Flying House, a collective of freelance performers, launches an arts marketplace on the trading floor of the Performing Arts Stock Exchange at Museum Africa. Picture: CHRISTINA KENNEDY
Flying House, a collective of freelance performers, launches an arts marketplace on the trading floor of the Performing Arts Stock Exchange at Museum Africa. Picture: CHRISTINA KENNEDY

A BEARDED guy was selling "poems on the spot" — but kept forgetting to charge for them. A dancer traded movement classes for free internet access. And if you fancied being lifted in the air by an actor, that would set you back R50. It was cheerful mayhem on the trading floor of the Performing Arts Stock Exchange at Museum Africa on Wednesday night, but the value of the stock — arts-related goods and services — was unmistakable.

This initiative of the new Johannesburg-based NGO Flying House, a collective of freelance professional performers, had many arts types scratching their heads. It resembled a Samuel Beckett play: the audience could appreciate what was happening, but weren’t entirely sure what it was all about.

But as Tamara Guhrs, one of the founding members, explained, it was an arts marketplace: anyone supplying arts-related products and services could list their "stock" — be it your hourly rate for acting, script editing or voice coaching; your fee for rehearsal space or equipment rental; or even ancillary services like accounting, cooking, yoga or babysitting — and tag a value on to it.

You could post your offering on the "stock exchange" wall — and then relish the chaos as deals are brokered and handshakes exchanged on the open trading floor. Of course, this being an arts bourse, JSE-style shirts and ties were replaced by shweshwe prints and boho-casual T-shirts.

In addition to the live listings on the night, the "brokers" will also be compiling a database of goods and services so that members can network and "trade" away from the stock exchange floor.

Said Khutjo Green, another member of Flying House: "We are a home for performing artists and a space to talk to other artists, or for dreaming and building your next job. We aim to be sustainable beyond donor funding — which is not to say we won’t be applying to the National Arts Council. We just want to move away from the cap-in-hand approach. We know the value of our artists."

Sandwiched between the stock exchange deal-making was a Dragon’s Den-style session. Six arts practitioners each had three minutes to pitch their ideas to a high-level industry panel.

The proposals ranged from human rights plays with modest budgets to a "clown food caravan" at the Grahamstown festival, to an ambitious cross-continental collaboration telling the bizarre story of a maverick Zambian’s crackpot vision to put the first man in space in the 1960s. The "dragons" pledged to help where possible with funding support, contacts, research support and theatre space.

But, the panel pointed out, artists pitching their ideas need to outline more clearly where they can add value to potential investors: the dream is not enough. Perhaps this is where the stock exchange’s bartering approach will help get artists into the mindset of not only realising their own value, but thinking more broadly about how they can add value to others.

For more information, visit www.flyinghouse.co.za