Mandla Sibeko.
Mandla Sibeko.
Image: Darryn Gwyn

I write this on the eve of our sixth general elections. The exact outcome is unclear, but I get the distinct feeling that our beloved country is not staring adversity in the face as much as it is hypnotised by a stagnant status quo. We fought for change. Politically, we achieved this. But we face new challenges and, every five years, it feels like the same cycle repeating itself.

By the time you read this, the results will be in. Let’s hope the hyperbole has abated: that our government’s sleeves are rolled up and it is delivering on promises, making that difference, keeping busy. I’m sure the new administration has a lot on its plate — re-strategising, reorganising, and hopefully rekindling that old ANC flame — but I thought now would be a great time to make a request. In context, it’s not a huge ask, but it’s a very important one. I appeal to our leaders to seriously consider rethinking our tax system and finding a way of making more money available to the arts.

Creative education should be introduced in our schools, teaching not only appreciation for the arts, but also a practical understanding of how innovative thinking solves problems
Mandla Sibeko

By no means am I advocating for funds to be taken from addressing the pressing demands of education, housing, and service delivery. I’m looking at business, from all angles. Consider that galleries are small businesses that can — and do — make a big impact on broader society. These art institutions also offer great returns when properly funded.

Then, consider the salaries of our country’s top executives. I’m no economist, but even a portion of the tax on these combined earnings could kickstart an arts programme that would very soon become self-sustaining. And then there’s the huge appeal of tax breaks for art investment. I can’t think of a single executive who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to hang a new conversation piece on the wall, all the while making a saving.

It’s futile to try to draw comparisons between homegrown funding systems and those initiated in countries around the globe. Most governments, ours included, support the arts in some shape or form, and the bigger picture includes a number of private initiatives. But I do believe that we could be more focused in how we go about this, creating clear objectives that enable an art system, and incentivising individuals and companies to join the programme. More than that, we need to instil pride. France’s entrenched cultural diplomacy is an excellent example of citizens taking ownership and promoting French art, cinema, and music abroad. Why can’t we do the same?

But before all this, we need to start young. Creative education should be introduced in our schools, teaching not only appreciation for the arts, but also a practical understanding of how innovative thinking solves problems. For too long, art has existed on the peripheries: a nice-to-have, an unnecessary. Love and appreciation of it should be fostered early on. Careers need promoting, and benefits must be explored. If our government is serious about creating a better society, it needs to see art for all it's worth — and fund it better. That would be a welcome change.

Sibeko is an entrepreneur and former director of FNB Joburg Art Fair

From the June edition of Wanted 2019.

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