Don’t let Covid-19 kill SA’s cultural sector and its economic value

South African Cultural Observatory
South African Cultural Observatory

By Professor Jen Snowball

Internationally, as well as in SA, the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) are increasingly being recognised for their economic as well as social and intrinsic values. Economic value — that is, the contribution of the creative economy to GDP, job creation and innovation — is a more recent addition to our understanding of the value of the CCIs. Intrinsic values are those unique to arts and culture: their ability to entertain, delight and challenge us, to tell our stories in ways that make sense of our experiences and define our identity. Social values are related: the arts can help us understand each other, building social cohesion and pride in who we are, and help us appreciate diversity, rather than be threatened by it.

Intrinsic and social values have long been recognised as important parts of the value of the cultural and creative sector. Cultural policy in post-apartheid SA focused on diversity and redress, with cultural value being seen as primarily intrinsic and social. But in a post-industrial age there has been broad acknowledgment that the cultural and creative sectors also have a role to play in building the economy and creating jobs.

The CCIs are conceptualised as including not only the more traditional “cultural” parts of the sector — such as fine art, theatre, dance, heritage, film and creative writing — but also the more commercial “creative” applications of these core sectors, such as graphic design, fashion, architecture, advertising and video games. International frameworks, such as the 2009 Unesco Framework for Cultural Statistics, provide information on how to measure the economic contribution of the CCIs, since most countries, including SA, do not analyse them as a separate sector in the system of national accounts. 

The newly released mapping study, “The Economic Mapping of the Cultural and Creative Industries in SA 2020”, conducted by the SA Cultural Observatory (Saco), shows how this can be done. The observatory is funded by the department of sport, arts and culture, and is led by Nelson Mandela University in partnership with Rhodes University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of Fort Hare. Its mandate is to provide policy- and sector-relevant information on how the CCIs work in SA.  

The study showed that in 2018, the CCIs directly contributed 1.7% to SA’s economy, a total of R74.4bn. The next largest sector is agriculture, which contributed 2.4% to GDP in 2018. The cultural economy also grew at an average rate of 2.4% a year between 2016 and 2018, far faster than the rest of the economy in this period.

Using the “creative trident” method of measuring jobs, 7% of all the jobs in SA — 1.136-million in the formal and informal sector — are related to the cultural economy. The creative trident includes cultural economy jobs found in three places: people employed in creative jobs in the creative industries (for example, a dancer in a performing arts company); people employed in creative jobs, but in some other industry (for example, a designer in a car manufacturing company); and people who are not themselves in creative or cultural jobs, but who support work in the creative industries (for example, an accountant in a film company).

The number of cultural jobs in SA also grew at a faster rate than other jobs in 2016 and 2017. About half of cultural jobs are classified as skilled, 36% semi-skilled and 14% unskilled. The results show that people in cultural occupations in SA are becoming increasingly well educated: 27% of people in cultural occupations have a tertiary education, compared to 18% of those in other occupations.

Future growth in the sector will thus depend on having a skilled and well-educated workforce. Cultural occupations are becoming more racially representative over time, with 84% of people in cultural jobs in 2017 being black (including African, Coloured or people of Indian or Asian descent). Young people in cultural occupations are also more racially representative than older groups, indicating ongoing sector transformation.

If one includes the “multiplier” effects (the forward and backwards links in the economy), the CCIs had a total impact of R241.8bn (5.6% of GDP) in 2018. This is what the economy would lose in terms of productive activity if the CCIs vanished. Cultural economy jobs are also particularly sensitive to GDP growth and decline, partly because a greater proportion people in this sector work as freelancers than in other parts of the economy.

Creativity meets globalisation

International cultural trade represents the nexus between creativity and globalisation and, in addition to earning valuable foreign exchange, it can drive innovation and productivity in other sectors as well. The mapping study showed that in 2018 SA’s exports of cultural goods were valued at $446.5m. Like many smaller, developing economies, SA has a cultural trade deficit, but this has reduced markedly over time because cultural goods exports have grown faster than cultural goods imports, reducing the deficit.

SA’s cultural goods exports grew at 14.6% a year between 2015 and 2018, making up 0.47% of total commodity exports in 2018 (up from 0.37% in 2015). The largest positive trade balance for 2018 was in the visual arts and crafts domain, which also had the fastest growth in the value of cultural goods exports in recent times (31.9% between 2017 and 2018).

The Unctad Creative Economy Outlook report (2018) also showed that SA is among the top 10 developing country exporters of visual arts.

Saco recently conducted an online survey of the impact of Covid-19 on cultural and creative industries businesses and freelancers, which received 600 responses. The sector is responding in innovative ways to the lockdown, such as by moving business activities online and working on aspects of production (such as archiving, administration, developing creative ideas) that can be done without face-to-face interaction. Some 15% experienced having an increase in demand for the goods or services they offer as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

However, 94% of respondents reported having work that was scheduled for this year cancelled, and some are having to end short-term employment contracts and cancel contracts with suppliers. In addition to the intrinsic and social value of the sector that will be lost if these firms have to close, the mapping study also shows that there will be a significant negative impact on GDP and jobs.

The cultural economy provides much in the way of public and economic good: it needs our support.