BizCommunity, 27th November 2020
24th November 2020, Johannesburg, South Africa. HENLEY Business School Africa has been adjudged the outright winner of the 2020 BASA first-time sponsorship of the arts award for Henley Resurgence, the collaboration with the Coloured Cube Collective, that saw Henley’s iconic columns in the forum between the Cape Dutch buildings that constitute ‘D-Block’, transformed in a blaze of colour and imagery.
For Mariapaola McGurk, the founder of the Coloured Cube which selected the 12 artists to paint the 24 columns and oversaw the protest, the award is bittersweet.
“The Coloured Cub unfortunately did not survive the COVID 19 lockdown, but we are immensely grateful that within the six-year lifespan of this micro creative company, we won three BASA awards,” she says.
“This award is actually the official closure of the Coloured Cube, but it’s not a negative in any way because the core team has infused its DNA into quite vital positions in other institutions like universities, while I work at Constitution Hill where alot of the ideas we were exploring as a micro business, we are now evolving to the next level.
“The benefit of a project like Henley Resurgence is that there is now a model that works where everybody benefits from the output of creative innovations.”
McGurk did her MBA with a scholarship award at Henley Africa – she actually oversaw Henley Resurgence during her final year of study. Her thesis was on the development of creative hubs in Johannesburg to help and support creative entrepreneurs, her new job is to make Constitution Hill the lead hub of that new ecosystem.
“The engagement with Henley really boosted both ideas through the implementation of projects and the research that I did in my MBA. The question is, can we create substantial support structures that really benefit micro creative entrepreneurship within the South African context?
“Even though the Coloured Cube has closed, I am hoping the ideas and ways of engagement between corporates and micro enterprises that was templated on the Henley Resurgence project to develop artists and support them by giving them access to new markets, will continue.”
For Henley Africa’s dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley, there is no doubt that the project will continue. The passionate patron of Henley Resurgence believes that art is critical not just to reflecting life but also as to provide an early warning of new trends, new imperatives.
“In many ways, art is pre-verbal reflecting on what is to come before people have even begun to identify and then to articulate it,” he says. “Much like the massive ocean liner or the tsunami is tiny on the horizon, art is the leading edge of identity, always metaphorical. In many ways it’s the canary in the cage, the subtle cue, the vague inference; an early warning system, a harbinger of things to come.”
In the Henley context, taking 24 columns and using them as a blank canvas for 12 different artists, decolonised education by literally decolumnising the campus; “it was a vibrant new statement in the middle of a beautiful traditional Cape Dutch space, connecting Jozi to the world and, in our case, the urban, progressive, energy to the students.
“We intend to do more, we may even paint over the columns and repeat the process and we continue to connect with the zeitgeist of the time we find ourselves in. With Henley Resurgence, we wanted to create a space that provokes discussion about what we do here and what the students are coming here to do.”
Henley should not be a place where you get an MBA or any other business qualification in order to join an elite club of conformist business leaders, he says. On the contrary, it should turn you into a business disruptor.
“There’s a direct correlation between economic growth and the growth of creative industries, especially in emerging economies. If you build creatives you build economies, it’s that simple. If you bring creativity to business acumen it’s not just about feeling good but providing a deeper provocation into the current economic hegemony.
“Our economic landscape is still dominated, almost asphyxiated, by the monolithic corporates of the old era. This all-pervasive corporate conservatism and conformity act like a thermostat keeping the status quo in place, and ultimately bringing those companies and institutions to their knees as they are too slow to innovate. Steve Biko’s decolonising the mind was a moral imperative, now in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic and the rapid advent of the fourth industrial revolution it has become a business imperative too.”
“The French believe in art as a provocation,” says Foster-Pedley, “an almost Schumpeterian creative destruction, a call to greater things beyond our current structures. We need that on all South African campuses, not just our own. #FeesMustFall grew straight out of #RhodesMustFall, finally mainstreaming a debate that had smouldered for decades. I want this project to break down walls.
“Our students who come here need to be prepared to subvert to build a better model, not to conform. We need them to challenge us, and I hope that we are resilient enough for that kind of robust engagement because that’s how we will continue to improve and stay relevant at the same time.”