Culture and creativity have the X factor that can fire up economy
Often overlooked sector provides more work than mining in SA, while income streams are higher and more flexible than in noncultural occupations
The fast-paced change in politics and the economy, including the cabinet reshuffle and subsequent downgrading of SA’s sovereign credit rating to junk status, have left many questioning the country’s economic future.
The public and private sectors should consequently examine innovative ways to support and facilitate economic growth and employment.
The often underestimated creative and cultural industries may offer a route to job creation and innovative forms of economic growth. This is according to the South African Cultural Observatory’s cultural employment report, presented at its national conference in May, which shows these industries could grow faster than noncultural sectors.
A recent creative and cultural industries mapping study by EY found that 29.5-million people are employed in these industries worldwide, accounting for 1% of the world’s active labour force and 3% of global GDP.
The Cultural Observatory — the Department of Arts and Culture’s cultural statistics research arm — recently conducted a study to examine the state of cultural employment in SA.
EMPLOYMENT IN CULTURAL INDUSTRIES GREW FASTER IN 2014 THAN IN NONCULTURAL SECTORS.
Using global trends and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s framework for cultural statistics as a guide, we established a framework from which to analyse data on the cultural economy.
We defined cultural occupations to include people employed as traditional cultural workers, such as writers, sculptors and performing artists, as well as those employed in the more commercial creative industries including fashion, architecture and graphic design.
The study used Statistics SA’s Labour Force Dynamics Survey, which provides annual data from 2008 to 2014. It found the cultural and creative industries account for 2.93% of employment in SA. This equates to 443,778 jobs — slightly more than mining, which makes up 2.83% of employment in SA.
The study also found that employment in cultural and creative industries grew at a faster rate in 2014 than noncultural sectors of the economy. This, we believe, has significant strategic implications for the future of the economy and related employment opportunities.
The Stats SA data set was also used to determine who the people occupying creative roles are and how their employment experiences compare with those in noncultural sectors.
In terms of demographics, 69.9% of those employed in cultural jobs in 2014 were Africans, 11.9% were coloured, 2.2% were Indian and 19% white, compared with the demographics of noncultural jobs, which were 88.6% African, coloured and Indian and 11.4% white.
However, the demographics of cultural and creative industries were much more diverse in some domains than in others.
Slightly more men are employed in cultural occupations (51.7%) than women and nearly 40% of these men are under the age of 35. In comparison, the majority of women working in cultural and creative industries are between 35 and 49 years of age.
The study found that those working in cultural occupations tend to be better educated or skilled than those working in noncultural sectors. This means earnings in the cultural and creative industries are considerably higher than in noncultural occupations — despite the fact that informal, freelance-based employment accounts for more jobs than formal employment. These higher incomes point towards the growing potential of this sector to boost growth.
The report also shows that, similarly to international contexts, creative workers in SA tend to cluster together in provinces that have larger cities. The Western Cape and Gauteng have the highest proportion of people employed in the sector.
In short, the report indicates that cultural jobs make up a bigger proportion of jobs in the economy than one might have initially expected.
This is especially interesting because as jobs in primary industries such as mining decline, the services sector and tertiary industry jobs — which include many cultural and creative jobs — are going to become essential contributors to job creation in the country.
The challenge, however, is the volatility of cultural jobs. Cultural occupations can be unpredictable and have a tendency to be sensitive to economic downturns.
They also have a propensity to attract short-term contracts and long working hours, making them a stressful job option.
If the recent ratings downgrade leads to slower economic growth in the long term, it will no doubt affect job creation possibilities, including those of the cultural and creative industries.
However, it is important to note that, as South African and international research has shown, people working in the cultural and creative industries are good at having multiple jobs and can adapt in tough times by diversifying their income streams, making them resilient and resourceful in times of economic strain.
Also, if suggestions in the proposed Revised White Paper on arts, culture and heritage, such as expanded economic rights and short-term unemployment insurance for cultural workers, are seriously considered, more people might be encouraged to consider the cultural and creative industries as a career option, leading to sector-wide — and arguably — national growth and employment.
• Snowball is South African Cultural Observatory chief research strategist.