At the recent South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) conference in Port Elizabeth/Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, two proposals for a local cultural policy research agenda for SA cities were put forward separately. Why is such a research agenda necessary and what would look like?
First! what is SACO all about?
The South African Cultural Observatory is a national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) initiated and funded project, currently based at the Nelson Mandela University. It is a partnership with DAC and includes Rhodes University (Grahamstown), and Fort Hare (Alice). It was established as part of DAC's Mzansi Golden Economy program and Its key mandate is to chart "the socio-economic impact of the arts, culture and heritage (ACH) sectors and the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) in South Africa", working with statistical and qualitative material. It has a strong economic centred approach, working with the UNESCO categorization of a CCI. Other than its broad research agenda, it hosts an annual conference, creating a space to share its own research and to hear the research of others. The conference tends to cover a wide variety of research issues and approaches, but also gives space for "show and tell". Open to all and attracting many non-researchers allows for a wide variety of views and perspectives. This creates exciting possibilities but also has limitations for drilling down on key issues of research outside of SACO's day to day work.
SACO is doing useful work to justify the role of culture in society. Two pieces of current research were shared by SACO's chief researcher Prof. Jenny Snowball at its recent conference. One was concerned with quantifying employment by South Africans in work of a cultural or creative nature, and confirmed that 6.72% of all jobs in South Africa were creative or cultural. This accounts for roughly 1 million people, although interestingly, only 400 thousand are directly in the creative sector, the bulk of jobs are in other industries which employ creatives for specific work (such as graphic designers, or copywriters). In addition most jobs are clustered first in Gauteng (36%), then in Cape Town (16%). The largest number of jobs are in Visual Arts and Crafts. This is a significant study, as it shows South Africa has a relatively high rate of employment in the creative and cultural sector compared globally and thus makes the case for taking the creative sector more seriously. Another important study presented, was a mapping study commissioned by the Sara Baartman District Municipality, which services a number of towns over 34% of the Eastern Cape's land mass. Mapping CCIs allowed the researchers to better understand the clustering of and types of CCI businesses and to look for possible links between these clusters and economic growth hot spots. This is a useful tool which a number of municipalities could work with, and enables plotting valuable data to aid decision making. External speakers spoke to a broad spectrum of questions and concerns, beyond SACO's work and the full set of presentations can be accessed online.
Why a Local Cultural Policy Research Agenda?
Because of SACOs particular approach in line with the DAC's national mandate, local cultural policy has not surfaced as a significant and specific area of consideration as yet. Thus it was timely that two separately conceived presentations, one by Avril Joffe (Wits Cultural Policy and Management Unit) and the other by Zayd Minty (Creative City South) put forward a call, at SACO's 2018 Conference, for the development of a specific research agenda to look at the issue. Building on the research done via the Tshwane University of Technology, as well as on the two presenters own research, lecturing and practise work, a case was reiterated for working with culture at the level of the urban, as a way of addressing a number of challenges faced by South African society. Cities and town, they argued, are best placed to reach citizens directly where it matters to address a range of issues - social, economic, spatial, environmental and cultural - often in partnership with civil society.
However a key challenge is that neither the state nor civil society in South Africa have a shared understanding of the meaning of culture in respect to its role in integrated urban development. Culture is often incorrectly equated with the arts rather than understood more broadly. This has significant implications for how it is mobilized at a municipal level beyond being simply seen as another arts funding avenue. Within government there are perceived hurdles linked to legislation and implementation capacity (skills and appropriate resource allocation) which hinder maximizing work already underway in arts and culture departments in South African cities. This dissuades others municipalities from working with culture. Further there are challenges with the actualization of participatory governance in order to maximize the contribution of all levels of society. A research agenda for working with culture in integrated local development is proposed as a way coalesce various levels of government, academia and the cultural sector around finding a common approach and to address challenges. This approach needs to have a clear lens that goes beyond the economic and can address the more holistic issues facing cities today.
Sustainability as a lens
Joffe suggested that the Sustainability Development Goals, provided a unique opportunity for focusing cultural expression around key needs. She suggested a collaborative research agenda to develop a set of explicit and implicit policy imperatives that focus on integrating culture in all aspects of urban development and related city making. She suggested a set of research strategies using mapping and qualitative studies looking at a range of issues - such as cultural infrastructure, funding, programs, participation in cultural life, as well as the policies and practices of local government. She drew on Nancy Duxbury's framework for sustainability centered cultural policymaking suggesting a three part system for cultural governance was needed: with culturally sensitive sustainability governance processes and structures, having a cultural lens on all public policies/ decisions; and with a sustainability approach to cultural policy/planning and governance. Importantly she made the proposal for a "specific five–ten year objective of institutionalizing within local government agencies/ research bodies/ support programs a set of cultural policies, practices and activities which support the integration of culture in urban development."
Both Joffe and Minty made a case for drawing on international research and best practices, as well as global agendas around culture, to help bolster and expand the possibilities of a South African local cultural policy agenda. Joffe suggested we need look beyond the DAC to broader institutional frameworks of government, drawing on opportunities and possibilities from treasury, the department of co-operative governance, housing, amongst others - to deepen the opportunities for integrated urban development. In addition to commissioning new research, it was stressed by both speakers that researchers can draw on a wealth of existing interdisciplinary studies in areas such as heritage, public art, cultural infrastructure, economic development, tourism, urban governance, amongst others, to deepen and widen an understanding of local cultural policy.
Understanding local context in the global South
The need to collectively shape and further the debates was supported by Minty, who recognised the importance of a cultural rights approach, in response to the specific challenges of cities in the global south. His talk built on an earlier blog on this site on the development of urban cultural policy. Cities, he said, are grappling in various ways with the impacts of colonialism and neoliberalism, of corruption and other state failures, as well as their implications for infrastructure, programs and governance. At the same there is a great deal of creative energy and dynamism in cities in the global South and many have deep cultural roots to draw on in highly generative ways. This is an area ripe with exciting possibility and there is already a great deal of "insurgent" practise that work with this from around the South, which both he and Joffe referenced. In many ways, he argued, cities in the South, are not just shifting towards a post industrial future, but are also needing to confront and embrace a unique post colonial one.
Minty suggested, that besides the research about the current cultural policy environment, studies are needed looking at the what, why and how cities in Apartheid South Africa supported culture in the past, since much of the infrastructure from this time (libraries, arts centres, museums and theatres) still existed. We need to understand how the post-apartheid cities works with these inherited elements in a context where culture is not a constitutional mandate of cities and culture thus ends up being an "unfunded mandate". We need to be cognizant about the sometimes regressive ideologies behind understandings of culture within government, that have the possibility for undermining a broad based transformation agenda. This is further complicated by municipalities wanting to draw on culture purely for its symbolic potential to further city positioning, without investing into the infrastructure and systems to enable cultural development. Research is needed in more mundane issues also - including how day to day decisions are made, how officials work with communities, networks and with complex procurement processes, as well as around indicator development/monitoring and evaluation. Minty thus suggested that looking at micro-dynamics, both in government and in the cultural sector, as well as between these spheres, can help us build a more nuanced understanding of the limitations and possibilities of working with culture for integrated urban development.
Shaping the Research Agenda
So what could a longitudinal research agenda, focused on the use of culture in integrated urban development for inclusive and sustainable cities look like? At very least it needs to be underpinned by multi sectoral collaboration and partnership, linked to outcomes that foster engaged policy making and which improve processes, practises and accountability.
For those academic researchers interested in this issue follow up meetings are planned for Cape Town and Johannesburg. In addition you can join the dialogue on Research Gate. For those practitioners who wish to document processes and practises, or sketch possible opportunities in less academic formats, a call is made on this blog for contributors. Alternatively contact us for more information.