The arrival of the novel coronavirus has not only affected human life, but businesses as well in South Africa and globally.
With countries implementing lockdowns to effect social distancing in order to slow the rate of infections, businesses have found themselves affected negatively and some will find it hard to survive the current lockdown. The art business has not been spared either. Depending largely on foot traffic, art businesses such as art galleries, theatres, art fairs, art auctions, concerts and arts festivals have been significantly affected.
However with its capacity for creativity, the sector is finding new innovative ways of doing business with different degrees of success and failures, irrespective of the onslaught by the coronavirus.
Citylife Arts has started a series that focuses on art business leaders and how the art businesses they run are responding to the challenges posed by the coronavirus, especially during the lockdown, by adapting new models of running businesses, for example using new technologies.
In this instalment of the series, CityLife Arts editor EDWARD TSUMELE chats to Dr. SAME MDLULI, Standard Bank Gallery Manager.
ET. Standard Bank Gallery is well located in central Johannesburg for easy access by the public. Is that in fact helpful?
The Standard Bank Gallery has always been about its people, providing access to it so it can be freely enjoyed by any and everyone who appreciates art. In addition to showcasing some of the top international and local shows, it also provides an important platform for young artists to present their work to a wider audience through the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards. Its location in the CBD of Johannesburg situates it as part of the rich cultural fabric of the city and the significant heritage sites that surround it such as Gandhi Square and the Mining District.
ET: Standard Bank Gallery has long been active on digital platforms long before the current situation, which has been precipitated by Covid-19. How has that kind of background and infrastructure helped the gallery to seamlessly adapt to the new situation that calls for the use of technology to continue doing business?
Technology is increasingly becoming a part of daily lives and it has been important for us to keep abreast of these changes and dynamic movements like the 4IR present. Therefore, virtual gallery has been an existing part of the Standard Bank Arts portfolio strategy in keeping in par with trends and developments happening in the sector. The virtual gallery initially launched with David Koloane with the aim of extending the exhibition to audiences that may not have the opportunity to see it in person. But it was also envisioned as an archival and cataloguing method that could live on line long after the exhibition has closed.
ET: The advent of the coronavirus has come with its challenges of how businesses are run? How has this affected Standard Bank Gallery?
The Standard Bank Gallery is not a commercial gallery and therefore it operates slightly different to what a business would during this time. While the closure of the physical space has meant that visitors are not able to view artworks in the physical sense, COVID-19 has also encouraged good hygienic practices in gallery spaces. The closure of the space has allowed the opportunity to focus and extent on digital content across the arts portfolio platforms.
ET: Without the advantage of hosting special events such as exhibition openings whereby clients are invited and are able to view art as well as interacting with the artists and the curator, how does the Standard Bank Gallery make sure that during the lockdown and social distancing, the gallery is still able to engage and interact with its clients in particular and art collectors in general?
SM: Hosting events such as exhibition openings are traditionally part of the social aspect of exhibitions. They are a way of creating awareness and a buzz around the exhibition and the artist(s) to encourage visitors to come view the show. However, with the advent of COVID-19 client engagement in this manner will need to change. Galleries and other cultural spaces will need to think of other ways of engaging and communicating with clients through different activities allowed within the restrictions of social distancing. In the case of the Standard Bank Gallery the arts community the gallery has built over the years on the various social media platforms have offered an opportunity to find new ways of engaging audiences.
ET: With the arrival of the coronavirus on the scene, this also means that businesses such as galleries that depend on foot traffic to do their business have to adopt new innovative ways of making sales? What innovative ways is Standard Bank Gallery using to achieve this?
Please refer to question 1.
ET: What are the current projects that Standard Bank Gallery is running? Any exhibitions that are on and until when?
SM: We are currently running the Lumieres d’Afrique exhibition which comes to an end this weekend. The virtual exhibition had a successful run despite the closure of the gallery. The Gallery celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and so there are some exciting plans to look forward to in that regard. The rest of the gallery programming will be guided by the restrictions put in place by the bank as well as the confines of Government regulations. We encourage audiences to follow our social media platforms to keep abreast with future developments.
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