By Annines Angula
Windhoek – The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has realised the arts industry as key in alleviating poverty and how much it could contribute to regional integration efforts.
To this end, the National Arts Council of Namibia (NACN), in collaboration with the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies, brought together close to 150 delegates for the inaugural Arts Summit of Southern Africa (ASSA) in Windhoek, Namibia, this week.
The summit, the first for Southern African Development Community (SADC), sought to strengthen the creative economy, across the region and to increase awareness of the sector as a vital regional industry.
Delegates represented government institutions, arts and cultural agencies, policy makers, professional associations, practitioners and educators from the creative industry and other sectors in Southern African.
The gathering took place from 21 to 23 August in Windhoek and was held under the theme “Human Creativity is a Vital Economic, Social & Cultural Resource”.
The creative industry is vital to the sustainable development of Namibia and SADC, yet there is a perceived lack of understanding and doubts about the opportunities and benefits of investing in this sector and the growth it can bring to the region.
One of the fundamental issues the Summit identified was a lack of evidence-based strategies and initiatives in the region, and for the region, despite there being a wealth of experience and knowledge available.
The Summit aimed to address this by bringing together experts from SADC and beyond to deliberate on best practices, strategies and recommend the way forward in shaping the right environment for the creative economy to flourish in Southern Africa.
During the meeting, the delegates discussed various topics that range from a healthy ecology of creative individuals, the need for evidence-based policy making for the creative industry, creating an enabling environment for investment in the creative economy, and the role of cultural leadership in strengthening the creative economy.
They further deliberated on the importance of the creative economy for national development and regional integration, as well as identifying new opportunities for the creative economies in technology, marketing, partnerships and multi-sectoral approaches.
The Namibian government acknowledged the important role the creative industry plays in alleviating poverty and its contribution to economic growth, Namibia’s Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba said during his opening address at ASSA Summit on Monday.
Mbumba noted that creativity and the creative economy form part of government efforts to bring socio-economic prosperity to all Namibians, an ambition which will have a corresponding positive impact on members of SADC. “Indeed, creative skills are integral to innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness. All of these will be vital as we press ahead in making Namibia a more prosperous nation. It is also clear that the creative economy has much to offer, not only in regard to direct revenue and employment but also indirectly,” he said.
Mbumba said the World Economic Forum’s 2016 White Paper entitled: “Factors for Enabling the Creative Economy” identified, for example, that over 26 indirect jobs were created for every direct job within Europe’s cultural heritage sector.
“The question raised here is not whether we as a region can afford to invest in the creative economy, but can we afford not to? Within this analysis, the challenges facing the creative industries in Namibia are highlighted, and it is pleasing, therefore, to see so many of them on the agenda at ASSA,” said the vice-president.
ASSA has also identified the lack of arts programmes as well as inadequate physical infrastructure for arts education. There is also a lack of human capacity, limited funding and weak cultural statistics. Lack of skilled cultural producers compromises the ability of the sector to contribute in the area of employment creation and poverty eradication were also identified.
“To achieve this great step forward for our creative industries, we must be committed to it. My very presence at this summit demonstrates that there is a keen appetite for cultural development, both in Namibia and the wider SADC region,” he said.
Namibia is one of the countries that put up protective mechanisms for the creative industry through intellectual property. “A new attitude towards intellectual property, as this report suggests, would ensure that Namibian creators are being fairly rewarded for their work. This, in turn, immediately makes the economic stability of the sector more sustainable and identifies creative activity as a potential export,” Mbumba said.
By hosting the summit, Namibia has signalled to counterparts in the SADC region and the wider world, that Namibia is committed to integrating the creative industries into all facets of our economy, said Sanet Steenkamp, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.
“One key challenge facing the creative economy is the way it has previously been perceived, both by citizens and governments. Often, creative industries have operated through informal channels.
“They have not leveraged their intellectual property rights or been organised in a way that denotes the value of what they are doing.
“This is partly due to a lack of strategic thinking and, certainly, investment in the creative economy marks a departure from the traditional economic strategies that many of our regional governments are familiar with.
“Creative industries sit alongside other industries, but they require unique knowledge and a unique mindset to successfully implement the strategies relating to them,” Steenkamp said.
She revealed that the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture is actively and eagerly involved in the government’s plan to have 2% of the Namibian working population employed within the arts and cultural sector by 2022.
“We also recognise the importance that the development of creative skills can have on other industries. Wherever there are problems to be solved or innovations to be made, creativity is crucial,” said the senior government official.
The Chairperson of the NACN Patrick Sam has emphasized that the gathering provided art professionals and policymakers an opportunity to discuss the creative economy and how to improve regional growth and prosperity.
“The Summit is about instilling an understanding that the creative economy is vital to the development of Namibia and the rest of the SADC countries. Without the inclusion of the creative economy as a key pillar, we will not be able to achieve equality and address unemployment and poverty. The purpose of the Summit is to make a consolidated argument, about how key the creative economy is for our economy,” he said about the meeting.