Art Bank Joburg: helping local artists
Yvonne Mamothusi Harvey – Three women.(Image: Art Bank Joburg) Art Bank Joburg, the only initiative of its kind in South Africa, is providing a much-needed platform for emerging local artists to showcase their work.Art Bank Joburg owns some of South Africa’s best art by upcoming and established local artists, proving that the country can be proud of its outstanding artistic talent.The initiative is now in its fourth year, and in spite of a tough economic climate, and declining corporate budgets for art, it continues to provide exposure for South African artists.“We have such a diversity of talent in South Africa – there are people from so many walks of life and this situation produces great variety in South African art,” says Vishnu Singh, GM of Creative Industries for the City of Joburg.The initiative was the brainchild of Ben Ngubane, the former minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. Ngubane was introduced to the Canadian Art Bank concept on a visit to Ottawa in Canada, and decided that a similar project in South Africa could support local artists.Art Bank Joburg was established by the City of Joburg to buy art from emerging and established artists in the city, and then lease it to public and private sector clients. The art finds a temporary home in corporate reception areas, offices, and government departments in the city, such as the Johannesburg High Court, the Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Metro Police and the Office of the Speaker. Monash University leases one of the largest collections.The bank was established in Newtown, Johannesburg’s arts and culture hub, but has since also opened a satellite branch just off Nelson Mandela Square in the business district of Sandton, north of the city centre.Real benefits for emerging artistsOne of the biggest difficulties for local artists is earning a sustainable income from their art. However, through the Art Bank initiative, artists benefit directly.Prospective works are assessed by a committee of respected members of the art community, who then decide if the Art Bank should purchase the piece. If the committee agrees that it is a valuable addition to the collection, Art Bank Joburg buys the art at its current market value and the artist receives payment immediately.Artworks are leased to clients at a fee of 20% of market value, and are reevaluated annually.Singh says that the bank’s main focus is sourcing art from emerging artists. “We want to take their work and give them exposure and access to the market,” he says.The team has never struggled to find good art, either. “The artists usually find us,” he says.On Wednesdays, Art Bank Joburg hosts an open day where artists can present their works. This gives them the confidence of knowing that there is a place where they can take their art for consideration.If a particular piece has potential, Art Bank Joburg takes a photo of it and registers it on its database for later evaluation. Some of the art also comes to them through workshops and incubator projects in and around Johannesburg.If an artist can’t make it to the open day they may make an appointment to visit at a more convenient time.Emerging and established artistsThe bank houses art from both emerging and established artists, in a variety of media including paint, sculpture, photography, wire art, mosaics, print-making, mixed media and craft. Singh says just about any art medium is welcome, as long as the work is not created from biodegradable materials.Work by well-known artists such as William Kentridge (a donation to Art Bank Joburg), Robert Hodgins, Sam Nhlengethwa, David Koloane, Penny Siopis and Pat Mautloa is also available.Leasing art can be a form of corporate social investment. It also contributes to cultural development in Johannesburg and provides good market exposure for local artists.Some of the leased art has led to private sales – if a client likes the art, Art Bank Joburg puts them in contact with the artist for further commissions. Singh says that artists such as John Vusi Mfupi, who specialises in collage art, first received exposure through the Art Bank Joburg and went on to receive international recognition for his work.According to African Colours, a website that promotes contemporary African art, most of Mfupi’s work has been purchased by corporate companies and the South African high court. He has also exhibited abroad in Scotland, Malaysia, Germany, Portugal, Brussels and in the Netherlands at The Hague.For many people, the arts remain a highbrow affair but as more art is leased from Art Bank Joburg, it becomes more accessible. In a corporate or public space, people who would usually not show an interest in art, or do not have access to it, have the opportunity to engage with high quality artwork.“As people are exposed to art, they learn to appreciate it,” Singh says.