By BRUCE DENNILL
Broken Monsters Charity Art Show / Nando’s Central Kitchen, Lorentzville, Johannesburg
It’s a simple, heartfelt formula, mixing fame, literature, talent and fine art to not only promote reading but to provide young kid with physical books, created by South African writers and illustrators.
The Broken Monsters Charity Art Show involves single pages torn out of Lauren Beukes’ bestseller Broken Monsters and presented to a collection of South African artists (including Brett Murray, Conrad Botes, Gabby Raaff, Kilmany-Jo Liversage, Lien Botha, Liza Grobler, Matthew Hindley, Mia Widlake, Paul Senyol and artists from the Nando’s Art Initiative), who decorate the page with original ideas and then return them to curator Jacki Lang, who mounts and frames them for exhibition. Nando’s, sponsors of the event, also provided the venue for the Johannesburg leg of the show, where punters have access to the artworks and can buy them – one per owner, and the identity of the artist is only revealed post-sale – for R1 500 each, all of which goes to Book Dash, which produce children’s books for kids who can’t afford to buy their own.
The Cape Town leg of the initiative raised enough money – with supporters queuing around the block, to raise enough money to sponsor 21 000 books.
Cynics may look at the situation and suggest that there’s as much PR value in this idea as there is a heart for the needy.
“I don’t sell any books through doing this!” laughs Beukes. “None of us is any good at stunts.”
“There was certainly no PR starting point – it wasn’t follow-on from some marketing meeting,” agrees Lang. “It simply came about because we had a great book and a mutual to celebrate art and artists.”
Tarryn-Anne Anderson chimes in: “We love Lauren, we love books and we love art – and combining them creates a range of surprising responses.”
“It’s a way of saying thanks,” says Beukes. “My books have been successful, and I’d like to give back somehow.”
The lottery aspect – buying an artwork without knowing who the artist is when some of the contributors are high-profile names who can charge top dollar at their own exhibitions – is interesting. This is an opportunity not only to contribute to charity, but to possibly achieve an unexpected windfall.
“We want people to buy what they love,” says Lang. “All the artists we’ve chosen are good investments, and some of these works will be absolute steals. What you see at this show will probably never exist again. Most of the artists involved only rarely – or possibly never – work in this medium or format, so you’ll never see, for instance, Brett Murray’s work here in a future exhibition he has elsewhere.”
“The fact that you can only buy one work each counters a cynical investment approach – you can’t spend all night examining everything to figure out what might be worth something. By the time you’ve done that, someone else will have bought everything you liked.”
“That strategy forces an internal dialogue,” suggests Lang. “Do I love this? Do I want to live with this? You have to answer those questions first, before you start worrying about monetary value.”
“I like how this formula makes the art accessible,” says Beukes. “And it gets good money to a great cause – that’s the main thrust. The one thing with the mystery of who painted what is that we don’t get to really punt the artists on the night. But we are putting together a catalogue to promote them after the show has ended.”
“Having a corporate sponsor for all of this is so important, as all of the money raised can go to charity, without admin costs having to be taken out of the final amount,” says Lang.
“Yes – no worrying about the toilet paper budget,” smiles Beukes.
She continues. “I knew I wanted a literary charity, as one of the themes in the book is storytelling being a doorway into the minds of others. I want children to learn the value of storytelling, and Book Dash already understands that, and is also set up to both produce books and distribute them effectively to those who need them.”
“Book Dash getting the money from this event means making some big ripples,” says Anderson. “Literary charities are always in need of materials. And we’re good at creating books.”
“I love what they do,” says Beukes. “Their books involve high-quality writing and art – it’s a creative economy both created and supported. You can even download, print and hand out copies. It’s a great idea.”
Are either artists or writers generally savvy enough to make proper use of such opportunities?
“I think most people want to be just an artist or a writer; there’s no real engagement in business,” says Beukes. “But you can do anything for a similar outcome – go and read your poetry in a coffee shop and ask for donations for charity. Collaborations are also always a good idea – they should be considered every time.”
“Book Dash is all about collaborations, and we help the writers and artists as well,” says Anderson. “We prepare the writers a week in advance of our events and on the day when everyone gets together, we create a context for productivity, and give the writers professional editors to work with. Our system also allows the illustrators to shape the stories as much as the writers, which is not the case under normal circumstances, when they get the text in isolation and must try and understand the vision of a writer who may be in another city or country.”