/ 19 March 2015

Art institutions and their ticket to survival

Funda Community College in Soweto.
Funda Community College in Soweto.

“We are not going to sit down and die; there are too many people that are dependent on us,” Sharon Crampton says about the future of the African Art Centre, the KwaZulu-Natal nonprofit organisation she heads up. 

In existence since 1959 and once guided by the late artist Jo Thorpe, the Durban centre offers development and training programmes to the province’s visual artists and crafters.

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Like the Funda Community College in Soweto, the African Art Centre has ties to some of the country’s finest visual artists such as William Zulu and Tito Zungu. And, like Funda, the African Art Centre is also facing a financial crisis, Crampton says.

The centre, which has a staff complement of five, receives funding from the National Arts Council, Durban companies and private trusts, “but this is not really enough” to sustain its operations, says Crampton.“We are heavily dependent on funding for projects and the sales that we make from our Florida Road shop [selling fine art and crafts], which help cover our astronomically high overheads,” she adds.

The centre supports 500 crafters, represents about 55 artists with no formal training and runs an outreach programme called Velobala, which it initiated in 1994. It offers weekly art classes at the Durban University of Technology to 25 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. When they complete the course, they receive a certificate.

Crompton cites the reasons for the centre’s financial difficulties: “First, we’ve been badly affected by the economic recession. In the past people would easily spend R1?000 on stuff; now people are spending less at the shop. Second, funding in South Africa has become very competitive – I think there are 100?000 registered nonprofits in South Africa. And government’s only got so much to give.”

Nonprofits facing challenges
She is on the mark about the competition among nonprofits. In an article in Business Day this week, headlined “Funding still the biggest challenge for nonprofits”, Francois Bonnici said that, as the “globe lurches between economic pressures”, donor and corporate funding dries up and the “strain on nonprofit organisations and social enterprises increases”.

But Bonnici, the founding director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, urges nonprofits to realise that there is now a “greater need for them to manage their funds effectively”.

However, speaking to Artist Proof Studio, a nonprofit similar to Funda and the African Art Centre, provides a different side to the dampened tales of the two long-established art training institutions.

The printmaking studio and education institution was founded in 1991 by visual artists Kim Berman and the late Nhlanhla Xaba.

“A large amount of our income comes from sales. We sell prints and we also print for a number of artists,” the training centre’s studio manager, Shannin Antonopoulo, says. One of the established artists who have their works printed there is William Kentridge, “who brings in quite a lot of money”.

In addition, Bambo Sibiya and Mongezi Ncaphayi are “two artists who have come through the [studio’s] education programme and their careers are now emerging”, according to Antonopoulo.

The programme is a three-year full-time course that provides 25 students with subsidies from private patrons or corporate social investment contributions.

Beyond generating income from printmaking, the centre also has a special projects unit that, according to Antonopoulo, “involves a lot of corporates and their social investments. Any project that falls outside of printmaking falls under our special projects unit.”

‘We’re very lucky
The centre has done a few commissioned works for corporates in the past, such as four murals at the Steve Biko Centre in the Eastern Cape in 2012, and recently completed a project for the department of arts and culture’s Open Newtown regeneration initiative in Johannesburg.

But how does Artist Proof Studio, which has 36 staff members and 80 students, maintain its structures while other art development centres are in turmoil?

“I think a good balance between business and social investment [is important],” Antonopoulo responds. “I think if you have too much social investment and no business backing, you’re going to have problems. We’re very lucky that, as an art institution, we have prints and prints can be editioned and are sellable products. So we have a sellable product at the end that creates a lot of income to support our social interests.”