By Mots’elisi Sekoneyla
On 4th February, a group of artists that include painters, poets and digital illustrators living in Maseru came together for a social gathering termed “Common Grounds” at a local pizza restaurant in Thetsane West to have discussions on how to make their crafts marketable.
Common Grounds is under a social entrepreneurship business model organization, RunFree founded by Alvin Lesoli, Thabelo Leoli and Puso Maliehe who are artists and Tourism graduates aged between 25 and 26.
RunFree as explained by Lesoli is a mother brand of multiple initiatives creating job opportunities for skilled youth between the ages of 18 and 35 who do not have formal education and make a living through their talents.
The organization was founded in 2016. To date, they have achieved notable success that include an art gallery show they hosted in Leribe in October 2022. “The most engaging and successful event that we have hosted has been the RunFree Gallery which is a platform of self-expression for artists, providing a safe space for education and training as well as exhibitions and art conversations,” said Lesoli.
The Common Grounds initiative was formed in 2021 with the purpose of bringing artists together to discuss issues affecting them and how to better overcome them, but more importantly, how to create market for their arts and crafts.
“Through this initiative, we market our services, meet art enthusiasts and stakeholders,” Lesoli further explained.
The challenges the organization is still faced with include infrastructure as they currently do not have a building of their own for their meetings, exhibitions and for storing their equipment like easels which are canvas stands and power tools.
To overcome some of these financial challenges, they hope are reaching out to the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture to support their exhibition and gallery initiative.
The organization is in the works of registering as a non-profit organization.
Lits’itso Nthabi, 20 is a fine artist under RunFree which she joined in 2022. She knew about the organization through word of mouth by one of its founders who invited her to one of their exhibitions. Nthabi says RunFree has helped her a great deal with her craft, from giving her the exposure which she needed to being part of a networking community of artists that guide and inspire one another. She says importantly, she has learned how to treat her art as a professional job instead of just a hobby.
Talking about the organization’s Common Grounds program, Nthabi says it is going to play a vital role in in building a more recognized art industry in the country. “The Common Grounds initiative is a very brilliant idea through which artists from different spectrums are gather with different views and opinions with the aim of reaching a common ground as the name suggests. Visual arts are currently not so recognized in the country and we are working towards changing that narrative as a collective,” she said.
Nthabi urged the relevant stakeholders to get in touch with them to assist with funding for their initiatives as they are for a good cause. “RunFree is a non-profit organisation and for it to successfully organize some of its events, it needs to be met halfway financially. The role that art plays in our culture is and our future trajectories as a nation and we would like to see the government invest in the art industry in the long run.”