South Africa’s Mayatta Arts: Mastering commerce on a shoestring

Written by by By Wiranto Buday, CNN Johannesburg, South Africa Written by By Wiranto Buday, CNN Johannesburg, South Africa Home to almost 19,000 artisans, 168 shops, and dozens of free walking tours, plus opportunities…

South Africa's Mayatta Arts: Mastering commerce on a shoestring

Written by by By Wiranto Buday, CNN Johannesburg, South Africa Written by By Wiranto Buday, CNN Johannesburg, South Africa

Home to almost 19,000 artisans, 168 shops, and dozens of free walking tours, plus opportunities to learn from and interact with local artists, artists’ markets, and craft schools, Mayatta Arts has emerged as an unlikely boomtown.

When longtime Mayatta resident and business owner Dino Radisson opened his on the corner of Mayatta and Churchill Roads in 1992, he was largely left with a derelict building. He gutted the building and opened it up to the community in 1997. It quickly became the center of South Africa’s art hub, drawing hundreds of visitors and locals for quality local crafts.

But it took 15 years for Radisson to find his place, attracting locals and visiting art enthusiasts, first as an artist’s market and later as a boutique hotel.

“We wanted to create an atmosphere that doesn’t exist elsewhere: art in a safe environment — clean, with beautiful buildings — right next to culture, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and a shopping street,” he says.

Creating a bustling hub, an independent voice

The pull of the coastal city’s cultural wealth has been felt by retail outlets from Rolls Royce, to Netjets, to Accor (owner of Park Hyatt Hotels) and Homebase, and fashion labels from Jenny Packham to Tiffany & Co.

“Our craft is local — everything is made here in this city. It’s from the mountains, from the sea, from farmers, from artisans, from fishermen.”

Heritage within the art market became a driver for Mayatta Arts. Most artisans — both resident and visiting — made their livelihoods in the area, Radisson says.

An avid art aficionado himself, Radisson strives to foster the same connection with the people who make and sell their wares. More than that, he wanted to create a space where people — and tourists — can have a tangible connection to what makes Mayatta, and South Africa, special.

“I never wanted to do what the local retailers have done,” Radisson says. “I’ve looked at every store and how they have approached building their business model — it’s almost impossible to go back to the stores [this way].

“I always want to use what I call that historical thread between artists and customers,” he says. “I love what a lot of retailers do in this country — many have a restaurant, many have a shop — and I thought, ‘No, no, I would rather use that marketing angle — art, culture, tourism’ — than the traditional marketing model.

“It’s like a five-year story — you buy your art, like buying a Fendi bag — your art is here, you don’t have to move from town to town anymore, your brand is here,” he says.

A retail ecosystem

Increasingly, the art market in Mayatta is only one part of a carefully curated ecosystem: there are also free walking tours, which highlight local artists’ studios, and weekends with art-making workshops at local art spaces.

Mayatta Arts also now has 400 residential apartments, nine of which are managed by the owner. According to Radisson, this is one of the ways in which Mayatta Arts is different from other, even larger galleries.

“Our product, we don’t just sell paintings — we sell art in a safe environment, built with local residents, surrounded by that true culture. We don’t just exhibit their work — we share the story with them, with local residents — because that is important to them. And we want to inspire and unite that history with the current story.”

Radisson is hoping to bring Mayatta Arts to the international stage — and has already started doing that. In partnership with Benjamin Eastman — a noted designer and subject of a 2015 CNN series, “Art in the Streets” — the interiors of Mayatta Arts will be featured in several galleries around the world.

“For me, I can’t tell the story of Mayatta without saying ‘Art in the Streets,'” Radisson says. “I think the West just knows our art in a certain way, maybe because they see it on TV or in the newspapers. But I also believe our local story is amazing — so I want it to be told.”

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