Sindi Mabaso-Koyana and Reggie Khumalo

Business runs a successful mentoring  programme that helps artists to become  self-sufficient and sustainable.

As austerity and more budget cuts loom, for the politicians who have to wield the scythe, the arts and artists are often the soft targets.

Which is why there is growing pressure on the private sector to carry more of the funding burden.

But business has long had a complicated relationship with the arts, even though they share a common intersection with creativity and innovation.

However, in SA, both have found an imaginative meeting ground in a particularly successful mentoring programme that is allowing many of the country's artistic community to become more self-sufficient and sustainable.

For the past 11 years, Business & Arts SA (Basa) has been running a mentoring programme, which was first initiated when the organisation began to identify gaps in levels of professional or business expertise within the arts sector.

The programme entails business leaders volunteering to mentor and work closely with an arts company or organisation and the advice and expertise ranges from marketing to financial planning to audience development and cash flow management.

Now there are between 35 and 50 mentoring programmes around the country every year, some running for as long as a decade.

According to Diana Williams, who heads the Basa mentoring programme, all 160 of the organisation's business members can volunteer to work with organisations involved in theatre, dance, drama, music, the fine arts, literature and crafts.

"Mentors give anything from two months to two years to mentoring an organisation," says Williams. "We find that once the business mentors enter the programme, they find it so personally rewarding that very few ever leave."

One company that has latched on to the idea of mentoring artists is Advanced Capital, the financial and investment company, which launched Art Investments in August this year.

Though not linked to the Basa programme, it draws on the same principles and has focused its mentoring on both emerging and established artists and painters working in the fine arts.

It is the brainchild of Advanced Capital group CEO Hugo Knoetze, who has drawn in the company's chair, Sindi Mabaso-Koyana.

The spin-off company, Art Investments, which opens its first gallery for the artists next month in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, will function as a financing vehicle for the mentoring programme.

Though Advanced Capital's business focus is in mining and industrial services, Knoetze's personal passion in art and Persian rugs is how he first stumbled on the idea.

While having a picture framed, he fell into conversation with the store's young assistant, Reggie Khumalo, who was a struggling painter unable to make a living from just selling his art.

From this encounter, the idea of a business mentoring programme for young artists began to take shape and between himself and Mabaso-Koyana a plan was put into action.

"We both have always felt a need to give something back to our communities and this has the potential to be a great enterprise development venture," says Mabaso-Koyana. "Reggie's story is the story of our unemployed youth, many of whom feel they don't have the choice of pursuing their dream of being artists."

Another artist to benefit from the mentoring programme is Patrick Rapai.

Mabaso-Koyana says she and Knoetze, chartered accountants by training, had no experience or knowledge of the workings of the art world, but the business-arts relationships they formed from the mentoring programme benefited them both.

Khumalo is now the operations director of Art Investments and will be running the new gallery when it opens.

The internationally acclaimed Kenyan-born local artist Wakaba Mutheki heads the artist mentoring project, which already has four young artists in the programme. Mutheki, who 10 years ago was living in a Johannesburg shelter and selling empty bottles to make a living, is now one of SA's top artists. He has had works specially commissioned by SAB and the UN in Geneva, and has held exhibition in several of the world's art capitals.

Khumalo says the mentoring programme has been life-changing and has given him the business tools and acumen to work as an artist.

"Van Gogh is one of the most famous [and highest-priced] artists in the world, but he sold only one painting in his lifetime," he says. "We need to make sure this never happens to our artists."

Though still in its infancy, the Art Investments project is starting to show the first signs of success.

The company has been invited to showcase the works of its artists at a contemporary art exhibition in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, next month.

It is stories such as this that have also underpinned the success of the Basa mentoring programme, which now rewards some of the best ventures with an annual award. This year the award went to 17 Ovations Media chief operations officer Alecia Nkadimeng, who mentored the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collective by helping the company restructure its management and HR policies.

The theatre collective has now asked Nkadimeng to join the board and continue in her strategic role to guide the company.

"There is no doubt that this is one of the most successful programmes that Basa has launched," says Williams.

The Basa mentoring programme was initially funded by Barloworld, and the role was taken over in the past year by the business insurance company, Etana.

"For us, it ticked all the right boxes and was a perfect fit," says Etana marketing manager Josie Holley.

As a specialist business insurer, but with a "passionate interest in the arts", Holley says the mentoring programme "allows the company to make a direct link between business and the arts".

All 18 of Etana's branches are involved and Holley says the impact on those staffers who volunteer as mentors has been enormous.