Financial sector support for the arts

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To many people, the stereotypical image of a banker is that of a dour fellow in a grey suit, who sits on some kind of pedestal of dwindling moral authority and concerns himself with nothing other than the pursuit of money and other financial interests.

He really doesn’t have any other notable mundane pursuits, let alone artistic or cultural ones.

I was recently reminded of this when, upon being introduced to someone for the first time, he remarked that according to the impression of me he got from reading this column, he couldn’t have imagined that I am even remotely artistically inclined, and nothing could have prepared him for the revelation that I actually play some decent guitar and can hold a tune. I immediately realised that I had some myths to dispel.

I have always believed that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the old saying goes. Please allow me the liberty of a little name-dropping and some influence-peddling in order to partly illustrate the basis of this long-held belief.

Sometime in 1997 I interviewed Julius T Makoni, the then Managing Director of NMB Bank Limited for an in-house newsletter I edited at the bank. One of the questions I asked him was whether he had any regrets or unfulfilled ambitions. His response was, “I’d probably go to school younger, enjoy life a bit more and play a little harder.”

Against this background, this week I turn to the subject of the financial sector’s support of the arts.

With Hifa, the multi-disciplinary arts spectacle just around the corner, there is no better time to review the financial sector’s relationship with the arts.

In October 2010, I attended a British Council-organised workshop on Creative Mentor Training Workshop under their Creative Enterprise Programme.

Also in attendance was Mathias Bangure, a director of Music Crossroads Zimbabwe which focuses on youth empowerment through music.

During our discussion, he indicated that due to changing dynamics traditional funding partners from donor countries were withdrawing their support for the arts sector and local corporates should be persuaded to move in and fill the resultant funding gap.

He was however concerned that the liquidity challenges bedeviling the local economy could choke any tentative financial support for the arts sector.

Having noted that support for the arts had dwindled to almost a trickle during the hyperinflationary years and that it could not get any worse, I tried to reassure him that with the economy now in recovery mode, there should be some improvement.

My logic was, and still is, that as competition heats up and corporates (including banks) compete more intensely for the public’s attention in a low-margin trading environment which calls for a volumes game, investment in the arts sector should increase in sympathy.

Despite these funding challenges alluded to earlier, Hifa has over the years grown to become the most successful artistic event on Zimbabwe entertainment landscape; a benchmark for cosmopolitan artistic endeavour, due in no small part to support received from corporates, a significant number of which are from the banking sector.

The same kind of support could also be lent to other events that are trying hard to establish themselves, preferably those in towns outside Harare.

More events of Hifa’s stature across the length and breadth of the country can have significant economy-wide benefits, especially from a tourism perspective.

While it is understandable that corporates compete to associate themselves with the megabrand that Hifa has become, it is regrettable that by not diversifying support in favour of upcoming festivals, an opportunity is lost to contribute meaningfully to sustainable growth of a less monolithic arts industry in Zimbabwe.

A monolithic setup is not desirable because it doesn’t guarantee long-term, broad-based benefits. Events such as Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, Chimanimani Arts Festival and arts centres such as Amakhosi Cultural Centre (which is leaving no stone unturned in efforts to grow an Arts District in Bulawayo) and Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton, can also achieve the stature of Hifa if supported adequately by the financial sector.

An American fellow called Hendrik Willem Van Loon once observed that the arts are an even better barometer of what is happening in our world than the stock market or the debates in congress.

Tony Monda, an art critic agrees and sees art as “a cultural, intellectual, economic and national asset. Financially, works of art are a store of progressive prosperity and a steady appreciation of wealth in perpetuity. Fiscally, corporate art is resilient to economic turbulence and is a real store of value over the long-term.”

Altana, an international pharmaceutical company, argues that thinking only about profits is not thinking far enough.

It contends that corporate responsibility must go beyond profit and corporates must take responsibility for enriching the society in which they succeed by promoting, amongst other endeavours, the arts.

Accordingly several banks such as BancABC, Stanbic Bank, NMB Bank, Interfin, MBCA Bank and Tetrad, have over the years been supporting the arts, in particular Hifa.

“As passionate patron of the arts, BancABC believes that by nurturing vibrant artistic and cultural expressions of every kind, our continent’s full identity can be fully demonstrated and celebrated,” Ngoni Kudenga, BancABC chairman recently said.
Stanbic Bank is well-known for its generous support of fine art.

In late 2010 the bank collaborated with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe to assemble an intellectually stimulating array of visual arts in the major media of painting, printmaking, sculpture and ceramics for their premier corporate collection, which premiered at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe on October 15 2010.

Monda applauds Stanbic “for their cultural enterprise and corporate social responsibility,” adding that, “They have proved to be visionaries who see beyond the confines of the grey walls of bureaucracy and have brought culture, intellect light and colour to their corporate vista.”

L’homme qui marche I (Walking Man I), a sculpture by Swiss artists Alberto Gaicometti illustrates the value inherent in works of art. It smashed the world record for an art work at auction, selling in London for $104,327,006.00, beating the previous record set by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s painting “Garcon a la Pipe” which was bought for $104, 2 million in New York in 2004.

L’homme qui marche I, a life-size bronze statue of a man, was sold by German banking firm Commerzbank AG.

It had formerly been part of the corporate collection of German bank Dresdner Bank AG, and passed into the collection of Commerzbank when the institution took over Dresdner in 2008.

The bank was expected to use some of the proceeds from the sale to provide funds to partner museums for restoration work and educational programmes.

L’homme qui marche I’s record was soon eclipsed in May 2010 by the sale of a piece by Picasso at Christie’s. Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust is the most expensive painting to be sold at auction. The 1932 work sold for $106, 5 million at Christie’s in New York in 2010.

Given such intrinsic value in works of art, how far we are from a vibrant art market in which Zimbabwean banks can participate either as financiers or proprietors?

We know that currently, liquidity issues may not permit the development, let alone deepening of such a market since art would, under present conditions naturally occupy the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

As market liquidity improves, FSS urges banks such as Stanbic Bank, which already have a toehold in the art market by virtue of possessing corporate collections, to begin exploring and innovating in that area in order to deepen the market.

They could kill two birds with one stone by fulfilling their corporate social investment obligations while diversifying their revenue streams as well.

So there you are, work hard but play hard as well. Take up a hobby; learn to play an instrument, or begin to visit the nearest art gallery to appreciate art.

Whatever you choose, that could be the first step towards supporting the development of a multi-million dollar art market. For my part, this month I will take some time to sample some of Hifa’s delights.