Crowdfunding the arts in South Africa

By Leonie Erasmus
Producer, Africa Business Report

image captionThe Cape Consort offer CDs, signed programmes and tickets to performances in exchange for investment

Money for a Monteverdi melody, and Bach for their buck. The Cape Consort is a Cape Town-based ensemble in search of investment to help them put on a concert.

As with many struggling artists, they are in need of funding. After all, "musicians need to pay rent and eat just like everybody else," says Hans Huyssen, cellist with the group.

The Cape Consort has turned to crowdfunding, an online collective fundraising approach. They achieved their target amount of 15,000 rand ($1,525; £945), raising 60% of that in just six days.

The funds raised allowed them to put on a series of concerts, with the last one having just taken place on Sunday in Cape Town.

Instead of approaching one investor to ask for capital, crowdfunding is an online platform that allows small initiatives like Cape Consort to post proposals on a dedicated website and ask the world wide crowd for funding.

Even though the concept of collective fundraising is not new, (New York-based Kickstarter is widely credited with pioneering online crowdfunding in 2009), one crowdfunding website in South Africa is using it in an unusual way, to get funding for the arts.

image captionHans Huyssen from the Cape Consort says musicians rely on their audience

Patrick Schofield is the founder of Thundafund, described as a "crowdfunding cafe" for African innovators and creative entrepreneurs. It provides both a crowdfunding platform together with mentorship.

"I think the funding is one thing but people need the supporting environment to help them realise their idea and to make it successful, and that's what we bring together," he says.

Thundafund has been up and running for over four months, and 80% of the projects that have gone on the website have gained funding.

People power

Michelle Constant is the chief executive of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), a public-private partnership that aims to build partnerships between business and the arts.

"It's simplistic to assume that the private sector and the government can do all the funding of the arts as we move forward into the future," she says.

image captionPatrick Schofield believes crowdfunding "allows us to make the world as we would like it"

Funding arts projects will always take a backseat to issues such as reducing poverty and improving healthcare and housing - issues which are key in Africa.

"So if there is an opportunity where people who in their individual capacity can give [to the arts], it's exciting," says Ms Constant.

But crowdfunding for the arts is about more than just funding a specific project - it's also about tapping into a more engaged audience by using technology as a platform.

Mr Schofield compares the power of crowdfunding as a vehicle for raising money to the power of social media when it comes to current affairs.

"When you talk to 100 people and say, 'look, I'm not asking you for a huge amount, instead I'm going to say back me with a small amount and together we'll all make it happen' - in many ways it's the same way as news is fed through Twitter.

"There's 100 people talking about the event and it's often so much more powerful than one voice and they will funnel 100 people together to a larger channel."

Capital for creativity

image captionThundafund's website has been running for just over four months

With crowdfunding, as with any investment, you get a return. However, rather than a financial return, what you're most likely to gain is a creative product, be it a book, play, performance or CD.

On the other hand, unlike with a financial product, you know exactly what you're getting for your money as those who are doing the crowdfunding have to be upfront about what they can offer.

For instance, for an investment of 50 rand the Cape Consort will put your name on their website. Meanwhile, for 20,000 rand you can get four tickets to one of their performances, signed programmes, and an exclusive private concert among other things.

But can online crowdfunding work in a country where so many people don't have access to the internet?

Media analyst Arthur Goldstuck says it is already working, adding that while the digital divide may not be an issue, there are challenges.

"Those who have the means to participate in crowdfunding wouldn't really be the 'have-nots', so in South Africa the 'haves' have relatively good internet access… so that really isn't the constraint," Mr Goldstuck says.

"The constraint is more around trust of the crowdfunding model and the essence of crowdfunding is you have to hype up your product and create enthusiasm for it and that's not how investors like to be drawn into an investment opportunity."

'Funds with benefits'

Thundafund's Patrick Schofield also believes that the crowdfunding model can be an ideological tool that can bring about change.

He calls crowdfunding "funds with benefits" and says it "allows us to make the world as we would like it".

If the audience supports an idea online, the idea will come to life; if there's no support, there's no execution. This allows an interactive audience to dictate what they want to see in the creative arts arena by supporting it.

As Hans Huyssen, from the Cape Consort, says, "music is not something that relies on musicians only.

"I mean we can rehearse and perform, but unless somebody hears what we do, the musical experience doesn't happen.

"So you're involving your audience not only in concert, but also in advance, and to make them aware that they have a responsibility for the music to happen."

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