Initially, Kirstenbosch concerts were free. At the Botanical Society’s suggestion, a ‘silver collection’ was introduced in the second season. As the concerts’ popularity rapidly grew, the cost of hosting major performers became too high, and sponsors were sought. For 15 seasons the fruit-juice company Appletiser sponsored the series, as well as the building of a concert stage in the new venue – a natural amphitheatre with splendid views of the Garden’s mountain backdrop and across the Cape Flats to the distant Hottentots Holland Mountains. Happily, the sponsorship tradition has been continued by long-time Kirstenbosch supporter Old Mutual.
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Income generated from concerts covers one third of all costs of operating the Garden – a key contribution to the financial sustainability of Kirstenbosch.
While building operations proceeded in many corners of the Garden, the heart of the Garden remained undisturbed. The little amphitheatre below the Tea House provided a perfect venue for small musical performances on quiet Sunday evenings. Sue Ross, then Marketing Manager for the Garden, invited local baroque quartets, string ensembles and the occasional vocalist to perform. Initial concerns that regular visitors to the Garden would object to the intrusion of concerts – however discreet – proved unwarranted. Audiences grew from a few dozen curious passers-by, to a hundred, to several hundreds too many for the amphitheatre. The central lawn became the new venue; but when the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra appeared on 28 March 1993, an overwhelming 8 000 lovers of classical music arrived. This was the beginning of the ‘ Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts’ (see pages 200-201). which now bring over 100 000 visitors to the Garden every season.
Named sponsorships had been taboo in the Gardens until the 1990s. But the Board of Trustees of the time was forward thinking and perhaps a little less conservative in its outlook than its predecessors. Pressure to offer discreet naming rights came less from the sponsors than from management. The value of sustained mutual benefit seemed obvious. This has proven to be the case. Today there is hardly a major project in the Garden that has not resulted from a partnership. And a diversity of partners brings with it a diversity of new friends, supporters and active users of the Garden.
Hosting an exhibition of Zimbabwean stone sculptures introduced a successful approach to linking cultural traditions to the natural beauty of the Garden.
When developing attractions to draw new visitors to a botanical garden, one has to draw a careful line between features that fit with the ‘spirit of place’ and crass commercialisation. For some friends of Kirstenbosch, the display of a major collection of Zimbabwean stone sculptures, presented in 1997, was already pushing the bounds. But to many, especially African visitors coming to the Garden for the first time, it provided a tangible link to traditional cultures and belief systems. The exhibition featured great artists such as Bernard Matemera, Dominic Benhura, Agnes Nyanhongo, Colleen.
Madamombe and Arthur Fata. It proved so popular at the Botanic Gardens Conservation International Conference held in the Garden in September 1998 that many visiting directors of other great gardens.