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Saturday, August 24, 2013


Creatives gathered at the ACT | UJ Arts & Culture Conference on Creative Currencies: Accessing Opportunities in an Expanding Marketplace to be informed and inspired, but most of all to extend their various networks.

The three-day conference, which was presented by the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) and UJ Arts & Culture (University of Johannesburg) in partnership with the European Union, The British Council, EUNIC, Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) and Arterial Network South Africa; drew together members of the creative sector from Europe and the continent to engage around pertinent topics including policy and the digital frontier.

MC, Mike van Graan, drew together some key thoughts from the proceedings, bringing the conference to a close:

“And so, we come to the end of the second ACT |UJ conference, with this year’s theme: Creative Currencies: Accessing Opportunities in an Expanding Market Place having shaped our discourse.
-       We have been inspired by visionary social entrepreneurs, leaders of world class events, who have affirmed the rich potential of our arts, culture and heritage sector.
-       We have been informed and challenged by research showing declining global north markets, expanding African markets and a negligible South African market for African creative goods and services.
-       We have been thrilled by the ambitions and vision of young go-getters who make things happen, without feeling entitled to assistance from anyone, or being dependent on others to make it happen.
-       We have been humbled by the innovation and creativity of social and cultural entrepreneurs from countries with much less than we have.
-       We have been stimulated by the possibilities of technology, of new media in building, sustaining and expanding our markets, but also to entertain and to generate income.
-       We have been frustrated a little by the blah of some of our national departments, but have been energized by the practical programmes of local government.
-       We have been pointed to the unfolding thinking in international, global north contexts, and have been reminded of the polarity of our world and of our own country where many on the underside of history also have a right to enjoy the arts and participate in the cultural life of the community, but do not do so as yet.
-       We have been frustrated by the limitations of policy development and implementation, and the defining of value within the sector simply by Rands, cents and political imperatives of job creation.
-       We have been moved by stories of substantial transformation, of people’s lives being changed through the provision of opportunities, less because of government directives, and more because of a recognition on the part of leadership within some institutions that it is the right, the moral thing to do.
-       We have sighed deeply as again we’ve recognized that if only we could match visionary policy and public sector funding with the passion and expertise within the sector, we could achieve exponentially more.
-       We have been shown how it is not only possible, but indeed necessary to get on with our creative lives and endeavours, despite poor policy implementation and despite the absence or arbitrary nature of public funding.
-       We have networked, connected, exchanged business cards.
-       We have been entertained, even been moved by the UJ performances.

We would all have been impacted differently, and have varying ideas about where we go from here, but if I were to select a few practical “way forward” things, arising out of the last three days, then - in no particular order, they would be the following:

1. There is a major need for research:
- Research to gather data on the creative industries and their contribution not only to employment and local and national GDPs, but also to social development
- Research into international opportunities like the Frankfurt Book Fair to project our creative goods and services globally
- Research into how many people are employed in all aspects of the value chain: education, creation, production, distribution and consumption – in all sectors of the creative industries: music, dance, film, design, etc
- Research into funding channels to support the creative sector and research into the impact of funding to promote the sector
- Research into the best policies and strategies to enhance product development and distribution
- Databases of festivals and events in our country
- Databases of cultural entrepreneurs and creative enterprises working in different spheres
- Databases of audiences, the demographics of markets for different creative products and the best strategies to reach them
- Research into not only demographic, but substantial transformation within and through the arts, culture and heritage sector

Of course, this research needs to be made available in an accessible, regular way to the arts sector.

For this, we need to get the proposed Cultural Observatory off the ground or to engage a higher learning institution to take on this role.

2. There is a need to educate government, those responsible for arts and culture policy and implementation. Politicians and officials at national, provincial and local levels need to attend an annual two-day event where the kinds of presentations made here during the last three days can show them the social, economic, human development, image-building potential of the sector so that they are inspired, so that they understand the sector better and so that there is greater cooperation as befits a democracy, rather than the parallel universes that currently exist.

3. Local government is the public sector level closest to the citizenry. There should be an annual meeting of the 10-15 leading cities in our country to engage with each other, sharing ideas, but also constructively competing with each other to be, not necessarily in name, but in practice, the ‘cultural capital’ of the country. Perhaps we should indeed have a rotating cultural capital each year, with cities vying for this title on the basis of their investment in the creative sector and their proposed programme of activities for a given year.

4. We have some great leaders in the creative sector, and we simply do not engage them enough in developing new tiers of leadership. We should identify younger people with potential and devise mentorship programmes in which they shadow the likes of Tony Lankester, Brett Pyper and Ravi Naidoo and at least 20-30 others, over 12-24 months, learning from them, learning by doing.

5. We have them, but we need to increase the number, range and quality of courses providing business acumen, entrepreneurial, marketing skills. These can be stand-alone courses, but should also be integrated into existing degree courses, perhaps as an honours degree or as a post-degree diploma.

6. We need – as a country – to pay better attention to our role on the continent lest we increase the perception of South Africa as the USA of Africa, exporting our creative goods and media across the continent and infusing consumers with our worldviews, our values, our ideas. We need to revisit the UNESCO 2005 Convention and the AU Plan of Action on Cultural Industries that we have signed up to, and now need to make a reality of building regional markets for African creative goods and services. Those interested should join Arterial Network in helping to do this as a pan-African civil society movement, and participate in the African Creative Economy conference that will take place in Cape Town from October 6 to 9. We should be building joint ventures not only with northern counterparts but with African creatives, too.

7. We need to engage more actively with technology, perhaps creating new apps to develop and sustain markets, to communicate our brands, to source funding. Again, we have them, but we need to increase the number and range of courses offering expertise in the use of cellphone and social media technology.

8. There is a greater need for co-ordination – a lot of excellent activities happen in silos. Better synergies, economies of scale and upscaling of events and activities could occur through coordination not only within particular groupings such as festivals and events, cities, theatres, etc, but also between these.

9. There is a need to get our policies right so that we get our strategies and funding mechanisms right too. We need to accept the broad continuum of artistic practice that includes artistic endeavour for its own sake, artistic endeavour for socially-good ends and artistic activity for commercial gain, each requiring different strategies and funding forms, rather than adopt a one-size fits all approach.

10. Finally, there is a need for more of these kinds of forums. I know many are tired of talking want to get on with doing, and that’s to be encouraged. But it is less for the talking that these forums are important sometimes, than for the networking that happens, for the partnerships that are built and the new work that emerges out these events.

Of course, the question is, who should do this? As a start, we should leave this with the organisers of this event – the University of Johannesburg and the Arts & Culture Trust, as well as their partners – VANSA, Arterial Network SA, and a range of international partners, so that we see this not simply as an annual event, but an event that sparks meaningful interventions through the course of the year, in much the same way that spoke about festivals and other events having an impact far beyond the short times in which they take place.

You may have other ideas, and we would welcome them. This, after all, is about us taking responsibility for our sector and for our creative lives.”

The ‘Creative Currencies’ conference was supported by the Cultural Development Trust, Santam, Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), SAMRO Foundation, Distell Foundation and media partners, Mail & Guardian, SAfm, Classicfeel Magazine and Pink Room Productions.