The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP) is built on a dream – a dream to be the home to the art of Africa. And when the home was ready for visitors (it opened on 24 September 2019), Javett-UP allowed Flow to bring our skills and smarts to do something for a country we love and believe in, and for a project that’s taking a huge step forward for South Africa.
Javett-UP is designed to be a place where art tells the long, sometimes difficult, and always triumphant narrative of this continent and its people. And Flow was asked to make sure that the people came.
It may have seemed easy. We were dealing with a greenfield project. There was zero baggage. But there were things to consider:
- Competition from other celebrated South African galleries. Yes, WAM and Zeitz MOCAA, we’re looking at you
- A really small budget (this was largely a labour of digital PR love)
- The fact that nobody knew anything about Javett-UP or had even heard of it. We were bringing something new – brand new – to the people. We had to make the biggest and best first impression, as the opening publicity would define Javett-UP for years to come
To up the stakes, our client was adamant: this was not going to be an art centre for people who schmooze every exhibition opening, talking in hushed and reverent tones about technique while sipping on teeny glasses of sherry. Javett-UP is for everybody. And it is especially for people who know nothing about art.
“Go get them,” our client said. “That’s your market.”
We took to the streets to find out how our target market (people in broad-based, grassroots communities) were feeling about being South African. It was not good at all.
At the start of 2019:
- The economy was taking a vicious battering
- Ratings agencies were rumbling about junk status
- State capture had everybody deeply distressed
- Rolling blackouts were rolling along
- The drought was sinking its teeth into Gauteng and the Western Cape
- Crime was holding onto its #1 spot on the headline hit parade
South Africa was in desperate need of good news.
Our research told us South Africans needed something to be proud of, and something to look forward to.
That’s when we decided on #MyAfricaOurArt
We also decided Javett-UP needed to be straight-talking, clear and unpretentious. Colloquialisms and slang were OK. In fact, they were encouraged. Fancy, inaccessible and sophisticated language was banned.
- We placed posters of a selection of the 100 works of “seminal” art of Africa at key points on campus
- Students were invited to take selfies alongside the artworks that spoke to them most profoundly, and say why a particular work of art intrigued them
- The hashtags were widely promoted and encouraged
- We invited journalists to come and trudge around the building site long before the Javett-UP was ready to open to show them that this was a project of the people
- We introduced journalists and influencers to the builders who all, beautifully on message, said how cool it was to be part of this fantastic project
- We gave the media a glimpse of some of the masterpieces that would hang on the walls (verrrrrry impressive, equally exciting)
- We tantalised them on-site with the grand plan of Javett-UP to acquire the 100 most iconic pieces of South African art for the opening exhibition
- We worked with the university (not our client, the art centre itself was our client) on guest lists, food trucks, live music, and rosters of guided tours around Javett-UP on opening day. We stretched that budget like a blob of Prestik on the dashboard of a Fiat Uno parked in the sun at midday during a Joburg heatwave
- We set up a special partnership with one of our other clients, the Gautrain, to make it easy for people to get to the gallery on opening day
- We wrote speeches, set up photo shoots, managed media RSVPs, loaded flash drives, organised media parking ...
Opening and post-opening
- We were clear the opening event should be a party: with groovy live music and dancing and great South African food and everything that affirms how fantastic it is to be living on this continent, in this country, right at this very minute. Halala Afrika!
- In the first fortnight of the exhibition, visitors were invited to engage with works as students did (i.e. snap a selfie and say why/how the work “speaks” to them)
- Visitors were encouraged to post this content to their social media platforms using #MyAfricaOurArt
- We installed a Twitter wall/multimedia screen that scrolled and looped this digital content for the first two weeks of the exhibition
- We also installed an expression wall, which gave visitors a place to comment generally on the exhibition
We had a sensational working relationship with the client team. This was a partnership in every sense of the word. Flow and Javett-UP had each other’s backs. It made the world of difference. And it delivered a bull’s-eye piece of work.
We had planned for 700 guests at the opening. In the end, around 3 000 people of all shapes, sizes, cultures, religions, genders and interests rocked up to rock the official opening of Javett-UP. Most of them were just regular South Africans like you and me: people wanting to have fun and feel gooooooood about being a South African.
Did all these guests create an event-management headache? Not a chance! Javett-UP, after all, is home to the art of Africa. African homes are always open to friends. That day, 3 000 friends welcomed the art of Africa home. And Flow Communications was there to keep it all smooth, sleek and on fleek.
The project objectives were achieved and exceeded:
- Thirty-four media guests arrived on the day
- Editorial coverage alone reached nearly nine million people
- Opening event coverage was worth around R2.2-million
- Twitter earned Javett-UP nearly 82 000 impressions for the opening event alone
- @JavettUP grew from 109 followers on 1 September 2019 to 267 followers on 30 September 2019
- Total growth on Twitter of 158 followers in September alone
- Instagram engagement spiked from an average 120 per day before the event to nearly 800 on the day of the opening
- The #MyAfricaOurArt hashtag went from an average 15 mentions a day before the event to 450 mentions on opening day
- Sentiment for Javett-UP across all media platforms (editorial and social) was 100% positive
- #MyAfricaOurArt trended on Twitter on opening day
- Javett-UP social media reached 8.7-million South Africans on opening day
And, oh yes, there were those 3 000 guests who welcomed the art of Africa home. This was 329% more than the target of 700.
We believe the creativity and innovation of this campaign was threefold:
- The instilling of pride and ownership in the South African people through the use of #MyAfricaOurArt
- The use of everyday, colloquial and easy-to-relate-to language to talk about what is often perceived as a “mystical” subject (art), and
- Creating the ability for people to share their own perceptions of art, demystifying it and making it more “I know what I like”.