The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part seven in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.
The cultural policy of the new South Africa, if anything, had to be democratic. In November 1994, the Arts and Culture Task Group initiated a large-scale consultation process with the people of South Africa. Anyone could comment on the draft policy by submitting a written statement or by attending a hearing or a national conference on the subject. The results of this process served as input for the national policy on culture, which was implemented in 1996 and which is based on three cornerstones, namely the recognition of all cultures, the preservation of the cultural heritage, and the development of the artistic sector.
The previous cultural infrastructure, which favoured white artists and white art lovers, was abolished. Very soon after the transformation, the apartheid institutes were either shut down, as happened to the Foundation for the Creative Arts, or transformed, as was the case with the provincial Performing Arts Councils. Founded in 1997, the National Arts Council, which acts both as an advisory board for the government and as a fund for the arts, divides its time between putting right the historic inequality and reinforcing the national identity of the ‘rainbow nation’.
Once apartheid had ended, countries from all corners of the globe started queuing up to sign cultural treaties with South Africa. South Africa set up a joint cultural fund with Sweden, and a wide range of partnership projects with Belgian Flanders led to a steady increase in the size of the budget for South African arts. In addition, South Africa has various funds that are part-funded by the corporate sector, such as Business & Arts South Africa (BASA) and the Arts and Culture Trust.
However, at the end of last year, Itumeleng Mosala, Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture, complained that the policy changes were only filtering down through the arts sector slowly. He believes that the art world is still being held back by racism and exclusion. Black artists have a great deal of lost ground to make up, and it is mainly their white fellow-artists who are making a name for themselves.