Combine social impact with high return on investment – through emerging artists
The conventional approach to creating wealth via investment is not necessarily the best one because it can be elitist and it usually requires you to have money in the first place in order to make more of it.
However, as Kalnisha Singh, director of the SA Taxi Foundation, explains, less conventional forms of investment can offer a far better return for a very modest initial investment. An example is the acquisition of the works of emerging artists, preferably in the early phases of an artist’s career.
“The beauty of this kind of investment is that it not only provides significant returns for ordinary South Africans, it also enables the man in the street, simply by beautifying his home, to contribute to the development of a socially vital facet of the economy,” Singh says.
Singh’s profound personal belief that wealth should have a transformative effect across the full spectrum of society has been polished in a hard business environment. For her honours research, she took a hands on role in, among other organisations, KwaZulu-Natal’s first woman-owned construction company, which, based on her recommendations for its improved efficiency, subsequently became South Africa’s largest such company.
It went from a per project value of R150 000 to R120 million, proving that business growth and gender equality go hand in hand.
At other organisations in the manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and financial sectors, Singh deepened her understanding of developmental economics and now has extensive practical experience of applying the correlations between economic and social needs to drive the mechanisms of healthy economic growth.
No accident, then, that she was a recipient of the Nelson Mandela Economic Scholarship in 2003, has participated annually in the Brightest Young Minds Summit and in the Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies Conference since 2003, and in the Global Summit of Women since 2006.
In 2014, she launched the SA Taxi Foundation Art Award, which broke ground by requiring artists to combine fine art and graphic design, thereby equipping them for commercial careers.
She points out that, for many South Africans only now moving into the middle class, the idea of art as an investment is not an obvious one. “We tend to think that owning a home and having some life insurance and a savings account are the limit of what we can do with our disposable income to protect ourselves against future financial needs.
“However, too few people understand that land is what delivers a steady, long term return. By contrast, property in the form of apartments or townhouses is extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy.
“A lot of people are also quite legitimately enjoying their increasing salaries by buying expensive cars and furniture. But, such items depreciate from the moment they leave the store. And, while they may give some pleasure to their owners, they hold no value for society as a whole.
“Art, on the other hand, offers a low risk opportunity to acquire an socially important asset that will increase in value, often very rapidly.”
Singh cites the example of the first winner of the SA Taxi Foundation Art Award, Tshepo Mosopa, whose work mostly takes the form of a series of images. “A few years ago, you would have paid R5 000 for an entire series. Now, you will pay R1 500 per image in a series.
“So, the value of Tshepo’s work has increased very rapidly. And so has the buyer’s return on investment.”
Singh believes that there’s much more to investing in emerging artists than the pure monetary value, however.
“Every time you buy an artist’s work, you are investing in him or her as person, as an artist, and as a representative of South African culture. You’re also investing in the art industry, which is hopelessly under funded in this country. You’re helping to build not just the career of the artist whose work you have acquired but of all artists, present and future.
“Because of the way art reflects the society in which it is created, it is one of those rare assets that actually has nation-building power. And, because it can be owned by the person in the street, it puts in the hands of that person a very real means for making a difference to society.”
Art is also a way of creating a family legacy, by handing down works from one generation to another.
The work of an artist who is just starting out can cost as little as R500 and not much more than R1 000.