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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Africa’s share of global arts economy less than 1%

Executive Director of the African Arts Institute and
Arterial Network secretary general Mike van Graan
speaking in Nairobi - (Pictures courtesy Thabiso Mashaba)

By Andrew Mulenga

The first conference on the African Creative Economy which took place in Nairobi recently was attended by more than 120 delegates representing 36 countries.
Running from December 4 to 7, the conference interrogated arguments such as "Assessing markets in the global south", "The contribution of the creative economy to African cities and the potential for an African creative cities network", The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): development, culture and the creative industries and Reducing dependency among other things.
Organised by the Arterial Network,  a continental network of artists, cultural activists, arts NGOs,  the event was the first of what is planned as an annual conference that rotates from region to region. The Conference also coincided with the election of a new continental steering committee for Arterial seeing Ghana's Korkor Amarteifio take over the reigns from Zambia's Mulenga Kapwepwe.
Highlighting the purpose for having such a conference to start with, Arterial Network Secretary general Mike van Graan, who is also executive director of the African Arts Institute based in Cape Town observed "By understanding the creative economy, we as artists hope to understand how our creative practice may be more sustainable, how we might generate the income we need to pay our rent, put bread on the table, prepare for our old age, etc."
In a presentation entitled "The creative economy, development, culture, human rights and democracy in Africa: joining the dots", van Graan stated "There are at least five possible answers as to why a conference on the creative economy should be held in the first place, and those are Economic, Developmental, Political, Strategic/advocacy and Sustainability".
On Economy he stated: "Over the last 30 years, the creative industries have made major contributions to national and regional economies in the global north with Japan, the USA, China, the UK and Germany accounting for more than 50 per cent of global exports in the creative sector. With Africa’s share of global trade at just over 2 per cent and its share of the global creative economy at below 1 per cent, the creative industries are promoted as areas of potentially huge growth that will boost Africa’s global trade position. And yet, we have to ask: if the creative industries are such major contributors to economic growth and job creation in the north, why is the sector facing such dramatic cuts in Europe at the moment?"
As for development, van Graan observes on a more positive note that the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals - most relevant to Africa - is fast approaching and the creative economy is being advanced as a key contributor to the economic growth believed to be necessary to realise the MDGs.
On his third and political assessment he observes that: "Embedded in creative products are ideas, world views, aesthetics and values so that as primary importers and consumers of television, movies, literature, music, etc, we in Africa imbibe these, assuming the values, aesthetics and perspectives of others, thereby eroding our own identities and cultural traditions in the process. Thus are we challenged to project our perspectives into the global market of ideas, to have a creative voice that will speak our stories, assert our perspectives, share our values through creative products."
On strategy and advocacy, he observes that "given the lack of support for the arts by African governments who generally deem it a luxury in the context of other development or vote-catching needs, we in the arts community believe that by showing the economic impact of the arts, politicians will be better disposed towards investing in the arts."
In conclusion, van Graan states given the conditions on the African continent, the challenges with regard to development, the challenges of democracy and human rights, the challenges of poverty and inequity, Africa's starting point, in his view, should not be economic growth or development, but rather human rights and freedoms, and a pursuit of creative industries and the creative economy should be to serve human rights and freedom, rather than have these fundamental rights subservient to economic growth.

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