Setting the stage: A speaker addresses the audience at the South African Cultural Observatory conference at the end of May. Picture: SUPPLIED
Setting the stage: A speaker addresses the audience at the South African Cultural Observatory conference at the end of May. Picture: SUPPLIED

The second annual South African Cultural Observatory’s (Saco) national conference and the launch of the South African Festival Economic Impact Calculator are initiatives growing the creative economy.

Saco is an umbrella organisation that monitors and evaluates the cultural and creative industry to generate better statistics and data and produce a permanent repository for cultural knowledge systems.

The Department of Arts and Culture research project was launched to analyse the effect of the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy of 2011 that recognises that the creative economy is fundamental in driving a new economy that is flexible, dynamic and youthful.

In 2014, the creative economy contributed 2.9% to GDP, amounting to R90.5bn, R24bn of that in taxes, and employing more than 440,000 people. It has overtaken the agriculture and mining sectors in growth and is an industry of the future, particularly as jobs are being lost to automation.

Saco’s three-year tender concludes in March 2018, but its longevity is protected. Deputy director-general for arts and culture promotion Monica Newton says the department’s white paper process "creates Saco as a function of policy where training, monitoring and evaluation is vital".

The second annual Saco conference, under the title Culture and Development, emphasised culture and creativity as an enabler of economic growth and development.

The World Economic Forum named culture the "fourth pillar of development" that fulfills the objectives of its Agenda 21 to build cohesive societies through culture. Culture is included in many national development plans across Africa including the AU’s Charter of the African Cultural Renaissance.

"Sometimes policy fails us. Resources are always going to be redirected into more urgent fields. Practical things will make a difference," says Newton.

Business and Arts SA CEO Michelle Constant says using civil society is the way forward in building the culture economy. "There are different models available to us, only if we take control and own it on our own terms," she says.

But SA also has one of the lowest entrepreneurial rates in the world. More than 50% of the population reside in cities, where most cultural activity takes place.

Prof Luiz Bonet of the University of Barcelona says there is a causal correlation between growth and cultural employment. "This is the reason why the most important global cities attract more creative people."

About 90% of businesses in the culture and creative industries of Zimbabwe are small and they receive very little government investment

Government intervention is helping to optimise the performance of small businesses in the creative economy. Newton drew on the example of Triggerfish Animation Studio.

The launch of the South African Festival Economic Impact Calculator, a free online monitoring and evaluation tool is a powerful support measure for businesses. It was developed by Prof Bruce Seaman from Georgia State University in Atlanta and Prof Jen Snowball, Saco chief research strategist.

It is easy to use and delivers conservative estimates of the economic effect of festivals and events. These impact reports it generates can be used to communicate the value of an event to funders and residents.

Zimbabwean Florence Majachani of the Nhimbe Trust, provided examples of the importance of monetisation of culture.

"About 90% of businesses in the culture and creative industries of Zimbabwe are small and they receive very little government investment."

Yacoob Omar of the Banking Association of SA says the private sector is sitting on a cash pile of R600bn due to uncertainty. "Private investment in GDP is 20% and falling.

"Last year, there was a drop of 4% in fixed investment. The challenge is investment for further growth," he says.

The launch of the Porto Digital Technology Park in Recife, Brazil, had been a game-changer, says Luiz Coradazzi, director of arts at the British Council Brazil. "It developed out of an ambitious state policy to make the region an innovation and incubation centre. It is market-driven and technology-based, attracting private investment," he says.

Andres Gribnicow, undersecretary of the creative economy in Argentina says a creative city network links the hubs of Córdoba, Salta and Rosario with 50 other creative cities. A creative markets network organises points of sale, meeting points and new trade fairs. A cultural centres network brings together 117 spaces focusing on workshops and innovation projects.

"Community art is close to the entrepreneurial approach, and is a successful model to re-imagine assets and provide access," says Bonet.

For "bottom-up" success stories, Wits University cultural policy and management lecturer Avril Joffe says the Godown Arts Centre in Nairobi is a good place to draw inspiration.

Coradazzi enthuses about the Flip literacy festival in Rio de Janeiro, a community-based organisation that provides a significant platform for expression through literature and poetry.

He sees similarities between SA and Brazil. "We both suffer from the mongrel complex. Nothing is good enough at home until it is acknowledged in Europe, the US or Japan. We are measuring successes by someone else’s standard and this cannot be sustainable."

Shukri Toefy of advertising company Fort says this tendency to undervalue African creativity has resulted in two-thirds of SA’s advertising revenue — amounting to R3.3bn — going offshore.

Omar has suggestions for transforming cultural businesses: "Tap into the millennials who want to support social causes, the trust fund generation, green creative industries and the tech savvy. Encourage start-ups into the stock market [easy equities] and approach international missions or multilateral funding."

Foreign tourists are big spenders in the local creative economy and tourism numbers have been rising steadily.

However, Bonet says "the imbalance between cities and rural has magnified some of the challenges in rural areas, which are intellectual property rights and access to digital content."

The government has a critical leadership role to play in co-ordination and co-operation between governments and government departments.

Lebogang Nawa of Segarona Culture Institute says culture competes with other needs and receives 2.8% of the national budget. "This dictates how much people spend."

Saco is identifying further indicators to monitor the effects and contributions of the creative economy, such as social cohesion. Wits University students will be helping to provide insights such as the participatory approach in monitoring and evaluation, multilingualism and the use of social media in audience development.

Only 10,000 secondary schools in SA have pupils enrolled in arts subjects — a measly 0.08% of the school-going population.

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