Moving On Up: The Vuyani Dance Theatre Journey

Moving On Up: The Vuyani Dance Theatre Journey


What can entrepreneurs learn from a non-profit dance theatre company that relies on funding grants to keep going? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Like how to build financial sustainability, generate new business opportunities and think creatively about networking.

Gregory Maqoma founded Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) 14 years ago and has been running it on funding grants for much of that time.

“Grant funding is necessary but it’s my least favourite form of funding. It’s so transient, so unsustainable. Someone can pull the plug on it at any point, leaving the future of your whole company in the balance,” he says.

The company is in the last year of tranche funding from the National Lotteries Board, which Maqoma says has forced it to think of how it’s going to be self-sustaining in future. Here are some useful ideas he’s come up with that you can learn from:

1. Build your brand platform

VDT has a very strong brand overseas and has built on this platform to strengthen its brand presence in the local market. The company has embarked on roadshows and outreach programmes educating youth and the public about the value of local theatre.

Its efforts have paid off. It has secured a two-week run at Johannesburg’s Civic Theatre for a production in 2014 – a big win for a contemporary dance company – and won the 2012 Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award which is voted for by the public.

2. Collaborate with peers

Locally, VDT has branched out to collaborate with peers in the world of arts. Recently it partnered with jazz musicians at a jazz festival which gave it access to an audience of 8 000 people. Partnering with companies that work in a similar field to you can lead to mutually beneficial business opportunities.

3. Leverage your network

Maqoma has used his extensive network to generate work opportunities. International interest in VDT’s work has led to invitations to put on productions abroad, which in turn has led to the development of a funding pool to allow the project to happen.

This is a far more sustainable way to generate income than relying on grants.

4. Invest in professional PR

Good public relations can earn you invaluable free media exposure. VDT has invested some of its existing grant funding in the services of a professional PR company to get its name out there and build its brand for the future.

A PR retainer can seem like an expense you can’t afford, but if you’re monitoring the value delivered for the money invested, it can make a lot of sense.

Vital Stats

  • Player: Gregory Maqoma
  • Company: Vuyani Dance Theatre
  • Est: 1999
  • X-factor: A non-profit organisation that thinks like a business to generate self-sustaining income streams.
  • Contact:

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