Nicola Danby

Nicola Danby received a BA degree from the University of Cape Town, before travelling and working abroad for 10 years. Returning to South Africa, she worked at Natal Newspapers and then moved to the Durban Arts Association, a community-focused organisation funded by the then City of Durban, as administrator and editor of d'Arts magazine. In 1987 she became Manager of the Vita Awards programme responsible for the development and growth of initiatives such as the Dance Umbrella, Vita Art Now and Vita Craft Now. In 1997 Danby was appointed CEO of the newly launched BASA, a joint initiative of the Department of Arts and Culture and the business sector, mandated to develop and promote mutually beneficial and sustainable business-arts partnerships. During her tenure, BASA became the country's major resource for corporate funding of arts and culture and initiated a range of programmes that continue today. She served on the boards of various arts organisations and trusts, and the National Lotteries distributing agency for arts, culture and national heritage. Moving to the DRC, she was joint Officer in Charge of the British Council in Kinshasa. Danby currently freelances, consulting to arts organisations and corporations.
Gallery Director Jennifer Reynolds chats to former Business and Arts South Africa CEO, Nicola Danby.

What five words best describe you?

Positive, determined, curious, dreamer, energetic.

Where did you grow up?  Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up mostly in the UK, but my father was a surgeon in the RAF so we travelled, living in Germany when I was small, and later in Singapore.  I loved Singapore.  We moved to South Africa when I was 15.

Did you study art?

I studied art at school in England, but gave it up when we came to South Africa.

Tell us about the path you took to get to BASA.
I guess I fell into the arts on my return to South Africa, when – because I wanted to write - I joined Durban Arts Association.  It was a happy fall! I was completely at home in this world of music, dance, painting, sculpture and words… and what a lively and exciting place to be in a South Africa on the cusp of change, where ideas and cultural exchange were the only currency. I moved from this community based organisation to the corporate world with the Vita Awards programme in Johannesburg, funded by a series of corporate sponsors.   So I was fortunate to experience and understand the perspective of both the creative artist and the business world, and BASA was perhaps a natural fit.

Do you come from a creative family or are you the lone creative?

I think that all of us, in our own ways, are creative – certainly highly imaginative.  I was simply lucky that I found my métier.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I’m a social animal and love to spend time with friends and family, walking, cooking, talking …

What makes an artwork successful in your eyes?

This is hard – I’d hesitate to define anything particular, but there are certainly works that capture and express a mood or a moment and to which we, the viewers, respond.

What are your thoughts on the growing accessibility and affordability of art on the Internet?
I would encourage any medium that grows the audience for art, and gives artists access to potential buyers. The arts should never be seen as the preserve of an elite. 

How do you think the ease of artists getting exposure will affect the art business and artists in general?

It can only be positive for the arts industry as a whole, generating more interest and growing the market.  Alongside this online explosion I imagine we will start to see a growing wave of online critics and curatorial gatekeepers – previously the domain of the galleries.  

Why do you think art is important?
Art, all the arts, encourages thinking, bridges cultures, fosters imagination and drives innovation(as Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”), exposes us to new ways of seeing.   Art should not have to justify itself – it survives throughout history, recalling cultures, ideas, philosophies. Posterity remembers the artists, not the bankers.

Who are a few of your favorite artists?       

Monet, van Gogh, Le Douanier (Henri Rousseau), Clive van den Berg, Billie Zangewa, Strydom van der Merwe, Paul Emmanuel,Colbert Mashile, Angus Taylor …too many to mention. 

If you could have any piece of art on StateoftheArt.co.za, regardless of price or size, what would it be and  why?

That’s too hard! There are so many.

What is your favorite piece in your own art collection?

A series of life size polished concrete statues (female figures) by Marieke Prinsloo




It’s always exciting and enjoyable to see good work by new emerging artists, and to recognise how many have been influenced by the work of older more established artists, adopting and adapting to create their own voice. I am invariably attracted to works that speak of people or place, and offer spaces - real or imagined - that are yet to be discovered; that hint of something other, something unsaid. Each work has, for me, successfully captured a mood, a moment, and drawn me in to share that experience.