business relationships in some unexpected places. Our membership of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) has been particularly helpful in this regards as it gives us access to artist communities as well as other companies who have a passion for the arts. Through these connections, as well as through our relationships with the Bag Factory and Candice Berman, we have met a number of players – in financial services and other industries – who are involved in the arts in one way or another. For us, this is a great starting point for a business relationship as it suggests common values and interests before we’ve even had our first cup of coffee.

In addition, the opening night of Layla’s show, entitled WORK/PLAY, was an opportunity for us to bring our clients into a different space for networking and to allow us to demonstrate how we can again speak to our brand promise of seeing and doing things differently.

Our involvement in the arts is a key part of our DNA at Fulcrum, and we have seen some incredible returns on our investment. It’s not something you can easily reflect on your balance sheet, but it has undoubtedly added incredible value to our business.

The Suzanne Shaw Creative Award, for example, was a huge success on many fronts and we will be running it again next year. Entries for the Suzanne Shaw Creative Award 2018 will be opening towards the end of August.

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