GSB and the struggling artist myth

21 July 2017 | Story Supplied. Photo Robyn Walker.
The GSB is currently running a competition that will see the winner awarded a full scholarship for the Business Acumen for Artists course.
The GSB is currently running a competition that will see the winner awarded a full scholarship for the Business Acumen for Artists course.

The UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) Business Acumen for Artists programme, the only short course of its kind in South Africa, offers creative professionals a practical guide to mastering essential business skills and helps them to create sustainable businesses around their creative talent.

If you don’t believe that the creative industries are good for business, think again, says Elaine Rumboll, founder and convenor of the Business Acumen for Artists (BAA) course at the UCT GSB.

Take, for example, the blockbuster HBO drama Game of Thrones, which returned to television screens this week. The series is one of the most watched and most lucrative yet made and is credited with helping British broadcaster Sky UK reap record-breaking profits in 2016.

“There is a prevailing mindset that distinguishes between great art and commercial endeavours. But the success of shows like Game of Thrones is helping to shift that,” says Rumboll, who explains that she was inspired to create the BAA course to challenge the myth of the struggling artist.

“Making money doesn’t make you a bad artist.”

Now in its 11th year, the course – which teaches the basics of business to creative professionals enabling them to elevate their art and develop a sustainable business around their talent – continues to gain in stature.

She says that there is a growing realisation that business itself is a creative act and quotes Andy Warhol: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Art and business are intrinsically linked. A 2015 study by Ernst & Young, jointly presented by Unesco and the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC), estimates that as much as 3% of global gross domestic product is derived from the creative industries – everything from architecture and music to advertising and television. Creative industries also employ about 1% of the world’s working population.

Art in the economy

“Creatives are frequently not taught the importance of the commercial aspect of what they are doing. It is a systemic problem, not just in South Africa but worldwide,” Rumboll says. “It is really important to change this. Just think what success might be achieved if our creative professionals were better equipped to build sustainable businesses and industries around their art.”

This deep conviction of the importance of art in the economy led her to create the course over a decade ago. The course is not theory-driven; it is practical and tailored to each delegate, allowing them to hone and develop their specific talent into a viable business offering that can be marketed and sold by the end of the programme.

Creatives from all disciplines are encouraged to apply. The diversity of the participants is a much valued component of the course as it fosters artistic collaboration and delegates build strong networks with other creative professionals.

BAA has many success stories, and its graduates are among South Africa’s leading creative entrepreneurs, including actor and MC Odidi Mfenyana, fine artist Lorraine Loots, designer and patternmaker Renée Rossouw, writer and director Sjaka S Septembir and YouTube sensation Suzelle DIY, created by Ari Kruger and Julia Anastasopoulos after they met on the course in 2014.

Learning all aspects of business

Course participants explore all aspects of business from defining a product, pricing, branding, finalising a business plan, negotiating and project managing to entrepreneurial finance, making money online and tax. The BAA includes a social media and marketing component, which is essential for artists to engage with their audiences online.

“Marketing is about attracting, engaging and retaining customers, without whom you don’t have a business,” says Dave Duarte, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader who teaches social media and marketing on the course. “Marketing and advertising have never been easier for people who know how to use the web.”

With this scope of business essentials, the BAA is a practical investment for artists who emerge more confident about their creative offering and are much better equipped to work creatively without being vulnerable to exploitation. Applicants are encouraged to have a specific artistic goal to be achieved by the end of the programme.

The GSB is currently running a competition that will see the winner awarded a full scholarship for the course, which is valued at R8 700. The competition runs until 28 July 2017.

Enter the competition... | Read more about the course...

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