Second Take: Arts sector is about more than just jobs

2013-08-06 10:00

The white paper on arts, culture and heritage, adopted by Cabinet in 1996, is currently under review, and a revised white paper is being circulated for comment, prior to its intended adoption by Cabinet before the end of the year.

Arterial Network has three broad areas of critique of the revised white paper.

The first has to do with process.

Unlike the original white paper, which was formulated through extensive consultation with the arts, culture and heritage community over a period of at least eight months, this revised white paper has been drafted essentially by consultants appointed by the department of arts and culture and who appear to have little knowledge of, or experience in the sector.

While the arts community has been invited to make submissions, the time provided has been very limited and there appear to be few opportunities to provide substantial input into the process and to test what emanates from it.

Furthermore, the timing is strange coming as it does at the end of the tenure of the current minister of arts and culture and less than a year before the next election; our experience has been that new ministers often ignore the work done by their predecessors, even if they derive from the same political party.

These questions then speak to the legitimacy and credibility of the policy document, given the poor levels of consultation with the very sector that is to be governed by such policy.

The second broad area of critique has to do with the underlying premises of the revised white paper. It is not a document that is rooted in, and spells out a vision for the arts, culture and heritage sector. Rather, its raison d’être is a political imperative to create jobs in accordance with the National Development Plan’s aim to create 5 million jobs over 10 years.

Accordingly, the revised white paper places huge emphasis on the creative and cultural industries – which it mistakenly equates with the arts, culture and heritage sector as a whole – in the (questionable) belief that economic growth will necessarily translate into increased employment.

Historically, the creative industries tend to employ educated, relatively skilled individuals thereby making little potential impact in providing sustainable employment opportunities for those most in need in our country: undereducated, underskilled and poor.

While the original white paper was premised on fundamental human rights “everyone shall have the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts” (Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the Freedom Charter (“The doors of learning and culture shall be open”), the emphasis on the creative industries privileges those with disposable income who constitute markets and their desires and needs, and continues to exclude – other than in rhetoric – the poor, the 25% who are unemployed and the 40% of our population who earn only 6% to 7% of national income.

With its emphasis on the creative industries, it is strong on supply side measures, but very weak on creating demand, on building markets to sustain and grow such industries.

A third, broad area of critique is that the revised white paper makes numerous recommendations for new structures and for other policy directives without substantial research to inform or motivate such recommendations.

For example, it proposes radical streamlining of structures located throughout the country under one national board and collapses a number of funding agencies into one Cultural Industries Fund without a rigorous analysis of whether previously amalgamated structures have realised their intended cost-efficiencies or what specifically about post-1994 funding agencies is not working, and why.

The danger is that new structures are created and the same problems are manifested as these have less to do with structure than with management and the absence of requisite skills, for example.

Another example is the call for transformation of the sector without a rigorous analysis of what transformation has been achieved in the last 17 years, and the extent to which superficial, demographic transformation of cultural institutions has compromised substantial transformation due to the appointment – and lack of subsequent support for – unsuitably skilled in or inexperience governance and management structures.

A final broad critique is the compromising of the principle of freedom of creative expression. While the original white paper emphasised “arm’s length” funding to ensure that artists did not have to genuflect to government or public authorities but could say what they wanted without fear of compromising their funding, the current version of the white paper draft recommends that final decisions for funding will be lodged with the minister and deputy minister of arts and culture, an invitation to self-censorship if ever there was one.

In conclusion, the cultural policy needs revision 17 years later, but it needs to be done in better consultation with the arts and culture sector, and it needs to draw on already existing documents to which the South African government already subscribes: the 2005 Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the African Union Plan of Action on Cultural Industries, the Belgrade Recommendation on the Status of the Artist, the Charter on the African Cultural Renaissance, etc.

In doing so, its premise must be not the simplistic notion of creating jobs, but the more fundamental challenge which is to enable all South Africa’s citizens to enjoy the right to participate in the cultural life of the community and to have access to the arts, as holistic beings, rather than as mere physical cogs in an economic machine that serves a few.

My Dream for the Arts

A group of artists and practitioners recently started a campaign in response to government’s revised white paper on arts, culture and heritage.

The group had decided to send a formal response individually and through Arterial Network South Africa, a dynamic network of individuals, organisations, donors, companies and institutions engaged in the African creative and cultural sector.

The group decided to encourage South Africans to dream more and to get working together on making South Africa’s arts scene everything that it can and should be. My Dream for the Arts was born. By Friday 26 July 2013, people from all corners of South Africa had submitted dreams.

Bass guitarist Concord Nkabinde commented: “One of the remarkable things about this experience has been reading the dreams that people have been carrying with them for a long time.” These dreams talk about accessibility to the arts, development through the arts, respect for artists and what art means to society and how people want to preserve it and share it.

“Your initiative is a constitutional imperative. We must not only improve the standard of living of all; we must also enhance their quality of life: Man does not live by bread alone,” was the submission by retired Constitutional Court judge Johann Kriegler.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “My dream is that it will be possible for each child to reach for the stars and have the right and means to be anything they want: be a ballerina, an artist, an orchestra member, an actress … because the sky would be the limit.” And South Africa’s great songbird, Sibongile Khumalo, had this to say:

“My dream for the arts is that arts education is made available to all the children of this country. That, from at least Grade 8, schools are capacitated to provide arts subjects beyond simply arts and culture. Developing the young of this country through the arts is a human right.

“Exposing the young of this country to all aspects of the arts is a development imperative. Our children need to be given a chance to do better than simply being talented. Exposure to, appreciation of, and rigorous training in the arts will give them a chance to become the greatest practitioners they can be.

“My dream is that those who do not become practitioners will become patrons and supporters of the arts. That through arts education and the holistic development of our young, this nation will grow into an empathetic and compassionate one.”

All South Africans are encouraged to contribute their dreams by emailing or by adding them to the website Or contact secretary-general Valmont Layne on

»Mike van Graan is a member of the Executive Committee of Arterial Network South Africa

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