South Africa: art and culture versus growth and jobs
25 January 2016This opinion piece by Jen Snowball, Professor of Economics at Rhodes
University was first published on The Conversation website on 20 January 2016.
An indication of growing international interest in the potential of cultural and
creative industries can be seen in a recent set of Unesco guidelines on how to
measure and compile statistics about the economic contribution of the cultural industries.
But should this be the only reason for funding arts and culture?
Cultural industries can be defined as those whose major outputs have some
symbolic value – such as fine arts, film and craft – but also possibly including
jewellery design, publishing and
Creative industries are defined more broadly. These have knowledge as their
major input, and in addition to cultural goods and services could include things such
as software design and internet services.
Unesco has provided guidelines on ways in which these industries can be classified. But there is still no international
consensus. Nor is there likely to be, since different countries will have very
different levels of involvement and focus that may shape what information is useful
Times, the first global map of the cultural and creative industries, which was
recently released, acknowledges the societal value of arts and
Undeniably, culture and creativity have been the cement that binds together not
only hearts and souls, but entire societies and nations.
This survey quantifies the global economic and social contribution of the sector.
The study analyses 11 cultural and creative industry sectors. They are: advertising,
architecture, books and newspapers and magazines, gaming and movies, and
music, performing arts, radio, television and visual arts.
Cultural Times assesses the contribution of cultural and creative industries to
economic growth. It estimates that they generate US$250 billion in revenue a year,
creating 29.5 million jobs worldwide.
The report helps to demonstrate the value of arts and culture. It provides a
good rationale for government support of arts and culture, especially in developing
there are so many other demands on the public purse.
Contribution to jobs and growth in South Africa
South Africa is increasingly beginning to focus on its cultural and creative
industries as potential contributors to economic growth and job creation. This is
reflected in the report, Mzansi's Golden Economy, which sets out
ways in which the arts, culture and heritage sectors can contribute to the growth
and development of the country's economy.
In addition, the government recently established the National Cultural Observatory. It will act as a hub for
information and research about the economic and social impact of the
South Africa did its first cultural and creative industries mapping study in 2014.
Though not yet publicly available, it showed that the industries had created between
162 809 and 192 410 jobs, about 1.08% to 1.28% of employment in the
country, and that they contribute 2.9% to gross domestic product.
Based on interviews with a wide variety of more than 2 000 people
involved in the cultural and creative sector, the study also found that firms tended
to be small, with more than a quarter (27%) having only one employee, and a
further third (34%) employing between two and five people.
Women and men were about equal in proportion. More than three-quarters
(77%) were from black, coloured or Indian race groups.
Given the very severe youth unemployment in South Africa, the industries may be
particularly important for job creation: 22% of employees are younger than 18,
18% between 19 and 24, and 19% between 25 and 30. This means that 60% of the
workforce in the industries is younger than 34.
These findings echo worldwide trends. The global mapping study found that
employment in the industries was relatively open to people from all ages and
backgrounds (but especially the young), and dominated by small firms. In
developing countries, production is dominated by the informal economy.
The industries are also a potentially important contributor to social cohesion
and nation-building through the promotion of intercultural dialogue,
and collaboration. This is strongly emphasised in the Department of Arts and
Culture's most recent strategic plan, which was not available online at the time of
These are part of a range of spin-offs that artistic production can offer, beyond
the straight "instrumental value" – those values that, while undeniably important,
are essentially spin-offs of the main point of artistic production.
The "intrinsic" values and aims of culture, "art for art's sake", are things such
as: to entertain, to delight, to challenge, to give meaning, to interpret, to raise
awareness, and to stimulate.
These non-market values are difficult to measure in monetary terms, but are
just as important as the instrumental values.
While jobs can be created by many economic activities, what other kinds of
production can generate these same intrinsic values?
Cultural capital is one. This is defined as the sum total of a country's wealth or
of art, heritage and other kind of cultural expression. Like other kinds of
capital it needs to be invested in – otherwise it will depreciate and be devalued over
Public and private sponsorship and support of the arts is particularly important
for those producers whose main focus is intrinsic value. Such cultural production is
often challenging or disturbing and, while it has a big impact on collective thinking,
may not be a financial or market success or may be distributed for free. Think, for
example, of the role played by music in the fight against apartheid.
While recognising and supporting the very important role that the cultural and
creative industries play in the economy,
I would argue that we shouldn't lose sight
of the unique intrinsic values that they generate. This includes the reflection and
shaping of national and individual identities.
The Dancers installation outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, April 2007. The cultural and creative industries are key for social and economic development says Prof Jen Snowball of Rhodes University. (Image: Chris Kirchhoff / Media Club South Africa)