Creating a livelihood for street artists and more Kodak moments in Cape Town – Alex Tilman Baz-Art

Cape Town is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, famous for its magnificent Table Mountain, white sandy beaches, vibrant Waterfront, vineyards and its vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere. In recent years, street art has emerged as a new attraction, adding to the appeal of the city. To support the artists behind the city’s growing street art scene, Baz-Art was established as a platform to provide a livelihood for their work and regulate the industry. Founder Alex Tilmans told BizNews that Baz-Art hosts an annual international public art conference (IPAC) to select the best street artists to feature on their platform. Since its inception, the company has expanded its reach beyond Cape Town to other African cities and even as far as Glasgow for COP26 – Linda van Tilburg

Street artist often don’t get the recognition they deserve

Baz-Art started in 2017, so about seven years ago now, and the idea behind it was to help street artists make a living. It really started off with the premise that street artists are often diminished or not considered as artists or not as fine art artists because they’re tagged with the name graffiti and with that comes the stigma of drugs or gangsters. But in fact, they’re real artists, and we wanted to showcase that street artists are real artists. 

The goal was to show that street artists are real artists and they deserve to be recognised as artists and based on the premise of that we started a festival called International Public Art Festival, and really the name behind it was to show that street art is an international phenomenon in South Africa, but also abroad. It’s public art, so it’s in the eyes of the public and for the public to appreciate, it is different from an art gallery. It is art, so we don’t make a distinction whether you’re a street artist, a graffiti artist or illustration, we are now inviting musicians as well. So, it’s public art and it’s a festival because at the end of the day, we enjoy it and we create a nice party atmosphere.

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An international street arts festival led to a demand for street art for businesses and to COP26

In organising this festival, we realised that people started appreciating street arts and because they started appreciating street art, they contacted us and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got the lobby in my hotel or the children’s room in the hospital, which looks quite sad. Do you have someone that can come and paint?’  We basically started like that by organising a festival that led to the demand and people started enquiring. 

We started in Cape Town, but now we have a small office in Joburg. We definitely paint in Joburg and we have projects all over South Africa. Recently we painted in 29 municipalities all over the country over a month with about 29 artists.  We have also worked in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya and all the way to Glasgow for the last couple COP26. 

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200 art works in Cape Town and jobs for local tour guides

Because of all the walls we have created, they are close to 200 by now, 180, some of them in the city centre, some of them in Woodstock, in Salt River, we thought, well, it’s going to create jobs for the local community or the people around it, because suddenly there are people that are interested or that just want to inquire about it. So, we started training a couple of tour guides seven years ago when we started, but we realised that the other tour guides were a little bit left behind and didn’t have the knowledge or were sharing wrong information. Then COVID hit and tour guides did not have any jobs. So, what we did during COVID, we called all the tour guides and the Tour Guide association, and we said,’ Let’s train you on street arts. Let’s explain to you what a mural is, what a street art is, so that you have the knowledge and so that when you walk around the city and explain culture, heritage, you can also explain the murals. That was a fabulous project because tour guides didn’t have work during COVID and we started guiding little families, made COVID friendly groups, and that took off. Now there’s 30, 35 tour guides that love it and do street art tours every day. 

50% of projects are commercial

When we look for projects or clients, I would say 50% of the projects are not commercial. When I say commercial, it’s a brand or a hotel. 50% of the projects are linked to the government, an institution, or NGOs and bviously we are not experts in plastic, but we know there is a plastic problem in the world. We are not experts in climate change, but we know there is a climate change problem in the world and we pair with those NGOs that have the knowledge about climate change, that have the knowledge about plastic, or that have the knowledge about homelessness and want to voice it.  We can relay and amplify the message. What we do with the murals and with the projects are amplifying somebody else’s cause. 

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Using street art to trigger conversations

Before we paint the mural, people are usually very excited. They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be so nice. That’s going to be so great.’ When you arrive with scaffolding or a big machine or the artist, people get scared and people are like, “Are you really going to do it?’ We say, of course, that’s our job, that’s what we do. There is a moment where people are scared and are pushing back a little bit and that needs a lot of negotiation to flip it back again so that it happens… and then people are delighted. People love it and they say,  ‘It is so great, if I had known before.’ People stop, take pictures and talk about it. For us the end goal is really to trigger a conversation. It has always been to trigger conversations and stories because the shop owner knows the artist and met with the artist and shared a coffee and the guy next door. Maybe the parking attendant knows something about the artist as well that nobody else knows and so all the stories are shared and communicated around the artwork. 

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