South African Cultural Observatory

Rhodes University joins consortium in SACO tender win

BY 28.09.18

A FIVE-YEAR tender to run the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) has been granted to a consortium of universities including Rhodes University, Nelson Mandela University, University of Fort Hare, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Led by Nelson Mandela University, the award of the tender represents a significant investment by the South African government into research on the cultural and creative economy.

The SACO is a national research centre established in 2015 and mandated by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC). “The initial SACO project was run by Nelson Mandela University, Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare. For the second bid the partnership expanded to include the University of KwaZulu-Natal,” explained Jen Snowball, Professor at Rhodes University’s Department of Economics.

Prof Snowball is the chief research strategist at the SACO.

The SACO 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. “Its focus is on the potential of the cultural and creative industries to contribute to social cohesion, job creation, and economic growth, rather than just being a sector that requires subsidising,” said Prof Snowball.

Historically, cultural economics represents a niche research area in South Africa. “There are very few cultural economists in the country. It’s just not an area most economists specialise in. So it’s been difficult to get academic economists interested in the value and analysis of cultural economics, but we are seeing growth as people increasingly understand the importance of the sector,” Prof Snowball said.

Earlier this year, SACO and the DAC held its third annual international conference to discuss trends and issues in international, national, and regional economies, which helped cast a light on the research underway and the socio-economic activities already

“We had a very large delegation, and the Minister of the DAC was there to give an opening address,” said Prof Snowball. “Interest in the SACO continues to grow year-on-year.”

Although the SACO operates primarily as a think-tank, research is not the exclusive focus. “We also run the conferences, provide bursaries for students who are conducting sector related studies, host training workshops with to find out what is happening in the sector, share ideas about how cultural economics can be reported on, provide monitoring and evaluation services, and we’ve developed an online economic impact calculator for festivals and cultural events,” explained Prof Snowball. “It’s more of an applied research exercise.”

Over the next five years, Prof Snowball would like to see more Rhodes academic staff contributing to the SACO, from across the different departments and the various research institutes. “This will not only make the research more valuable, but it will expand the Rhodes University contribution to the SACO,” she said. “There is significant potential in integrating, business, media, technology, and the arts with economics.”

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