The seeds of the projects were sown in a GIPS classroom, began germinating post-graduation, took root at a Gaborone West house and bloomed when the government fertilised the project with a P50 000 grant. Years later, three young people are reaping the fruits of that agricultural enterprise.
This is the story of Artefact Investments, an art gallery that plies its trade from atop the Pop-In shopping complex in Gaborone. If Europeans like their art well enough, this gallery could soon extend its presence a thousand miles away from Pop-In.
Mompati Motlhabane and Grace Tsae met at the Gaborone Institute of Professional Studies (GIPS) where both were studying Travel and Tourism. They clicked and, on occasion, would discuss business ideas one of which was establishing an art gallery.
That idea was actualised after graduation at a house in Phase Four. He did the carpentry while Tsae handled sales and marketing. When the business showed a lot of promise, Motlhabane brought his cousin, Tlhaloganyang Assan on board.
The trio moved a step further in November 2006 when it received a P50 000 grant from the Department of Culture and Youth. This was a defining moment for a company that is now trying to establish its presence in Germany. At the time of the interview, Tsae was away in Germany marketing the company’s products. The German connection goes back to the company’s formative stages. A German gentleman was winding up his business and selling off machinery he had used to make mirror and picture frames. When Artefact bought some from him a fruitful relationship was established. Now back home in Germany, the man has invited Tsae to explore business opportunities in that country.
The German market is going to be a lot different from Botswana’s. Basically, Artefact sells frames and paintings that they do themselves. Selling paintings in Botswana is a bit of a hard sell and some museums, like Sechele I in Molepolole, are beginning to move away from even exhibiting such art. In the period of time that the company has been in existence, Motlhabane says that the frame business has been more profitable than paintings. However, he expects the German market to be more receptive to paintings that don’t sell as well in Botswana.
“Naturally they would be intrigued with art that depicts African life than with picture frames. We expect the paintings to sell quite well in Germany,” Motlhabane says.
Spreading wings to fly across oceans does not mean that the importance of the local market would diminish. Among the company’s clientele are hospitality establishments. Assan says that they plan to expand to get government departments on that list.
Currently, the company does trade in Gaborone only but is aware of the business potential in places like Francistown, which with a booming mining industry, also has a huge market.
The government people willing, Artefact could get an additional grant to expand its operations.
Part of that would include having to deal with the competition from abroad. Motlhabane says that artists from Zimbabwe have been encroaching upon their market with art done on the cheap that in some instances, they end up having to do extensive restoration work on.
“Most of them use cotton instead of canvas when they do paintings,” he says.
There is also having to compete with and often restore locally-produced art with a North African signature. Lately, the city has been swamped with art salespeople from Egypt who sell computer-generated art that apparently, has found a good market among Gaborone residents.
Only time will tell whether this is a partnership that was made in heaven because such collaboration does not always work as intended. Motlhabane recalls the partners being quizzed by the Culture and Youth people on whether they really knew the general track record of business partnerships in Botswana. So far theirs has not had any major problems.
In addition to empowering themselves, Artefact directors also encourage other artists to exhibit their work in their gallery and also sell through them.