Vandercasteele explains ‘Why Botswana Artist could be Millionaires’

Gosego Motsumi’s article published in the Botswana Gazette of 22 January 2020 was attracting my attention and deserves a response.

It appears as if Gosego went out to find all sorts of answers to the question and really interviewed a fine selection of Botswana creatives in an effort to solve the question. As a foreigner living for the past 30 years in Botswana, my opinion might provoke many, but I dared to express it and bet that someone will cry foul and accuse me of whatever, like what can a foreigner possibly add to this conversation.

I am an architect by training and hasten to say that architects too seldom become millionaires, and that might be the reason why I am no longer an architect.

As architects we long to express our art in architecture and find that very difficult. I discovered very early in my career that architecture is at best applied art and, for that matter, very expensive art. When architects construct a building we juggle with millions and better be fully aware thereof and ensure that our clients do get value for that money.

Clients go as far as employing specialists to curtail our art, they call them Quantity Surveyors. They pay those people lots of fees and they in turn then make sure that whatever arty proposal made gets systematically condemned. Waste of money, unviable proposals and all sorts of definitions are used to ensure that our creative ideas are blocked before they germinate to blossom.
I had to add this so that whoever wants to criticise my ideas will do so in the full knowledge that I am very aware of how creative ideas are butchered by the industry.

In order to avoid going on a one-man solo response I promised myself to respond to each reason mentioned in Gosego’s article.

The fashion designer Kaone Moremong suggested that due to the lack of freely available raw materials the fashion industry is unable to shine and attract any attention either locally or internationally. Government, the one and only organisation that most artist in Botswana accuse of everything, should allow faster and cheaper import of the raw materials. Would that be helpful or do I already hear the textile sector steaming murder and demanding even better protection against the cheap imports from the rest of the world? Will we create more jobs by doing so, or will we kill jobs in the ailing textile industry?

Is fashion not about coming up with new bright and different ideas? Some fashion designers get by with very little cloth, one could respond. Fashion design is about design and not about decrying the lack of raw material. Why not using the lack thereof to explore the use of alternative materials. We have thousands of cowhides that we do not use and sell to overseas where they use them for prime quality leather. We have Access to all sorts of hides. We could re-use old fashion and create new clothes of that material. We have all sorts of discarded materials that are unique to Africa and remain unused.

I just want to remind our future fashion designers that the world is craving for African attire and is looking at our youngsters to come up with new exhilarating ideas on how to use fabrics. No, I will disagree with Kaone and urge her to see an opportunity where she sees a problem. It may be the start of a very successful undertaking.

I admit that I do have more knowledge about the music industry and before anyone wonders if I will disagree with Seabelo Modibe , I herewith confirm that I wholeheartedly agree with the arts activist.

It is the promoters and musicians themselves that are to blame for not being a millionaire. If you are a Botswana promoter and you insist on having some SA-idol as your main performer for your event, you are both underestimating your local talent and depriving them of the chances they deserve. As manager of the Stanbic Bank Piazza, I have had to deal with too may promoters that are consistently insisting to have a very expensive SA artist on their show.

The most successful events at Molapo have been those that were arranged by smaller promoters that grated local artists a chance. They did not charge an exorbitant fee, as some SA artist do, and grabbed the opportunity to perform for a bigger audience. I have argued with many artists in the country and pleaded with them to not demand big payments and then leave the promoters with financial nightmares. I asked them to take a personal interest in the numbers of paying ticket holders they attract and base their fees thereon.

I have repeatedly advised them that David Bowie performed for free, as the intro to a Beatles concert, just to test his ability to satisfy a crowd. He admitted being scared and virtually paralyzed to perform in front of 30,000 screaming Beatles-fans. He was alone, with his guitar and kept a 30,000 audience enthralled with his music. The concert was his ticket to instant fame and fortune!

But our local musician wants to be paid upfront, completely irrelevant to whatever interest there may be in his performance.

We had one local artist filling the Piazza. He did so without any SA artist in the show! It can be done and Botswana has talent. I will do anything to arrange shows to enable our talent to shine.

I could agree with Modibe’s statement that, as usual , blames Government. What should we expect from Government? Should they pay artists to perform for empty halls? Should they pay artist no matter what their popularity is? Would they then help artists, or should the Government create an environment in which art can create its own niche?

Should we really have a government that decides who gets what? Really do the artists want the government to decide thereon? Some civil servant decides that you cannot use the State theatre as you are not sending out the ‘correct’ political message?

Anyone calling himself creative is petrified by the idea that civil servants will decide on who performs what and where !
Berry Heart, the poetess forwards other reasons for the failure of artists in Botswana. She blames the failure on the lack of an Arts Council, the lack of music quotas and the failure in endorsements.

Botswana has a Botswana Society for the Arts, and I , in Molapo, offered them free office space, but the Society died when it failed to even pay their employees who were doing a sterling job to act and protect the arts in Botswana.

Whether we call it a Council or a Society, it will have to be driven by local artists. It will require input and determination from all artists in order to act for their betterment. It is correct that it is badly needed and I can only suggest that it be revived and supported by everyone that proudly proclaims to be an artist in this country.

Getting some civil servant to set up a Council is a total waste of time, in my humble opinion. Art comes from the people and not from the top. Art that comes from the top is dictatorial, mostly bad and completely devoid of any base support. Where are those artists that want a Council. Offer your services, Do it for the love of it and get business involved. Every investor will invest in it if you, the artist, can prove that it is viable – and I am convinced it should be.

The idea of quotas has been tested all over the world. Some countries, like France, have quite strict rules and have been doing it for as long as France and its proud frank citizens existed. Other countries failed and I must say that with a small population, the size of half of that of Soweto, Botswana will find it difficult to successfully introduce quotas. Some private radio stations can test it out.
Berry argues that “the environment in Botswana has to create business for us first so we may take our product globally.” Who is pushing that environment, she refers to? Is she referring to the artist community or referring to the Government, without mentioning it? Art is not made by any environment. Art is created by creative minds that apply their mind to their direct environment and use it to shine globally. I may refer back to the fashion designer that uses local products in its design, rather than imported fabrics.

Art is produced by those that are prepared to think out of the box, or rather, those that are prepared to throw away the box!
Wilson Ngoni seems to blame us, the Botswana population. I must admit that I agree partly with him. The average Botswana do not understand art. They simply miss the basic understanding of what it is all about.

Our education system certainly is not training our children in the art of understanding art. Basic art training is lacking and , if available, it is treated at a level that is poor and unable to stress the importance of art at all. Most Batswana think craft is art and there is no education system that explains the difference between the two.

Artist have to produce craft if they want to sell, for real art remains a mystery to most Batswana. How can anyone pay millions for a bad painting? They will argue with me that abstract painting is simply done by someone incapable of making proper lifelike drawings! I have to remind Botswana that art is not craft and art really pays very well. The creator of the toddler-story Peppa Pig sold his drawing for 5 billion US dollar to the Disney studios. This equals about 50% of the total Botswana annual production! The drawing is not even beginning to look like a real pig but it fetched nearly 55 billion Pula.

It is telling that Wilson Ngoni indeed talks about craft and not art. He argues that artists are dumping their craft in favour of agriculture. He is right that craft should be dumped, but must be replaced by art.

Emulo Kgomotso agrees with Wilson Ngoni. And the article ends by asking our new young Minister of Arts, Sports and Culture how he will tackle the problem. He answered wisely that he will be looking into the problem and advise when ready.

When I read the article I became strangely aware that there must be somewhere someone that is trying to push the interest of the art industry. I have, since failing to convince any bank to invest in art, or more specific in the Piazza, learned the hard way that indeed Botswana do not understand art nor appreciate it.

I tried to convince bankers of the value of art but they refused to offer any loan based on potential income from the arts. I must hasten to add that we thankfully found a willing sponsor to assist. So, why are Botswana artist really not millionaires and why do I feel very strongly that they could be millionaires?

It was Picasso that said that all children are born as artists, but it is education and growing that ruins that. Children have no problem stating that their drawing is fantastic and anyone that disagrees is simply not understanding them.

It was Einstein that reminded all of us that his brain and intellect could take him far, but it was his imagination that took him everywhere.

We train children to stop being artists and we do so very profoundly, with a seldom seen zest for success. The child is everyday reminded that its art is worth nothing and it must improve its drawing skills. By the time our children leave school we have succeeded in ensuring that they no longer dares to draw anything unless it is a lifelike picture.

We have mastered the art to insist on not producing art and produce bad copies of lifelike scenes or bad copies of whatever products. We have trained our children to not come up with weird and wonderful ideas or drawings. We have thought children how perspective works and how a drawing must be.

The teacher in our classes is to be respected and never questioned. The teacher is older and demands respect and will not tolerate discussion on anything. He or she is under pressure to finish a curriculum for the year and debate is only delaying matters.

I am on a quest to teach Botswana about creativity. I call it the most addictive drug possible. Creativity is the ability to search for solutions and follow a non-linear path to get there. Creativity should not be the prerogative of artists solely. It should be the absolute basic knowledge for all of us, for without creativity we fail to solve problems in any sphere of our life.

We have other industries that keep on catching up with their competitors. We have no industries that set a standard for their competitors we have companies that try to emulate the success of their competitors but no companies that come with new ideas that launch a new product.

The Artist, in my opinion, fails in Botswana because he is not setting out to be an artist, but he or she tries to master a craft and compete in the very competitive world of the creative industry.

Our artists have the talent to become very successful artist as soon as they produce creative art , rather than craft.
Teaching them what art is, is the real problem.

I have made it my goal to promote creativity in Botswana and hope to get lots of help in doing so.