The economic potential of art in a sizeable report

June 2008 -

Cotton, nuts and coffee beans are not the future's weapons against poverty: these are theatrical performances, music compositions and works of art. Today creative industries are the most dynamic sector in world trade, representing a total export value of nearly 425 billion dollars in 2005. However, developing countries are not profiting enough from the potential their rich cultural traditions offer. Africa's share in the world trade of creative products is less than one percent.

The 350-page Creative Economy Report, presented late in April 2008 during the ministerial meeting of the UNCTAD – United Nations Conference on Trade and Development – in Accra, the capital of Ghana, is the largest study to date of the economic dimension of the role of culture in development. The report has ten chapters as well as statistics, a list of international conventions and policy recommendations. Case studies including the economic meaning of Brazil's carnival, partnerships between organisations in the South, soap operas and the Africa Remix effect serve as illustrations.

A lack of capital, enterprising capacities and an international infrastructure often obstruct the expansion of the creative economy. Only seven African countries have a theatre circuit large enough to support the blossoming stage arts, while only South Africa and Zimbabwe have a recording industry worthy of mention. Cultural policy, if it exists, often focuses on saving heritage, not on the contemporary arts sector. Only Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal recognise the role of culture in their plans for fighting poverty.

The report, oriented towards the worldwide creative economy, recommends that governments invest in infrastructure, innovative financing possibilities for the arts, the development of cultural policy, drilling into export markets, and protecting copyrights.

The Creative Economy Report [pdf] can be gedownloaded from the UNCTAD website.