Following on last weeks article on urban cultural policies, this and next weeks articles discuss Cape Town's attempts to develop and implement local cultural policies. Why and how did it do this, and what was the result?
Cape Town is reportedly the only city in Africa to have developed and initiated a local cultural policy. There have been two attempts. The first, the subject of this blog, was developed in 95/96 and lasted till early 2000s. The second was developed in 2014 and is nominally still in operation.
To understand the historic and influential 1995/6 policy, we interviewed Delecia Forbes who was responsible for setting up and running the Arts and Culture portfolio of the city. Forbes has had a long career in cultural management, and has a background in dance. She comes from a politically involved family and during the 80s, was in exile in London where she spent a decade working for the Merton Borough local authority as an arts development officer. Following her time in the Cape Town municipality, she directed the Spier Arts Trust, served in provincial government on creative industry development work and has since worked on her own initiatives.
How Cape Town developed Africa's First Local Cultural Policy
In 1995 Forbes was one of 10 officers who were working in the Community Liaison Unit (CLU) in the new post-apartheid local government of the Cape Town (Central) municipality. The unit was set up by Roy Gentle, one of 4 senior city managers who together handled all aspects of the city. Gentle believed strongly, that in the new dispensation it was essential for local communities, the majority of whom had been denied the right to be involved in the democratic process, to be participants in the city making process. This belief recognized that participation in civic life was critical for the city's functioning in the future. Thus the CLU was an area based approach to actively involve communities as makers and reviewers of policy. The 10 officers worked actively on the ground each with specific groups of communities on relevant issues. This was then a deep participation approach as propogated in the Reconstruction and Development Program of the new government as a way to bring about transformation. At the time, metropolitan Cape Town was divided into 6 separately run municipalities, each of which had its own mayor and council. These municipalities were divided in such a way to ensure diversity across the city. It was only in the early 2000s that these were brought together into a single metropolitan Unicity it is today.
images from the Cape Town One City Festival 2002
In addition to the generalist, area specific, community liaison work performed by the CLU, each of the officers were encouraged to develop a specialization. Because of Forbe's past experiences in London, she chose to further an Arts and Culture portfolio, bringing with her ideas around cultural democracy and cultural diversity which were key to local cultural policy and practise in the United Kingdom at the time. The Borough of Merton had many similarities to Cape Town, in that both were divided along race and class issues. Forbes was thus well equipped to understand and tackle issues of exclusion and inclusion, promoting democratic citizenry and diversity. Her experience in Merton was that partnerships were key, the borough for example had a close working relationship with the Wimbledon School of Art, showing the possibilities that come with working closely with the academic sector. Her first task was to develop an arts and culture policy mobilising the inclusive participatory ethos of the unit, drawing on local knowledge and networks. Thus begun an intense process of engagement which built on the euphoria of the first free elections of 1994.
The process of developing the policy
Forbes advocated a peoples policy, not one written by bureaucrats. Having a champion like Gentle, high up in the administration, who was open-minded and who shared her vision, made it possible to her to use the process she did, and to have access to a budget to make this possible. Over a 12 month period, meetings were organised in various town halls around the city. Artists and cultural organisations, especially those from marginalised communities, participated in mass meetings and debated issues that ranged from access to cultural spaces, to incentive funding, to diversity. Out of this process came the key points which formed the basis of 9 small writing groups. Each of the groups had an appointed leader, and together they developed the policy in the style of a mini freedom charter. In this way there was maximum input into the first policy draft, done in the voice of the people. The project included a mapping exercise run by a team of trained researchers, who complied a detailed database of arts groupings and amateur heritage organisations, many of whom had been hidden from official eyes for many years previously because of apartheid.
Thus the development of the city's first Arts and Culture Policy was an active demonstration of the principles of participatory governance underpinning the work of the CLU. The policy was launched by the Mayor at big celebratory concert, and symbolically handed over to council for adoption.
The money for the set up of the Arts and Culture unit and for projects and grants came from the downsizing of the City's municipal orchestra, one of two classical music orchestras in the city, the other funded by national government - Cape Town being unique in having two such entities. By downsizing the local orchestra and reallocating funds, an important gesture of symbolic reparations was made by the local municipality to its citizens. For the first time, art forms that catered for vernacular creativity, and community heritage initiatives responding to the lives of people of color marginalized by racist ideologies, received support. This was a powerful moment, the first time anything of this nature had ever happened in the country. It shifted ground from an apartheid style approach to a democratic inclusion program. It kick started a range of new projects, allowing for more diverse stories about the city to emerge, and gave confidence and access to many who had been previously denied.
The Strengths and Weaknesses
One of the key elements of the project, its strength, also proved to be its biggest challenge. This related to the involvement of the cultural sector in ongoing decision making about a range of initiatives including the grant in aid program. Cultural workers were key to an Arts and Culture advisory committee which featured councilors and who met monthly to assess grant applications, to make recommendations and give their blessings for policy shifts and new programs. Initially this worked well, there was an openness from all and a high level of shared optimism. As time continued Councilors began to demand to be recognized as the legitimate decision makers alone, as they had been democratically elected by constituencies. The cultural workers on the committees were chosen as representatives of the arts and culture sector, and legally had no status on the committee, but wanted to have equal rights of representation. Eventually however the system reverted back to a councilor-run committee, with strict legality winning over pragmatism and inclusion.
The second issue is one that has bedeviled all cities in South Africa wanting to work with culture, the constitution does not allow for culture to be a competency of local government. It means that culture is always seen as an "unfunded mandate". This is despite the fact that many South African cities had supported aspects of culture for many decades during apartheid years- museums, arts centers, libraries, arts grant making in particular. Thus there was a constant battle for a unit working with arts and culture to survive, especially once champions higher up in the system moved on, and new people (politicians and administrators) started overseeing the unit and had less belief in the value of culture.
The Difficulties of a Local Cultural Policy
The development of the Arts and Culture policy and its implementation was an exciting and daring time. Every one was learning and new politicians were coming to terms with what the "developmental State" meant. Thus participatory governance taken to its nth degree, in principle, method and practise, led to new organizational forms and robust debates as both sides had to find a realisable place to meet each other conceptually. Forbes sees it as an exciting period, but also personally draining, as she increasingly ended up needing to mediate differences in the middle. This was not helped by the fact that the arts and culture sector was very vocal and would speak its mind if its demands went unmet. While some city leaders, notably Gentle and later Ahmedi Vawda were happy to have civil society "infiltrate the bureaucracy by stealth", forcing it to develop new institutional arrangements that were more effective, most politicians didn’t appreciate the culture communities guerilla approach which also saw them "dissing" city council when they did not get their way. Politicians especially didn’t like the vocal arts and culture sector, and felt that being criticized by them made to look bad in the press, and led to the "city brand being diluted".
Forbes' idealism in the face of the changing political discourses led to her needing to manage the growing disappointment of civil society, who felt left out once they were removed as active agents in the policy process and in grant making oversight. The tension between involving civil society in policy making and the realities of policy implementation led to a series of dilemmas that needed constant balancing, which was not always possible.
Once the Unicity was set up, things got more complicated from a legal perspective and officials were less prepared to work with tensions that come with innovative participatory approaches, as it placed them in a precarious position Everything changed finally for the Unit once the DA took over from the ANC in a later election. The Arts and Culture work had won significant kudos for the ANC Council as it was a very visible success. The DA was less interested and wished to distance itself from a successful ANC project, more so because the DA's constituency had less of an interest for the vernacular culture of the marginalised.
The Unfortunate End of the People's Policy
After Forbes left and the Arts and Culture unit was absorbed into the new Unity, it had to service an area six times its original size. Only one of the other 5 municipalities it merged with had any significant cultural programs. The now expanded unit incorporated cultural facilities from the Tygerberg Municipality - The Goodwood Museum, The Parow Museum, Art B Gallery, Durbanville's Rus en Vrede and the Hugo Lamprecht Performing Arts Facility. All of these were institutions servicing a largely white minority (a situation that did not change much until recently). In early 2000s, the unit was placed under the Social Development Department which was headed by Ernest Sass and the policy was finally suspended. To justify its "unfunded mandate" the approach of the unit had to fit the remit and methodology of its new host department, as a result it started to do less enablement, and started providing services. This included more art making workshops for youth and the hosting of its own events, often for poor communities. These programs took place through the tender process calling for "service providers" rather than supporting arts and culture non profit organisations. The latter had initially done the work in what they felt to be a partnership with the City. The Arts and Culture unit thus became less engaged with the local arts and culture community and with its broader civil society elements (the universities, the community based organizations, amongst others).
The Arts and Culture Forum which was the voice of the sector pre 2002, eventually had its funding cut off, making it difficult to cover basic costs to host meetings and communicate regularly with its constituency. The Forum became a toothless body after city officials ended the Municipality's once special relationship with the body, and it became harder to lobby newly appointed councilors who were not aware of the history of the arts and culture policy, and the value of civil society partners in making the city the creative vibrant place it was.
What we can celebrate and learn?
The irony Forbes notes is that, despite the challenges, "a good enough job was done to imprint the work of the arts and culture unit". The Unit is still there despite the problems, and many of its main principles are still being kept alive on various levels because of the strong building blocks put in place to help Cape Town to become the cultural city it is today. The policy making and implementation process had a number of successes and built the capacities of many cultural leaders during a time. It opened many new doors for marginalized arts and culture bodies. It showed that with commitment the city could help civil society be an active participant in city making. Thus the process was a very positive learning one and a tangible success story. The key learnings it gives us are: First, high level internal champions are critical. Second. participation processes need to be carefully managed and capacitated, done correctly they can bring significant knowledge and good will into the final product. Three, there are potential challenges involved with innovation and risk taking that need to be carefully assessed and mitigated with implications for civil servants, these can destabilise a project later. Lastly a key learning is the importance of creating firm, legally sound, governance structures both in and outside council to ensure long term resilience.
Next week we look at the new Arts, Culture and Creative Policy 2014, looking in the same way at how it came to be, what its key features were and what its challenges may be.
Thank you to Delecia Forbes, whose words and thoughts form the bulk of this piece.