South African Cultural Observatory

Finance minister signals investment in culture’s soft power worth it

BY Prof. Jen Snowball & Amy Shelver 28.03.19

The power of arts and culture to change minds was in sharp focus last week as South African finance minister Tito Mboweni outlined the country’s ‘soft power’ investment plan for 2019.

In his annual budget speech, delivered against the backdrop of weak economic growth coupled with deteriorating public finances, Mboweni alluded to funding for a new national theatre, museum, orchestra and ballet. This may have come as something of a surprise to the sector since arts and culture are often the first area to face budget cuts when economic growth slows, as seen in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Indeed, the South African arts and culture industry is struggling, as exemplified in the recent closure of Joburg jazz Mecca The Orbit. Funding is also increasingly hard to secure.

Yet, Mboweni said,

“the global renown of South Africa’s art and culture is an expression of our soft power and our heritage. Our public finance choices should reflect an intention to preserve and add to our cultural canon. Officials from the National Treasury and the Department of Arts and Culture will consider proposals for the development of a new national theatre, a new national museum, and also consider financial support for the National Archives, a national orchestra and ballet troupe”

Creating Value

The cultural and creative industries (CCIs) are increasingly recognised as potential drivers of job creation, economic growth and development. They include the more traditional areas of the cultural sector, such as visual arts, music and performing arts -- what Throsby calls the ‘core’ -- and commercial sectors, such as design, advertising and architecture or the ‘periphery’.

The South African cultural and creative economy is not insignificant and has growth potential. Estimates show the GDP contribution of the CCIs was just over R62 billion or 1.7% of the total GDP in 2017. A 2018 South African Cultural Observatory mapping study shows the greater cultural economy employs 6.94% of the national workforce – generating one million jobs.

But arts and culture also have important intrinsic values: They delight, challenge and entertain us. They make us think about world in different ways, and form our identity. These values are unique -- there is no other sector that can give us the same experience.

Instrumental values are those that are associated with the arts, but not unique to them, and include social and economic ends.

Social instrumental values are those that relate to the value of society as a whole: The arts can build social cohesion, comment on and challenge the politics of the day, and play a part in ‘soft diplomacy’ or the way people see us. Economic instrumental values are those associated with economic growth and job creation linked to the production and consumption of the arts through the CCIs.

The budget speech focused not on the instrumental economic values of the sector, but on their social and intrinsic values: identity, heritage, and soft power. The statement is a continuation of a policy focus evident in the draft Revised White Paper on Arts and Culture, which tries to balance the instrumental (social and economic) and intrinsic values of arts, culture and heritage.

This is good news: Even in times of slow growth, the intrinsic values of culture are not being side-lined, which could so easily be the case.

In his comparative study of international cultural systems, Mulcahy argues that cultural policy is political, much like art. Postcolonial cultural policy is particularly important for reconstructing the identity of marginalised, dominated, and ‘othered’ peoples. “Reclaiming the past by a newly independent people is a necessary element for regaining political sovereignty… a process of cultural nation building”.

Cultural institutions are key to this process. The inclusion of such new institutions in the Budget Speech is a strong political statement to leverage not only the CCIs as an engine of growth, but to commit to platforms that support nation-building and social cohesion – essential ingredients for social stability and economic growth.

Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa emphasized this in his tweet after the speech.

A nation that has not preserved its history is a lost nation, through the measures introduced by the Finance Minister Hon. @tito_mboweni under the leadership of President @CyrilRamaphosa we are moving closer to self discovery & preserving our historical heritage. #Budget2019

Something old, something new

South Africa has a thriving and vibrant arts, culture and heritage industry and CCIs. Many of the institutions and the businesses work well and, as acknowledged by Mboweni, contribute to South Africa’s cultural soft power.

Following the Budget Speech, there has been much debate at industry level about how the proposed new institutions might be constituted, funded, and run (https://city-press.news24.com/Voices/really-tito-we-need-another-theatre-and-museum-20190222 ). This includes how they could fit into existing institutions, such as the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town City Ballet and Joburg Ballet.

The development of a new national theatre and a new national museum does not necessarily mean new buildings, Market Theatre Foundation chief executive, Ismail Mahomed has said. “It could be that any of the existing entities could be given national status,” he explained.

Debate around cultural policy, including its scope, funding mechanisms and aims is an essential part of the development of effective and sustainable institutions. For example, in discussing the process of radical change to cultural policy in Lithuania, Rindzevicuite et al. (2016) describe how controversy opened the space for “policy entrepreneurs” to debate some of these central issues.

A holistic – intrinsic and instrumental – approach to supporting arts, culture and heritage is a powerful argument for public support of the sectors, even when economies are in a recession and public resources under pressure.


Authors

Prof. Jen Snowball (Rhodes University) is the Chief Research Strategist of the South African Cultural Observatory, which is funded by the Department of Arts and Culture. 

Amy Shelver (Nelson Mandela University) is a researcher at the South African Cultural Observatory, which is funded by the Department of Arts and Culture.

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