The creative economy

South Africa's culture could be one of its greatest exports

Performance art in South Africa is burgeoning.
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The creative industries are among the most rapidly expanding sectors across the globe. According to the United Nation's (UN) Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), the sector has a growth rate of 13.9% in Africa, beaten only by the Middle East, where the rate is 17.6%. By contrast, North and Central America post a growth rate of just 4.3%.

And in 2011, the world export of creative goods reached $441-billion (R4405-billion). These figures were bandied about at the African Creative Economy Conference (ACEC), being held at the Cape Town City Hall from 7 to 10 October. The second day of the conference was given over to discussions on culture and sustainable development, with particular reference to the Millennium Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Framework.

The ACEC intention is to unlock the continent's creative industries' potential and leapfrog into emerging high-growth sectors of the world economy, say the organisers. Africa's share of the global creative economy is currently less than 1%, and in 2011 its arts exports was just $2.2-billion (R219-billion). North Africa has the best performance in terms of exports, led by Egypt, followed by southern Africa, led by South Africa. These exports are predominantly design, followed by arts and crafts, and publishing.

"Culture has huge potential for growth and jobs," said Nils Jansons, the deputy head of the European Union (EU) delegation to South Africa. "It is the beginning and end of development. It is important to social fabric and it enhances self-esteem, improves dialogue and a sense of community and belonging. It helps fight fanaticism and xenophobia."

It could contribute, he emphasised, to poverty reduction. The EU promoted the conservation of cultural diversity and had earmarked $200-million (R2-billion) for arts and freedom of expression in Africa. In South Africa, in particular, it was working on research with Arterial Network on gathering data on trade in cultural goods and services.

Millennium Development Goals

The euro zone promoted culture as a contributor to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and in the post-2015 framework it wanted to include culture as necessary for good governance and building growing, inclusive and sustainable societies.

Carolina Quintana, the networking and partnerships officer at Unctad, pointed out that post-2015 the world needed a new people - and a planet-sensitive agenda. "We must design new products, adapt what exists, improve eco-efficiencies. The creative industries are well-placed to be a part of this as some of the most dynamic sectors in the global economy."

The United Nation's Conference on Trade and Development was actively promoting the creative economy, particularly in Africa, as it had high levels of talent and creativity that could be tapped for economic growth, poverty reduction, economic diversity and job creation. Driving this growth were global demand, technology and tourism. However, Quintana and several other speakers pointed out that a crucial element for the creative economy to flourish was the protection of intellectual property rights.

Also key to driving the creative economy were intellectual property rights and technology, and the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, said Rochelle Roca Hachem, a programme officer in the section on the diversity of cultural expressions at Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which had seven internationally binding cultural agreements. The most important of these was the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. There were 172 parties to this, 70% of which were in Africa.

Promoting growth

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had two tracks for promoting the creative economy worldwide: funding and technical assistance, which included a 'train the trainer' programme, through which 32 people from 25 African countries were being trained and will help their own and other countries with policy development.

Its International Fund for Cultural Diversity had 61 beneficiaries in 40 developing countries to bring change through capacity building, business models, partnership and policy development. The organisation's goals were to strengthen governance for culture in developing countries and establish legal and institutional frameworks and policies for national cultural sectors.

The third Unesco creative economy report, Widening Development Pathways, would be published on 14 November in Paris. It would focus on the creative economy at a local level, specifically in developing nations, and at how the creative economy could be practically promoted on the ground.

In addition to money, the creative industries promote diversity, esteem, community, social cohesion, identity, individuality and the possibility for exchange. But the obstacles to its growth include lack of capital, entrepreneurial skills and infrastructure.

Voice of dissent

"The African creative economy does not exist," said Christiaan de Beukelaer, a PhD researcher from the United Kingdom's University of Leeds. "This is not because there is no cultural production, but because there is no conceptual clarity." De Beukelaer's research focuses primarily on the role of culture and cultural industries in international development. He has spent the past eight months in West Africa researching in the field.

There was universal agreement on the growth potential of the creative economy, but some dissent on the necessary preconditions to drive it in Africa. De Beukelaer said it was difficult to create a cultural capital. Cities that had traditionally been strong in the sector retained these positions. "If there was consensus on what these preconditions were, we would be implementing them, not talking about them," he said.

For Jansons, it was more an issue of access to financial resources and the right, flexible education. Hachem echoed his words, speaking about the importance of arts education, access to finance, and better infrastructure. "But in Africa, there are such vast differences between places that there is not one single answer."

Links with science, technology and innovation were crucial. Culture was the source of creativity and innovation, she said. Quintana added that the creative economy was a process in the making. Africa had assets in terms of high levels of talent and creativity. It needed to harness technology to get this to a wider market. In its favour was its young population: young people would be more influenced by technology and so were important in developing a creative economy on the continent.

The conference

The ACEC brings together some of the continent's leading thinkers, academics, cultural producers, and experts in music, dance, theatre, visual arts, heritage and museums, design, fashion, craft, festivals and cultural events, film, literature, and stand-up comedy. It also attracts entrepreneurs, politicians and funders whose interests lie in expanding the creative economies across the continent. The conference focuses on the creative industries not just as economic drivers, but also considers how the creative sectors can eradicate poverty. The conference takes place each year in a different city. In 2013, more than 300 delegates from about 40 countries participated in Cape Town, South Africa. 

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