'Cash, Connect, Care and Change': VANSA offers artists a roadmap

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Visual Artwork Network South Africa (VANSA) has been one of the few organisations offering support for artists. (Photo: Supplied)
Visual Artwork Network South Africa (VANSA) has been one of the few organisations offering support for artists. (Photo: Supplied)

Over the last few months, Visual Artwork Network South Africa (VANSA) has been one of the few organisations offering support for artists - a community hard hit by the effects of Covid-19.

Established in 2003 as an independent arts organisation, VANSA's aim has always been to work as a support system providing much needed knowledge, resources and networks to artists.

Director Refilwe Nkomo says that, under Covid, they immediately launched a Covid-19 Resources and Information List for Artists and Arts Organisations in April and continue to update that list.

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Through a short questionnaire, VANSA recognised that there were four primary areas that artists and arts organisations felt the greatest need, namely "Cash, Connect, Care (systemic) and Change".

She says: "We identified that artists just really needed cash and resources. We've done a lot of advocacy and lobbying and working with government to speak about relief funding. But that's ongoing work."

Thus far, they have engaged with the DOEN Solidarity Fund and done assistance with the Department of Sports Arts and Culture team; they have worked with the National Arts Council and are in the process of developing a Tax for Artists Toolkit - to increase financial literacy in the sector and enhance economic justice.

VANSA also launched a series of online webinars under lockdown as a way to connect further with the arts community.

One of it was the 24-Hour Pageant: Symptoms of An Essential Worker, which brought into question whether artists are essential workers.

"I think we're becoming far more intentional with networking and how artists connect with each other," says Nkomo.

This means approaching different technologies to create spaces where artists are able to engage with each other.  

One of the key features of VANSA from the get-go was affordable options for artists to become members.

While the organisation itself is a small team, their membership extends to just over 7 500 of artists and arts organisations.

Nkomo says the model has always been geared to function from a partnership and collaborative perspective.

Free membership allows access to the newsletters and opportunities offered. The paid membership for an individual starts at R100, including the use of equipment, online resources, a library and feature of an artmap - a mapping of the arts sector so that people can see where galleries and development spaces are.

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The next tier is R500 for arts organisation.

"We're really trying to ensure that through decentralisation, for example, everybody has the ability to access information and resources and tools that can really help their practice," says Nkomo.

"With that in mind, it's really about how as a visual arts sector do we use the kind of resources that are available and the networks to do the things that we need to do; be it workshops or running internship programmes. That's probably why the network in the title is the most important part.

"We've also kept our membership low because we really believe in making it accessible. And we don't want to be prohibitive in who is able to access information because that's effectively the biggest problem. And that's why VANSA consistently posts these opportunities and residencies and job opportunities.

"Because the arts, as a whole, are highly dependent generally on networks and specifically on personal network; so we are trying to dismantle those barriers of entry. And really make it far more accessible and far more democratic."

Their website functions as a resource tool for information about funding and job opportunities, residencies, internships and networks – and this part is accessible to all. They also lobby with governments and institutions, for example, for artist's fees and resale rights.

Since the beginning of lockdown, the VANSA team has been working remotely.

Nkomo says: "Following the impact Covid-19 has had on the creative sector, we have initiated a programmatic experiment in radical sharing and collaboration through an interrogation of space, community, resources and how these are shared and navigated.

"As such, we have taken the decision to no longer occupy physical space at Constitution Hill, and move towards a form of transitional and co-creative occupancy in the form of institutional residencies between VANSA and its members, and it will run from September."

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