South African business and arts support charity

Janine Erasmus

Well-known musician Mike McCullagh, formerly of McCully Workshop, is bringing business and the arts together to support local charities, with the result that everyone ends up on the winning side.

Over the past ten years the passion and dedication of this respected performer has seen more than R8 million raised for organisations such as the Heart Foundation, the Cancer Association and Reach for a Dream – the latter foundation benefited to the tune of R100 000 from just six shows.

Now McCullagh is busy working on his forthcoming production for the Heart Foundation and the Cape Times Fresh Air Fund, which for over 70 years has provided holiday camps for underprivileged children. The show takes to the stage in March 2008 and will play for three months, and McCullagh is encouraging South African business to get involved, as his goal is to eventually raise half a million rand for each beneficiary.

Organisations such as BASA (Business and Arts South Africa) work hard to encourage the private sector to enter into sustainable partnerships with the arts sector. There are many worthy reasons for doing so – job creation, urban regeneration, nation-building, education, preservation of cultural heritage, philanthropy.

Sponsorship of the arts is cheaper and less cluttered than sport, says marketing expert Annie Williamson, director at Maverick Marketing, and if leveraged correctly can deliver beyond expectations.

As venerable actor John Kani said in his address at the Business Day/BASA Awards in 2006, “You [business] give us your money and we give you back your humanity.” McCullagh’s venture is making the most of this concept, and the sponsor, the artists and the charity all find themselves sharing the first prize.

This is because it’s not just about giving charities a helping hand, explains the musician – it’s also about giving young musicians a chance, which holds positive implications for South Africa’s music industry. McCullagh feels strongly about the ongoing trend among local record companies to plough money into overseas artists rather than to invest more in the local music scene.

“South Africa has so much undiscovered talent, and not everyone is lucky enough to land a record deal or even get the chance to perform for an audience. Record companies spend millions on promoting overseas artists, but spend far less on our own musicians. Musicals are imported to South Africa, often at huge cost – this is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a result our own efforts are often overlooked. People are simply loath to stick their necks out and support local talent. This is unacceptable.”

Uncovering new talent, maintains McCullagh, is even more important in light of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, now just two and a half years away, because local talent deserves the chance to shine for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will be in South Africa for the event – but they need to be nurtured now.

Corporate social investment, marketing and talent development are addressed simultaneously in McCullagh’s musical venture. He feels that there are many instances where companies could consider a more creative approach to marketing themselves. This would fall in line with the growing trend, according to BASA, of viewing sponsorship not so much as a marketing cost but as a profitable investment, and considering areas other than sport.

For instance, says McCullagh, the hundreds of thousands of rand for a one-off full-page full-colour newspaper ad could reap huge dividends if diverted into initiatives such as the arts. “With that money we could take a show to ten towns, putting on two shows per town, and ten charities would benefit – they work so hard to raise funds! The sponsor’s name would be seen over a prolonged stretch of time in a positive light by thousands of people on a one-on-one basis. That kind of exposure is invaluable.”

With an estimated three million patrons having seen his shows over the years, Mike McCullagh speaks from vast experience. He has taken his productions all over South Africa as well as to Zimbabwe and Namibia.

A founding member (with his brother Tully) of the successful 1970s rock band McCully Workshop, McCullagh was responsible for composing such massive hits of the time as “Buccaneer” and “Chinese Junkman”. Not content to sit on his laurels after McCully Workshop disbanded in 1985, he turned his focus to musicals and soon found himself receiving requests from organisations to use his shows as fundraising opportunities. “I started seriously with this initiative in about 1996. So far I’ve focused mainly on the Western Cape and also Port Elizabeth. I haven’t done much in Johannesburg, actually, because I’m more known in Cape Town and there’s more than enough here to keep me busy!”

McCullagh has directed many popular musicals since 1988, most notably Tribute To Bob Dylan, Beatlemania, Station 70, Sixty Something, Eighty Something and Milestones To The Millennium. He pioneered the tribute show format with his Bob Dylan production, followed by a tribute to Elvis. His 2006 Myths and Legends show, featuring a host of talented musicians and the award-winning choir from Fezeka Senior Secondary School in the township of Gugulethu, played last year in Cape Town to great acclaim.

Useful links