By Dr. Eugene Brink
The Covid-19 pandemic has truly created havoc in the art world, but indirectly it has also led to a rediscovery thereof by way of other media.
This is according to Ettienne Ludick, radio broadcaster with the Afrikaans radio station RSG and master of ceremonies at art festivals. “Artists had to start thinking outside the box to reach an audience because with the lockdown it wasn’t possible to perform on stage. Suddenly festivals, concerts and performances were being presented online with great success.”
He says that precisely for this reason the performing arts as we knew it will in 2021 also change partially to a more online integrated art world. It will accordingly also play a big role in the revival of the industry. “The online arena has given the arts a new mindset and although the physical audience is still first prize for any artist – whether an actor or a singer – the online word truly offers many opportunities to be able to ‘attend’ performances in any place in the world. The audience or art lover can therefore follow the performance from the comfort of their own couch.”
He admits that the pandemic sowed financial destruction under artists and the art world, but a new world has now opened – especially in South Africa. “For this reason, I think that the temporary setback can gradually be wiped out, of course with the cooperation of the supporting public.”
Economic contribution of the arts
According to SA Cultural Observatory’s chief economist Jen Snowball the creative economy contributed 1.7% to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. If the multiplier effect is taken into account (including for example an accountant who works for a theatre company or caterers working in the film industry), then the sector itself comprises an impressive 5.5% of the GDP.
However, during the past year artists have had to travel a rocky road. In May 2020 the Department of Sport, Art and Culture received more than 5000 applications for financial relief, but only 488 did indeed receive assistance. More than 92 000 people work directly in the arts and culture industry, while 335 000 35 005 work in auxiliary services and almost 700 000 in supplementary services – altogether the industry supports approximately 1.1 million people in South Africa.
The arts and culture industry also grew at a healthy 2.4% per annum between 2016 and 2018 – significantly faster than the 1.1% against which the GDP grew during that period. It will of course grow slower in 2020 and perhaps 2021 due to the pandemic, but this popular industry will eventually lift its head again as adaptions are made.
Shifts and mixed presentations in 2021
The 2021 Toyota US Word Festival in Stellenbosch will next year for the first time be presented in the Spring (17 to 24 September).
The Word Festival organisers investigated various possibilities to move the festival to either February or April. However, this was decided against due to the uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the possibility that Covid-19 protocols could restrict attendance figures.
Matric results for 2020 is only expected at the end of February 2021 and the start of the universities’ academic year will therefore also have to move on. Due to the many later registrations and welcoming of new students it will therefore be impossible to present the festival from 5 to 14 March 2021.
The festival will however present activities earlier in the year directed at the Word Festival audience, with a focus on supporting artists and the creation of new exposure for sponsors. These presentations will include online as well as traditional performances. Covid-19 protocols will apply for the traditional performances.
According to Saartjie Botha, director of the Toyota US Word Festival and WOW project, it is too early to predict if this will be a once-off shift for 2021 and if the entire festival will move to the second half of the year. “The Word Festival doesn’t function in isolation from other festivals and amidst all the challenges facing the art environment, we now have to act in the interest of the industry at large. This requires an approach which, regardless of uncertainty, is geared towards sustainability and innovative solutions.
“More than ever before the festivals also have a responsibility to create income opportunities for artists. At the same time, we are committed to ensure a good yield on investments for our sponsors and, where possible, do our share to stimulate the local economy.”
Steve Kretzman, 29 Mei 2020, “Covid-19: Only 488 of over 5,000 artists who applied for relief were paid”, https://www.groundup.org.za/article/covid-19-only-488-4512-artists-who-applied-relief-were-paid/.
Toyota US Woordfees, 2020, “Die 2021 Toyota US Woordfees skuif na September”, https://www.woordfees.co.za/nuus/die-2021-toyota-us-woordfees-skuif-na-september/.