African artists set out to grow continent’s creative economy
Date Released: Wed, 16 October 2013 14:30 +0200
Africa’s share of the global creative economy is less than one percent. This means that Africans were consigned largely to being consumers of creative products – films, television, music – from more dominant economies, said Mike van Graan, executive director of the African Arts Institute.
“Unlike trade in cars, toothpaste and T-shirts, creative products have embedded within them, ideas, worldviews, values, belief systems - so that by consuming these products, we slowly but surely internalize the views and values embedded within them,” he said. “Africa’s limited share of the global creative market then also implies an absence from the global market place of ideas.”
But this was potentially changing as indications of economic upsurge paint a picture of growth on the continent. The International Monetary Fund announced that of the ten fastest-growing economies in the first decade of this millennium, 6 were African, with Angola topping the top-ten charts with an average annual growth rate of 11,1%. Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, said Van Graan.
It further predicts that economic growth will continue at unprecedented levels in Africa with Ethiopia, Nigeria and Mozambique being joined by Ghana, the Republic of Congo and Zambia as the top African performers in the next five years, growing at an average of more than 7,5%, he said.
Van Graan was setting the scene for discussions at the African Creative Economy Conference 2013 held in Cape Town this week. The Arterial Network, a Pan-African civil society formation active in the creative sphere, with members in more than 50 of the 55 African countries, initiated the conference. At this year’s gathering at the City Hall, delegates from 42 countries were represented.
Radio personality, Saskia Falken, introduced a vibrant line-up of young artists from across the continent to the enthusiastic delegates and guests at the opening event last Sunday. The sounds of Munit and Jorg, Didier Awadi, Stewart Sukuma and Hassan’adas filled the cavernous City Hall.
The conference combined presentations and panel discussions to help delegates consider proposed interventions in broader global and regional contexts and to begin to map what exists in each area on the continent. It also showcased African music, movies, visual art, fashion, literature, cuisine and dance through the African Creative Market in the evenings.
As part of previous concerns about limited information about the contexts delegates found themselves in, Arterial Network in partnership with the African Arts Institute and Africalia, funded research and produced a publication called Africa in Numbers. Described as an introductory booklet by Arterial Network’s secretary general, Peter Rorvik, Africa in Numbers is a useful overview of key indices illustrating levels of well-being in different countries.
It takes a look at five themes in particular: an Introduction covering the basics like population, urban/rural divides, history, etc; Development Indicators, the Economy; Democracy and Human Rights and then Technology and Social Media.
The reason for making an effort to become familiar with conditions in different countries where creatives work is that art is not created in isolation, said Van Graan. “The creative industries are not a silo, nor an island within any society. They are impacted upon by a range of issues, and they in turn impact on other aspects of societies.”
While the arts were a means of economic growth and employment growth, Van Graan said this was not its primary worth. “The debates about the instrumentalisation of the arts versus art for its own sake versus art for economic growth are meaningless on a continent where conditions are such that all three are valid and appropriate – it is simply a question of creating and applying policies that take cognizance of the prevailing conditions,” he said.
He turned his carefully-made argument onto its head when he posed a final question to delegates: given the increasing wealth disparities and growing inequality in many African countries, would a creative industries approach not primarily benefit an elite? And, if this elite – most often an elite connected to the major political players - is the primary market for creative goods and services, what does that do for freedom of creative expression?
For more information, go to www.arterialnetwork.org