Nurturing emerging South African artists

(from left) Johnny Harmse, Thato Motana (artist), Nonto Sheryl Msomi and Nathi Gumede of ArtbankSA Credit: Optix Photography

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed society. Crowded exhibition openings are now a distant memory. Galleries and museums, the world over, were temporarily closed and international fairs were postponed or cancelled. It has been a huge shock for a sector that is mostly freelance in nature. Necessity has once again forced the arts to adapt to these times and to operate with limited face-to-face interactions. True to form, the cultural and creative industries have responded in innovative ways to meet these new challenges. Some business aspects have migrated to online sources and has had the positive result of increasing access to previously inaccessible art content from prestigious collections.

VANGATAVA: The Limpopo Launch of the Art Bank of South Africa Exhibition Opening. Credit: Optix Photography

What will be critical for the health and sustainability of the sector is finding sustainable solutions, using what can be learned during the time of crisis to design appropriate responses and policies. While strategies are being formulated, artists, particularly emerging artists, are struggling to survive in a world where opportunities to generate an income have disappeared.

The Art Bank of South Africa (ArtbankSA) is a programme of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (under the Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy) and is hosted by the National Museum, Bloemfontein. It is tasked with purchasing artworks from South African artists, particularly that of emerging artists to lease and sell the artworks to South African government departments, private companies and private individuals. Artists can submit up to five artworks for consideration by the nine member acquisitions committee of the ArtbankSA. In making their assessments they are guided by the collections policy of the ArtbankSA and their own judgement of good work. All submissions being reviewed are treated equally. When the submission window is open, application guidelines are made available on the ArtbankSA website. In 2020 the national lockdown had little impact on the selection process as the systems could very easily be adapted for virtual coordination. The ArtbankSA received over 340 entries and the committee selected over 120 artworks, the most it has selected in one year.

In addition to the annual acquisitions, and in response to the clarion call by President Ramaphosa for job creation with a focus on youth, women, and people with disability, the ArtbankSA with the support of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture launched a four-month employment stimulus programme. The programme has created over 150 employment opportunities through art commissioning and work placements. The created artworks will be considered for inclusion into the ArtbankSA’s Contemporary Visual Art Collection. The artworks featured in the collection explore a variety of themes since the ArtbankSA does not outline any themes for artists to respond to. They prefer to see what artists find interesting, are contemplating and discussing in their communities. What brings these works together is that they reflect us. They force us to face our identity as South Africans. Forcing us to interrogate what matters most to us, diverse as we are. This strategy has resulted in visitors to ArtbankSA exhibitions always finding something that speaks to them, which is in line with the programme’s mission to foster an appreciation for contemporary art, by making art accessible to the broader public. The public has an opportunity to view a selection of the works acquired in 2020 by visiting the Tiro ya diatla: New Acquisitions of the Art Bank of South Africa Exhibition opening at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum on 11 March 2021. The exhibition will run until 18 April 2021.

To lease or buy artwork or for more information about the ArtbankSA, visit the official website or email

Facebook Page: Art Bank of South Africa
Instagram Profile: @artbankSA
Twitter Profile: @artbankSA

TSWELA PELE: KZN Launch of the Art Bank of South Africa Exhibition at Durban Art Gallery Credit: Paulo Menezes


VANGATAVA: Limpopo Launch of the Art Bank of South Africa Exhibition at Polokwane Art Museum Credit: Optix Photography