Redreaming the economy

Why creative entrepreneurs are the future

Art and creativity contribute to the economy, especially if coupled with entrepreneurship
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Evidence from around the world shows that, far from being something nice on the side, art and creativity actually contribute significantly to the economy, especially if coupled with entrepreneurship.

In his introduction to the 2012 – 2013 Strategic Plan, minister of arts and culture Paul Mashatile wrote that a major shift in the creative industries and approach to them “is the increasing recognition that arts, culture and heritage are not only social in nature, but are contributing significantly to the growth of the economy.”

“Entrepreneurship, the growth of new business models, product development and the associated infrastructure, and the growth of new markets are increasingly pervasive across the various segments of the creative industry.”

Having identified the potential of the creative industry Mashatile recognises the need for support and high impact development programmes. One such programme is the Business Acumen for Artist’s programme run by the UCT Graduate School of Business.

Seven years ago, Elaine Rumboll – who is both a poet and a businesswoman – saw a gap in the skills development market. Starting at a community centre in Observatory, Cape Town, Rumboll taught artists how to turn their passions into profitable businesses, eradicating a known stumbling block for any entrepreneur, a lack of business knowledge.

“Basic business knowledge changes everything for artists who want to make a success of their work and it repositions them in the economy,” says Rumboll, who still directs the programme. “And there is already a lot of activity happening as more and more artists become entrepreneurs, but there are many challenges too.”

For Ewald Hoon, a young film-maker, for example, access to finance and balancing creativity with sound business thinking is a major challenge.

“Some people do things out of love and some people do things to survive – I want to do what I love to survive,” he says. 

“It’s a very tough industry to be in, and it’s very tough to be who you want to be. The people who manage to do that are the lucky ones,” he says. “Everyone should do what they want to for a living, and should be who they want to be when doing it, but, you have to make money somehow and in the beginning, not having the financial support you need destroys your chances of success.”

Hoon envisages a life as a film-maker, making good old films seen in good old cinemas.  For now, he co-owns an online media company, AVA, where he works as a creative director creating content for online audiences.

“I see myself being able to one day go into making movies but only once I reconcile that with doing good business,” he says. 

“Already I see there’s a trick to combining the two, balancing the creative brain and the business brain. And I think it is a trick artists have to learn if they want to get themselves out there and make a success out of what they do.”

For tattoo artist Leigh Petersen, owner of Pirate Skin Tattoos in Woodstock, the struggles of being an entrepreneur have to do with not only finances, but breaking into the market and building a brand.

Stylist Nonhlanhla ‘Tiger-Lily’ Mditshwa has a similar struggle – people’s perception of what her work is worth. Mditshwa is a freelance stylist and event coordinator. She runs a small market every month called ‘It’s a Textile’, a congregation ground for artists and creatives from around the city.

“For me the challenge is solidifying relationships with the people I work with,” she says. “The other major issue is that not everyone sees the need for what I do, so it’s hard to find a market.”

Rumboll says that artists are naturally very good at finding solutions to problems and that it can be expected that through perseverance and trial and error they can be hugely successful.

“They start to see business as an extension of their art, an engine for furthering their creative endeavours, and that’s when their ideas become major innovations, whether in terms of building new business models or manufacturing new products and creating new consumer markets,” she says. 

Consider StageIt founder and CEO Evan Lowenstein. As part of American pop duo Evan and Jaron, in 2009 Evan founded the online video platform where musicians give live concerts to audiences who choose to tip the musicians or not; effectively, the relational gap between performer and fans is reduced drastically - totally disrupting previous music business models.

Another example of artists becoming innovators through business is Kickstarter – a novel online financing platform that allows artists and creatives to crowd-source funding they need to complete projects. Launched in 2009 by electronic musician Perry Chen – who loves art and music – and freelance music journalist Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter has changed the financing environment by closing the gap between those with ideas and the capital they need–so far 10 000 film-makers have raised more than 88 million dollars, and 10% of the films at Sundance last year were funded through Kickstarter. 

 

 

 

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