Enabling performing artists to thrive

Mensch thought-leader of the month

By Janice Lurie

When I was younger, I was told that nice Jewish girls don’t sing for a living.

I always thought it a rather odd statement as there were plenty of ‘nice Jewish girls’ around the world who are incredible influential artists, performers, creators and creatives.

So started my love affair with the performing arts, with music, singing, production, and my work as owner of Maverick Warehouse Media — a creative production, broadcast and soft skills consultancy that brings communication strategies and events to life using experiential engagement. Through Maverick’s dynamic engagements, corporate launches, activations, live performances and team engagements, I get to work with our beyond-talented, inspirational South African performance artists.

These artists are cultural brand ambassadors for the country and our collective culture storytellers. They are our traditional urban stage or street performers, representatives of our vibrance, creativity and diversity. The arts have always been a space for self-expression, and the performing arts act as a mirror, helping us, across languages and cultures to have empathy, understanding and self-knowledge.

In 2020, the world changed significantly, and people in the arts are still devastatingly affected. Despite the many obstacles faced prior to Covid, artists were still able to make a living through live performances, events, and theatrical shows. International artists could travel here, and local artists could travel to access work abroad. Since Covid, this has declined.

If the tools of your trade are removed and there is no economic, social, or infrastructural support because your trade operates in a cash-based economy and is seen as non-essential; and if you happen to live in the informal settlements and suburbs around the country, how are you to survive, let alone ‘pivot’ and adjust to our ‘new reality’?

While artists are creating content faster than ever, it is only those who are able to afford connectivity, expensive equipment and technology that can do so. For many, this is impossible. Many have been forced to learn a new skillset to survive.

In April 2020 I banded together with friends, colleagues and performing industry freelancers, all of whom live in Alexandra, Soweto, Atteridgeville and Mamalodi; and all of whom wanted to help those in the industry who were suffering.

We started crowdfunding across the globe, to raise funds for food vouchers for hundreds of artists without an income or safety net. In May 2020, our non-profit ThusaArtZA was registered. To date we have managed to ensure hundreds of families have a friend to call if they need help.

ThusaArtZA’s vision is to help artists help themselves, enabling them to continue to work, earn a living, learn new skills and thrive beyond the current reality. To perform, teach, inspire, and connect with the outside world via virtual and hybrid platforms, showcasing their craft.

Empathy, ideation, collaboration and productivity
In the home that I come from, Judaism has always been expressed through people, family, community — the collective as an integral part of the experience — Kehilla. Now that ThusaArtZA had been formed, we still needed to address the urgent need for income. So, without a clue of what or how to do it, we started with what we had: WIFI, a phone, a network, ideas, a performing arts collective, and the willingness to help. We formed the social enterprise EzaseKasiJHB so that artists could earn money while helping the community.

EzaseKasiJHB is a bicycle-operated delivery service, loosely based on the UberEATS or Checkers Sixty60 model, running at a grassroots level over WhatsApp and Facebook. What started as a crowdfunding exercise to get bicycles has turned into a small functional business in Alexandra, Johannesburg, run by our business partners who live in Alex. We have six bikes and two vehicles that run daily deliveries. The cyclists earn between R1000 and R2000 per month and are in turn supporting their families. Rates are from R5 per pick-up, which ensures that pensioners, the elderly, and the indigent all benefit.

What we have learnt
This model works and needs to grow. It is a functional small business that can contribute to actualising the people’s economy. By creating a groundswell of small entrepreneurs and community beneficiaries, we know that we can reach many through our national networks.
We have also learnt that it really does take a village. Generous help has come through family internationally and friends at Noah’s Art and the Angel Network, without whose help this would not even have been able to start.

Janice Lurie is a valued member of Jewish Social Justice NGO, Mensch, and a 2021 graduate of the Mensch Leadership Programme, LIFT. To read more about Janice and learn more about her work Click HERE, or visit: www.thusaartza.org and www.ezasekasiJHB.co.za. Learn about Mensch here: www.mensch.org.za

Mensch www.mensch.org.za, contact: gina@mensch.org.za

• Published in the PDF edition of the March 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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