SA Cultural Observatory hosts first national conference

MAY 14, 2016

Did you know that South Africa’s cultural economy – the revenue generated through the arts and cultural events – makes up almost 3% of South Africa’s GDP, which is higher than the country’s agricultural economy of 2.5%?

To grow the country’s cultural economy even more – and also to map trends in arts and culture, and inform policymakers – Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University has been appointed by the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) to host a new trans-disciplinary national institute, called the South African Cultural Observatory, in partnership with Rhodes and Fort Hare universities.

SACO will be hosting its first national conference from May 16 to 17, featuring speakers and participants from across the creative and cultural spectrum, including some top African and international participants. The conference is taking place at The Boardwalk International Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth.

“The conference will play a key role in setting the research agenda for the Cultural Observatory,” said SACO Chief Executive Prof Richard Haines, who was seconded from NMMU for the position.

Under the banner “Counting Culture”, the conference will highlight the growing influence of a sector – spanning visual and performing arts, heritage and museums, festivals, architecture, advertising, design and digital media – that is becoming globally recognised for its economic power.

Haines said cultural and creative practitioners, professionals and academics, thought-leaders, sponsors and organisers would debate policy, research and practice in measuring and mapping the creative and cultural industries at the conference.

“Insights from the sector are needed from people on the ground, living and breathing work done in the creative and cultural industries – it is from these practitioners that our evidence-based work will emerge.

“Through presentation of research, policy analysis and lived experience, the conference aims to facilitate forward-looking discussions and contribute to current and emerging networks of interest in the creative and cultural domains.”

“Cultural Times”, the recently-released first global map of the cultural and creative industries by Ernst and Young, estimates that they generate US$250-billion (R3,7-trillion) in revenue annually, and account for 29.5-million jobs worldwide, said Prof Jen Snowball, SACO’s chief research strategist and Rhodes University economics lecturer.

Locally, she said the first study of the impact of the creative and cultural industries in 2014 showed that these sectors employed up to 200 000 people and contributed almost 3% to South Africa’s GDP.

“Undeniably, culture and creativity have been the cement that binds together not only hearts and souls, but entire societies and nations.  Now there is also growing international interest in their potential to drive sustainable development and create inclusive job opportunities,” Snowball said.

International contributions at the conference will come from Guy Saez, founder of the Grenoble Observatory, considered a global leader in cultural observatory work, Gabriel Zamfir, Canada Arts Council manager for research, evaluation and performance measurement, and Dr Norbert Spitz, Regional Director for Sub-Saharan-Africa of the Goethe Institute.

In addition to working with industry, universities and government, to facilitate and articulate cultural research in this country, Haines said SACO would also become a repository, reflecting the past and present, of the country’s cultural economy, and the cultural and creative industries at large.

He said cultural observation was a new trend, which emerged in the 1980s, driven by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

In the United States and the United Kingdom, cultural economy counts for 8% and 12% of those countries’ GDP, respectively.