South African Cultural Observatory

About Us

Initiated by the Department of Sports, Arts & Culture through the Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy (2011), the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) is a statistical and socio-economic research project, launched in 2014, which charts the socio-economic impact of the arts, culture and heritage (ACH) sectors and the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) in South Africa.

We use a range of innovative statistical methodologies, audits and research tools to understand our creative economy. Our main purpose is the development of a comprehensive cultural information system which continuously captures cultural data and monitors and evaluates government initiatives in the ACH sectors and CCIs. The SACO is headquartered in Nelson Mandela Bay – hosted by Nelson Mandela University on behalf of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC) in partnership with Rhodes University and University of KwaZulu-Natal – but operates nationally analysing the CCIs and ACH sectors.

The SA Cultural Observatory supports the collection and analysis of data, influences policy, shares insights and builds on the intellectual capacity gained across the arts, culture and heritage sectors. We work across the breadth of all cultural domains, including the arts, heritage, tourism, museums, libraries, archives and creative industries.

The key functions of the South African Cultural Observatory include:

  • Advanced theoretical and policy-relevant research on cultural trends and the cultural economy
  • The conceptualization and collection of statistics (data-bases)
  • Monitoring and Evaluating the impact of  cultural events
  • Providing physical and online access to the cultural information
  • Capacity building within the Arts, Culture and Heritage sectors and Creative Industries
  • Networking, partnering and knowledge sharing
  • Promoting cultural diplomacy

The Cultural Observatory is a long-awaited and vital initiative in the country’s cultural landscape. The evidence and data collected and analysed assists in assessing where the competitiveness, job-creating and income-generating potential of the creative industries lies. The work of the Cultural Observatory adds value to the arts and culture sectors and enables a real socio-economic value to be attached to activities central to the rich tapestry of South African life.

More News
Snapshot of the cultural and creative industries in South Africa Snapshot of the cultural and creative industries in South Africa

The SACO 2022 mapping study showed that the total contribution of the cultural and creative industries to South Africa’s GDP was R161 billion in 2020. This represents just under 3% of South Africa’s total economic production in 2020 and makes the sector approximately the same size as agriculture.

Umtiza Arts Festival Report Umtiza Arts Festival Report

On the 27th of May 2024, the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) took part in the 9th edition of the Umtiza Arts Festival in East London.

Better Africa Better World Better Africa Better World

May marked Africa month - a moment for the continent to pause, reflect, and celebrate the unique African identity and cultural expression.

50 Years of The National Arts Festival 50 Years of The National Arts Festival

2024 is a monumental year for the National Arts Festival as it celebrates 50 years of existence and 40 years of Standard Bank Young Artists Awards. These celebrations coincide with celebrating 30 years of Democracy in South Africa.

The cultural weight of democratic destiny: Building a creative, moving Mzansi The cultural weight of democratic destiny: Building a creative, moving Mzansi

South Africa, 30 years into democracy, faces a challenge in nurturing a culture of democracy that resonates with its youth. South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) executive director Unathi Lutshaba argues that harnessing the unifying power of culture can bridge this gap and drive positive societal change. The creative economy not only fuels economic growth but also reinforces democratic values, making it a vital component in shaping South Africa's future. Through continued research, advocacy, and collaboration, SACO envisions a Mzansi where creativity and democracy thrive together.

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