News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunday August 18th 2019

New arts policy ‘seriously flawed’ say artists and cultural activists

The revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage makes no mention of artistic merit or innovation but focusses on nation building and social cohesion.


‘Seriously flawed’ is how arts commentators have described the revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage recently released by the Department of Arts and Culture.

The policy document came in for a drubbing at a public forum to gather submissions on the White Paper on Thursday last week.

The forum was hosted by Arterial Network South Africa – a network of organisations and individuals involved in the African creative sector – and was attended by about 50 people despite the hasty call sent out in order to get submissions in before the department’s 26 July deadline for public comment.

Cultural police expert and Executive Director of the African Arts Institute, Mike van Graan, who was a panellist at the forum, said the “most fundamental problem” with the White Paper was that it was premised on a political imperative rather than on “a vision for the arts, culture and heritage sector”.

The White Paper continually refers to “social cohesion”, “nation building”, “job creation” and “economic growth” as policy objectives.

“All programmes and projects will be designed to pursue and integrate the dual relevance and posture of ACH (Arts, Culture and Heritage); i.e. as drivers of job creation and economic growth and activity; and as contributing to, and progressively building, a positive sense of national identity and consciousness,” states the White Paper.

No mention is made of artistic merit or innovation.

With the DAC endeavouring to “base all interventions and programmes” on these programmes, van Graan questioned to what extent the arts, culture and heritage sector could contribute to these goals and whether arts practitioners would even want to.

Additionally, given that economic growth on its own demonstrably did not necessarily contribute to jobs, the White Paper, despite its “not ignoble” political goals, excluded the poor, he said.

Furthemore, van Graan, who was instrumental in drafting the first White Paper in 1996, said the revised document was “ideologically confused”.

“On the one hand, it emphasizes the Constitutional right to freedom of expression; on the other hand, it states that final approval for funding decisions will be vested in the Minister and Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture.”

This, he said, was an invitation to self-censorship and curbing of freedom of expression as it was a “flagrant disavowal of the principle of arm’s length funding advocated in the original White Paper”.

The emphasis on nation building and social cohesion, and the proposal to centralise the current 28 state arts institutions into six, also led more than one participant at last week’s public forum to comment that the White Paper reeked of a “soviet style vision of ministerial control”.

Heritage specialist and panellist Diedre Prins said the lack of a GAP analysis on the 1996 White Paper was evident, and such an analysis was needed to see “where things have gone wrong” that could be addressed by new policy.

There also needed to an analysis of the current 28 state arts institutions to determine where the problems were, and how they could be fixed, before simply cutting them down to six.

The DAC’s communication and liaison chief director Lisa Combrinck said work on the review of the White Paper started in 2005 and “many consultations, meetings and workshops took place between 2005 and 2008”.

Crombrinck said a consultancy firm was appointed in 2012 to draft the document and they were paid R679 627.53. She failed to provide the name of the firm.

Regarding the short time period allowed before public submissions cut off tomorrow, she said the public would be given “further opportunity to participate and comment on the document” during the Parliamentary review process.

She said plans were underway to have consultation workshops in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, with workshop dates to be published “shortly”. – Steve Kretzmann



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