The Business Of The Arts

It is a well-known fact that art is now a recognised business. Engagement in the production of art, whether material or otherwise, is a very lucrative business. The creative industries sector is currently one of the fastest growing sectors globally.

Its potential is limitless. Here in Botswana, the contribution of the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) to Gross Domestic Product has previously been indeterminate, negligible or very low. 

Indications are that this situation is changing and could change very fast depending on what public policy and strategies we as a nation come up with, but also and more importantly, what artists, individually and collectively do. Do artists approach their craft as business or as mere leisure that occasionally yields financial returns?

What this means is that increasingly, artists have to establish themselves as legally constituted entities that can contract and be contracted; that can sue and be sued; entities that have an independent legal existence separate from that of the artist himself/herself.  Now registering a company has certain implications in so far as how one conducts their business. That in itself has the net effect of encouraging artists to conduct their work in a business-oriented manner.

They know they have to make an annual return to the Registrar of Companies at the end of each financial year; they also know they have to submit a tax return to the Botswana Unified Revenue Service at the end of the tax year.

All these requirements necessarily compel the artist/company owner to keep proper transactional records. This in turn, would enable the artist/business owner to determine the performance of his/her artistic enterprise at the end of the year. Has one made a profit or a loss? Or has one merely broken even.

But all this can only happen if the artist himself/herself is self-disciplined and takes his/her work seriously.

One needs to have clear objectives as to why they do what they do; and have some aspiration of where they would like to be in a given period of time and work towards achieving that. This calls for some level of planning; some form of

strategising on how to reach the heights one would have identified. In the 1990s, there was a tennis star by the name of Pete Sampras. He used to win his matches in the shortest possible time. He would serve ‘aces’ that were unreturnable.

Once a commentator asked him why he does not allow his games to go a bit longer by desisting from being so ‘clinical’ and his response was that the tennis court was his office and his responsibility was to do the job as thoroughly, efficiently and quickly as possible. He said that he could not risk playing a game that could lead to his loss and denying him bread on the table. Artists can learn a lesson from Sampras.

When one is on that stage singing, acting, dancing or in a small room writing a novel, a play or a poem, one is essentially in the ‘office’ and one requires to wear the discipline of the office.  What this means is that when the artist gets contracted by hi/her company to perform somewhere, the artist needs to deliver to expectation. The artist needs to deliver a quality performance and on time. His/her conduct and behavior has to similarly be professional. He/she needs to earn respect from his/her customers and the public in general. That way, the artist is enhancing his/her brand and prospects for further business contracts and hence financial gains are increased.

We wish to unequivocally thank University of Botswana - Department of Visual and Performing Arts for their invaluable contribution to this column

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