If the South African state is serious about economic development, it needs to consider the implications of problematic governance systems and processes which prevent it from developing an effective creative industries ecosystems. In this piece, we consider the Craft and Design Institute (CDI), a highly efficient creative industry development body, which has been forced to rapidly downsize. This is primarily because of a questionable re-prioritisation by the Western Cape government of how it plans to supports the region’s economic sectors, as well as bureaucratic bungling at a national level.
The CDI has been heavily invested in by the state for the last 17 years, becoming an important agency respected locally, nationally and internationally. Its rapid downsizing has implications for countless crafters and designers who depend on access to the organisation's equipment and services to further their practise, as well as for government bodies who support various programmes that build on CDI's network and infrastructure.
This piece will explain why this important organisation exists and what its role has been in the creative industries ecosystem, why it has been forced to scale back, and why the latter matters. Let’s start by getting some context on why and how the South African government supports the development of creative industries.
The Rise of a Creative Industry-driven Growth Strategy in South Africa
Support for the Creative Industries as an economic sector entered into South African public policy discourses in the late 1990s when the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) embraced this as a major strategic thrust as part of its Cultural Industries Growth Strategy (CIGS) later to be reframed as the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy. This strategy is founded on several assumptions: Firstly, it recognizes the country's most pressing economic challenges lie in its high levels of poverty and unemployment. As a result, all levels of government have some form of economic agenda to help grow jobs amongst the most marginalized. The arts (performing and visual arts) and the creative industries (most notably film, music, publishing and design) were identified early as areas with lower thresholds of entry and so higher levels of job creation potential. Secondly, South Africa's unique story and its vibrant cultural voice opens the possibility for its products and services to be globally and locally competitive. The country produces unique, quality cultural goods and services both for export and for enhancing tourism. There is also a growing middle class increasingly interested in creative products and services linked to aspirational lifestyles choices. Thirdly, by fostering creativity, the state hopes to impact on other aspects of society. A creative society looks differently at problems and can address its problems in new unique ways - this has implications beyond cultural and creative industries themselves. Thus, creativity is seen as South Africa's new gold. Fourthly, there are strong social cohesion, quality of life and cultural benefits that accrue from a vibrant cultural life on numerous levels. The Mzansi Golden Economy programme therefore focuses on a range of areas - amongst others - events, cultural precincts, enterprise centres and research to address these considerations.
Another aspect of the policy shift towards creative industries is to build a more "self-sustainable" and "entrepreneurial" cultural sector. But, challenges in South Africa's educational system have led to managerial and business skills deficits amongst the population. This has led to impacts for both independents as well as organisations/groupings. Moreover, there are challenges not just on the production side but also in areas of distribution. As a result, attempts to foster an enabling ecosystem for creative industries are complex The role of addressing the gaps cannot be done by the DAC alone and requires many other national, provincial and local bodies to come to the table in a relatively coordinated fashion. This is made difficult by weak intergovernmental co-ordination. At the same time, not many departments have embraced the creative industries rhetoric despite a push by DAC. However, two areas which have received incentives and other support are film and crafts - the latter particularly because of the large number of black women who practise some form of craft making and the potential to grow this sector.
Craft and Design in the Western Cape and Cape Town
The Western Cape Government as far back as 1998 identified the craft sector, specifically, as an important sector given its link to tourism – which is when it initiated the establishment of the CCDI in partnership with the then Cape Technikon. Off the back of early successes with the CCDI, the same department, the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT), expanded this to a broader creative industry strategy for a short period from 2006 to 2009 . The programme was located within the ground-breaking Micro Enterprise Development Strategy (MEDS), which was underpinned by considerable evidence-based research. The MEDS strategy was supported by a programme to develop Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) in each industry cluster identified. An SPV was conceptualised as a public-private partnership - a nimble one-stop-shop industry body to support sector development, build capacity, further networking and aid market access. These SPVs created an avenue for different levels of government and the private sector to work with an economic sector, providing industry subsidisation, sponsorships and investment. While not all SPVs have been successful for a range of reasons, some have been. A notable success story continued to be the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI), which later become national and changed its name to the CDI.
CCDI was incubated by the Informatics and Design Department of the Cape Peninsula University, starting out as a two-person office led by Erica Elk who remains its highly regarded director. It has received support from all levels of government, and has developed a reputation for delivery and clean governance. As a result of its successes, it grew to become an organisation of around 40 people providing a range of services. These included workshops on craft and design, business support, coaching and mentoring, product support, access to prototyping machine, design education and outreach opportunities. It also helped "craft producers to define and reach their target markets through channels such as local craft markets, retail outlets and trade shows" (Cape Town Tourism). It has been the subject of numerous studies and there have been attempts to emulate it elsewhere in the country. It has been based in the East City precinct of the Cape Town CBD for many years and has, to a very large extent, set the identity of the area as a happening creative environment, which today has attracted a number of other creative businesses. It has become a widely recognized case study for successful creative industry support. Its existence was a hugely influential factor in the City of Cape Town being awarded the international World Design Capital title in 2014 and was a key organisation in the fulfilment of the City’s year-long programme, featuring as one of the region’s major selling points alongside the Design Indaba event. Provincial government itself used the body extensively to further many of its most innovative programmes, notably, the Better Living Challenge. CCDI was also asked to develop the Western Cape’s Design Policy. The City of Cape Town has also worked heavily with the organisation (and other SPVs) recognising its immense contribution to the city's economic growth, as recently as July 2017, and continues to fund its work.
A Sudden Change in Strategy
In a shock move in October 2016 the Western Cape Government's DEDAT had a major change of strategy and now prioritizes only three economic growth areas in the region - Tourism, Agriculture and Oil & Gas. It has also decided to cut back its work on enterprise development and its support for SPVs. By February 2017, DEDAT abruptly, and without prior warning, cut support to a range of SPVs institutional grants, including terminating CCDI's institutional grant of R5 million to support its Design Strategy implementation work. This was a massive blow - a decision taken at a governmental level that would impact heavily on the staffing of the organisation, its space and its work in rural areas. The organisation rapidly repositioned itself as CDI - to build on its already-existing national profile.
The decision to cut funding is particularly unfortunate for a province touting itself as promoter of design. The Western Cape regularly makes strong statements about its use of design for economic growth and fostering competitiveness. Politicians were happy to be associated with the ribbon cutting when the then CCDI moved into its premises, unveiling the prototyping equipment so many designers and crafters have been able to work with over the years.
But if the short-sighted decision of the provincial government was not enough, the national Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in an unconnected action, added fuel to the fire, by refusing to honour a contractual agreement to pay the CDI the R3.5m it owed it for contracted services rendered. This act of non payment has been seen by a number of senior political figures and officials as "bureaucratic bungling" and is still under legal dispute.
Thus, two unrelated acts of government have caused unprecedented crisis for the organisation, forcing it to retrench half its staff and look for smaller premises. It plans to continue existing small business development work for the Department of Small Business Development and the City and the DAC and project management on an initiative it is running for National Treasury’s Jobs Fund amongst other projects. It has found a quick and supportive host for its impending move (from its current premises to new ones) within the V&A Waterfront, with whom the organisation has worked with in recent years, more notably in the development of the Waterfront’s own highly successful design-linked ventures, namely, the Watershed and Workshop 17.
The Challenge of State Support for a Viable Creative Industry Ecosystem
For those unaccustomed to government taking such far-reaching decisions so rapidly and drastically, without consideration of the consequences this has for bodies and programmes into which it has invested heavily for many years, one need only to look at an earlier decision taken by DEDAT. In 2009, shortly after elections and with the ascendancy of the centrist Democratic Alliance, a decision was taken in DEDAT to dissolve the Creative Industries unit (run by experienced cultural manager Delecia Forbes) and put in its place a unit called Commercial (later Tourism), Arts and Entertainment. There was no research underpinning this decision, which was an unpopular one for a number of the senior programmatic staff at the time. This change appears to have been a response to the upcoming FIFA 2010 World Cup™, in an attempt to connect art to tourism product development and entertainment. However, this unit was itself dissolved in 2017. The CDI was fortunate to not have been impacted by that decision, at the time because it had established a wider base of funding support, which saw support for visual arts, music and performing arts end. However, it has not been so lucky this time.
Similarly, there are numerous incidents of government departments not paying on time or withholding payments for any number of "compliance" driven reasons, which have resulted in the collapse or near collapse of small businesses that have been (un)fortunate to be granted a tender. The DTI's National Lottery Development Trust subsidiary is a well-known example of a parastatal body tasked with distributing monies to arts bodies and charities. It has been plagued by poor administration and, as a result, a number of arts bodies have fallen into difficulties because of its actions/inactions.
In order for a transformed and transforming creative industry ecosystem to operate, let alone thrive, creative industry stakeholders need a state that takes decisions based on sound evidence and evaluation - rather than last-minute ones taken at the end of financial cycles, or on the whim of officials. If these decisions have to be taken, information needs to be shared with dependent partners timeously so alternatives can be sought. Ideally, funding should be tapered off over a period of time rather than abruptly cut. Contractual obligations should be honoured, or challenges addressed in ways that do not hinder the ongoing operations of non-profits. It should always be remembered that it is easier to end something than it is to start it up. Once bodies are shut down, networks are lost, trust is lost and, in the interim, dependent small partners - freelancers and other independent operators - suffer the most. Considering the deep economic development challenges faced in the country, coupled with the extensive investment made in highly functioning organisations over years - as is the case with CDI - it is incumbent on the state to act in a responsible manner that allows its contributions to bear fruit into the long term.