“We need to hear women’s voices – in our workspaces, on the world stage and in our communities. To the girls, the women, the mothers, the daughters – speak up, raise your voices. We need to hear you” Elana Brundyn
Elana Brundyn, is a passionate philanthropist with a special eye on collectable art. Her experience, drive and attention to detail in focusing on the finer details has set her apart in the art industry. She is the Chief Executive Officer at the new Norval Foundation, a wife and a mother of two beautiful adult children.
Elena shares her entrepreneurial journey, and how her expertise helps charities fundraise using art to drive meaningful sustainable community impact. A notable achievement is how she has been able to oversee 16 acclaimed exhibitions, 7 publications and welcomed 240 000 visitors to a world-class, destination museum in a unique natural setting.
Tell us short description of Self, family and where the passion for business all started
My personal journey started with a keen interest in collecting and researching contemporary art. From there I developed a strong interest in philanthropic projects and began fundraising for specific art projects. In the process I have been privileged to sit on numerous art acquisitions committees, as well as on the boards of family collections, art foundations and trusts. I have also been able to share my expertise with organisers of charity art auctions, and with corporates, schools and other institutions wishing to establish or develop their own collections. I have always believed in the power of creativity and the creative industries. Art and design allow us to experience open-ended possibility.
In 2006 I founded my own gallery – Brundyn Gallery in Cape Town – with a focus on art from Africa and its diaspora. The gallery made numerous shifts, leading ultimately to a large 1200 m² location in the Bo-Kaap with a dedicated video room. Brundyn Gallery was the first gallery in Africa to focus on video installation, and the moving image in art remains my passion to this day. In addition to exhibiting established artists, the gallery was dedicated to developing young, cutting-edge artists; artists in the gallery’s stable were regularly showcased at international art fairs and Biennales, and their work purchased for established private and public collections.
Throughout this time I dreamed about being involved in an art initiative where I could contribute to the greater good of artists and art lovers beyond the confines of a commercial gallery. This opportunity arose when, at the end of 2014, Zeitz MOCAA offered me the position of Director of Institutional Advancement and External Affairs, in the lead-up to the Museum’s opening. The position involved fundraising through partnerships, sponsorships, membership programmes and special events like auctions, the preview and other public opening events. Realising that I needed to seize this exciting new opportunity in the not-for-profit museum world, I took the difficult – but necessary – decision to leave the commercial art environment. Brundyn Gallery closed its doors in 2015 and I joined Zeitz MOCAA, working tirelessly with the rest of the dedicated team to ensure that the Museum was in a position to open in September 2017.
Shortly thereafter I was approached by Louis Norval to take up the position of Chief Executive Officer at the new Norval Foundation in Steenberg, Tokai. I joined the Norval team in November 2017, prior to the official opening of the Foundation in April 2018. Since the launch, Norval Foundation has produced 16 acclaimed exhibitions, 7 publications and welcomed 240 000 visitors to a world-class, destination museum in a unique natural setting.
Both Norval Foundation and Zeitz MOCAA celebrate creativity not only in South Africa, but across the African continent and further afield. These major cultural institutions are vital, life-enhancing creative environments for locals, but as not-for-profit , multi-functional community spaces, they can only flourish if they are visited, supported and sustained. Cultural philanthropy is therefore critical to keep these platforms viable for future generations. I believe passionately in the value and opportunity these platforms bring to artists, curators, educators, researchers, art historians and designers. They are spaces where artists working across many genres can tell their stories and showcase their creativity to the world, in so doing building bridges and deepening cultural understanding and connection. Cultural Philanthropy can become a partner in this very important project of transformation.
Challenges of being in this kind of business and how she has managed to overcome such?
Work-Life Balance has been one of the toughest challenges for me. Pre-Covid, a career in the art world involved many late night events and frequent travelling. This was especially difficult when my children were in primary and high school. Navigating a full-time career and motherhood requires careful planning and many sacrifices. A wonderful career mentor advised me to be ‘present’ when I was with my family and to give them 100% when I was home. She was right. This advice has proved very rewarding.
The community Impact and the plans for the next 3-5 years?
Museums are no longer merely platforms for culture, but vital educational institutions that can have a profound effect on society and public discourse. Museums can explore others’ cultures, identities and faiths in ways that go beyond the spoken or written word. They provide ways for us to understand each other’s realities, histories and influences. Using art history in education is becoming a very important tool. Art education is a key component in the holistic development of children into well-rounded adults. In this time of global crisis, art-making and appreciation have assumed greater importance than ever before.
I have undertaken, with the team at Norval Foundation, to create an art history curriculum for young children, as nothing of this kind exists in South Africa at present. This course is not necessarily aimed at nurturing young artists, as there are already many wonderful platforms offering practical art lessons. Instead, it aims to teach children about art history in a fun and innovative way. It will inspire and enrich young students as they gather the knowledge and tools for understanding and appreciating works of art.
In the process the course will offer unexpected and rewarding insights into their own and other cultures and traditions. It will also, ultimately, contribute to the way young children view themselves and the world around them. We aim to bring the project to fruition in the next 3-5 years, as a multi-faceted art history curriculum enriched by games, puzzles and interactive books.
Advice for other women and any mentorship opportunities that other women can look forward to
“We need to hear women’s voices – in our workspaces, on the world stage and in our communities. To the girls, the women, the mothers, the daughters – speak up, raise your voices. We need to hear you”
Any upcoming events we can look forward to?
As a Trustee of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, I am aware of a collection of Gerard Sekoto works from the 1940s, set to go under the hammer at the next Strauss and Co virtual auction.