Master plan African art sector on the way

April 2007 -

More than fifty key figures from Africa's independent art world met early in March 2007 at Senegal's Gorée Institute for the conference 'The ARTerial'. The expansive theme of the conference was strengthening the art sector. The participants compiled a strengths and weaknesses analysis that was sometimes disheartening. There are many problems, of course. Political instability in many countries, poverty, and a lack of knowledge, experience and schooling are the most important of these. There is also a lack of policy, particularly among governments. As a result, the sector continues to be extremely dependent on foreign initiatives. But there are also positive developments. Contemporary dance is blossoming and African cinema is emerging. Dak'Art, Senegal's biennial art festival, draws an international audience. African music is now mainstream.


The Gorée Institute, location of The ARTerial conference

During one of the sessions, Ebo Hawkson of Musiga, a music labor union, discussed Ghana's policy. "We developed a policy for our five thousand members in which musicians receive training in management skills, technology, legal affairs and digital techniques. Thanks to lobbying copyright law has been improved. In cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism, music is now included in the government's policy to combat poverty. Negotiations with the World Bank are on-going." Initiatives of this type are hopeful and serve as an example for many other African countries, where cooperation and the exchange of information, let alone formulating policy, are unknown phenomena.

Another tangible initiative in which cultural enterprise goes hand in hand with creating capacity is the Pamberi Trust in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. This trust organizes five hundred performances per year and develops numerous activities to support artists. Without subsidy. Paul Brickhill: "Artists are paid from the box-office receipts. We have a zany marketing policy. Salaries, rent and overhead are financed by the income from catering. Development activities are financed through the funds we acquire, which total twenty percent of our income."

Based on such examples from actual practice and the analysis made during the conference, premises for a plan of action were formulated. Expanding knowledge, establishing capacity, exchanges and lobbying are the pillars. Initiator Paul van Paaschen, of Hivos, is enthusiastic: "A steering committee of eight people will compile a master plan for Africa's art sector. The conference participants were a group of highly qualified experts with much international experience. Funds and donor organizations will also better attune their policies and activities to improve effectiveness. All of the positive energy at the conference was exhilarating. I have the utmost confidence."

'The Arterial, conference on vitalizing African Cultural Assets' was organized by Canada's International Network for Cultural Diversity, the Danish Centre for Culture and Development, the Norwegian Strømme Foundation, Hivos of the Netherlands and Senegal’s Gorée institute. The conference was also attended by journalists from Senegal, Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Their articles can be found on the DCCD website. The website europe now | next, an interactive debate forum, devotes attention to the conference with video statements by participants.