United Colours of Africa
                                                                                                   

 

Interview Monica Newtown

Deputy director-general: Arts and Culture Promotion and Development

It is great to see that the festivals are consolidating their market position. These big festivals have always been successful. Where we have supported, we have supported on the periphery. We don't always get involved in every festival but we support about 25 major regional and national festivals throughout the year and about 100 to 150 on an ad hoc basis. That is very much an initiative under the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy that recognised that live events were a fundamental part of creating economic opportunity for artists; technical services; production people, lighting, roadies, and those kinds of guys and also because of the local economic development and impact.

From our perspective, it is always balanced with the notion that not everything has to be economic. We do support cultural festivals that have very little economic impact but speak to indigenous culture or things of value to communities. They have no particular economic impact because the impact of festivals comes not from people in the area spending money but people from the outside coming in to spend money and that's where you see Cape Town International Jazz, Joy of Jazz and the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown with so many people coming in from outside the geographic region; that that is where you see huge economic impact.

In 2014 research done by Rhodes University for the National Arts Festival estimated that the festival in terms of its regional impact on the province of the Eastern Cape had a R400M impact and on the city itself a R90M which for an 11 day festival is kind of amazing. And when you think about the social and political economy of Grahamstown in some cases the jobs that folks in Grahamstown have during the festival are some of the only jobs they will have in the year. It is an incredibly important event for small towns. KKNK has a similar impact on a small town like Oudsthoorn. “In die Bos?” Nelspruit is a fairly larger regional economy but also has a very significant impact.

 

Is there a partnership with Standard Bank?

 

We all work together to make the big festivals happen because the reality in many cases is that these are R30 – 40M machines. And obviously some of them are commercially orientated and some of them are less commercially orientated and we all come together. In the case of the National Arts Festival, for example the National Lottery Commission is the largest sponsor followed by ourselves. Standard Bank is no longer the headline sponsor; they now sponsor the jazz component, which is hugely successful. You have guys like Transnet who are long term sponsors of the Village Green. We all come together. We have to, to make the festivals happen.

In this current context where resources are really constrained, where many of the festivals have great ticket sales, and at the end of the day everyone needs help, so we all get together to support these major events as much as we can. Cape Town International Jazz, Joy of Jazz supported by corporate sponsors like Standard Bank, who is the headline sponsor, ourselves, Gauteng Province. They have deals with hotel groups like Tsogo Sun to make sure hotel accommodation for both their own purposes and festino's are at a reasonable rate. They have package deals with airlines, travel agents, so there really is a very large community of people that come together to make the festivals happen.

Is there a national statistic?

We have particular information about particular festivals we have been tracking over some time, but unfortunately the national picture is not complete. TREES which is a research unit at the University of the North West, did some research a couple of years ago that estimated that there were 600 festivals bringing in R600M to the economy if I recall correctly.

But we through the cultural observatory at the moment are really creating instrumentation to try and bring some degree of clarity to how we are doing research on festivals because then everybody has a different methodology so it is quite hard to give a grounded, reliable and credible comparison of them.

For example the independent study that Cape Town International Jazz might have done. The National Arts Festival might have done. And “In the Bos” might have done. The Observatory with Jen Snowball who had done the long term research of the National Arts Festival is really starting to put those methodology's in place. And we are starting to do a lot more consolidating work. A National picture? It is patchy.

You mentioned Mzansi Golden Economy?

It is a strategy that the DAC started implementing in 2011 that began to change the focus of our work which had previously been very central. The Mzansi Golden Economy strategy put in place a series of economic interventions that were aimed at broadly catalysing growth in the sector.

We are supporting key initiatives like economic insights through the cultural observatory.

We are creating an art bank which would essentially procure and rent out visual arts works through the National Museum in Bloemfontein. The Oliewenhuis gallery is the seat. But critically we started to create financial instruments that would look at cultural events, touring ventures and public art on the broadest possible scale to say that we regard a cultural event as anything from a film screening to a visual arts display to a music festival to a theatrical arts production. And that has opened up the field to us to begin to support live culture in public spaces for culture to tour internationally regardless of what the discipline is because we believe that South African work is amazing. South African work needs to find new audiences and build new markets. Those are the primary intentions of the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy.

When did you join?

In 2013 but I am an old-timer, I have circulated through the system a number of times. My first job was with the DAC when they created the cultural industries growth strategy in '97, '98. I have worked at government at a number of levels. I was at the NAC prior to joining the DAC. I have been in the sector for a long time doing research and policy work but also doing implementation work.

Transformation?

The Downtown studios matter is quite a complex one because it really saw the DAC investing in industrial infrastructure. And that has presented a range of complex issues over the last while. From a policy perspective, from an accounting perspective, I want boar you with the incredible complexities it has represented for the NAC in terms of how to account for the operations of Downtown Studios. In fact, it led to an adverse audit finding and a qualified audit finding. Through intensive engagements with the National Treasury, Department of Public Works we now have a strategy to begin to deal with the asset and ensure it continues to make a contribution. At the moment the situation is very unpleasant because the non-profit organisation who is running the studios has reached a resource crisis. We are trying to do what we can to intervene but it is an enormously complex environment.

Cultural spaces?

Cultural spaces that government owns is quite a complex kind of question because for the first issue is, which level of government is it, local, provincial, national?

From our perspective we have 26 public institutions that are part of our direct family. Those are performing arts institutions like the market theatre, Artscape, Playhouse Company, heritage institutions, Freedom Park; regulatory authorities, the South African Heritage Resources Agency and others. That represents the full quantum of the infrastructure that we own. Provincial government owns some theatres, some museums. Local government owns an enormous amount of cultural infrastructure. If you look at a city like Johannesburg, in Newtown itself, we own the Market Theatre and the National Arts Council, most of the other cultural infrastructures are owned by the city of Johannesburg. It is really important that festivals like Arts Alive really begin to animate those spaces. Equally each space has its own complexities. If you have a chance you should really talk to Peter Tladi about the move of Joy of Jazz from Newtown to Sandton Convention Centre. One of the complexities that Mr Tladi faced is that because of the way Newtown is organised there is a maximum number of people that can be contained within that space at any given time to ensure that the requisite safety provisions are met. And it is a binding constraint. Essentially no matter how big your festival grows you have to squeeze it into a particular geographic space. Eventually the festival needed to expand and couldn't expand in Newtown, hence the move quite controversially to the Sandton Convention Centre. Sandton is not the most cultural space, so it has been able to create a partial interest in Sandton which had never really happened before. And it takes over Sandton, in the Convention Centre, the piazza in the square. It animates certain hotels. It works in the shopping centre in its promotional activities. This is its third year in Sandton. It will be interesting to see if the long term prospects of it in Sandton is something that Mr Tladi will continue to do. Certainly the Sandton business district was thrilled to have the festival because it is such a huge draw-card. Research conducted by Gauteng a couple of years ago shows that over the weekend of Joy of Jazz they can actually see a spike in visitors. That is how many people are attracted to a festival as large as Joy of Jazz. It is on many top ten lists of jazz festivals all over the world. It will be 20 years next year.

If you think of the scale of those first festivals, they were tiny. And now they have expanded so exponentially and part of the challenge that we have is every new festival that comes to us, they see Joy of Jazz and they want to be Joy of Jazz. It is going to take you 20 years to get to that kind of point to build that loyalty base. There are 40 years of the NAF. When you look at festivals, in proposals we look to the extent that the folks implementing it have a clear strategy of what they want to do in the long term. Some festivals are not intended to have a 20 or 30 year life; that is fine we will support them. But where you want to have a large internationally recognised festival, you have to put in the work and the time.

Do you know the footprint of the festivals around the country, and the amount of people in general coming on cultural tourism?

Each individual festival will have its own individual profile. Our sense of the national framework is very patchy. Most festivals will have a local audience but will predominantly have an audience from outside. The economic impact of the festival will very much depend not on the money that is already circulating but money coming in from outside. A festival like Kalahari Desert festival in the Northern Cape which we support as a regional flagship has a very small economic impact. Its primary audience is people from the Northern Cape who in some cases have very little opportunity to see nationally or internationally recognised artists, but also an incredibly important platform for local artists to appear. So, we don't expect those kinds of festivals to have huge economic impact, but certainly the large festivals NAF,CTIJF, Buyele iKhaya, JOJ, Moretele, will have a fairly large economic impact precisely because they are bringing in audiences from outside. I think the NAF research in 2014 indicated that about 30% of the audience was from the EC but the bulk of them were from outside. When you look at a town like Grahamstown, the bulk of the population is fairly fluid because of the schools and the university. One would expect to see more external people at that festival because in all honesty the economy of the town can't support a festival of that size.

The TREE report shows that each festival did about R10M, not sure exactly how those figures were calculated but that is kind of the picture at the moment.

Difference between international and local is the festival circuit?

There are efforts to create regional festival networks across the continent and Tony Lancaster is part of that network but you have also got some quite interesting guys like Sipho Sithole with Sakifo festival in Durban. Working with IOMA and their festival Zakifo with a couple of other regional festivals like Bushfire are really beginning to create a circuit, but also a network. They are seeing that it is a valuable opportunity for them to get economy of scales, so they can bring out artists and share the cost of that artist touring regionally and also then to create a mechanism through which they can co-brand assist one another and work together. We are starting to see that happening but on a whole most festivals exist in a fairly small frame.

A big festival like the NAF obviously is a really essential part of the arts economy. It is almost like a research and development type of environment because new work is created for the festival. At the festival there are people like you and me, we are buying tickets, but Linda Buthulezi at the Playhouse Company. Ishmael taking up his new role at the Market Theatre will be there. Aubrey Sekhabi from State Theatre will be there: looking for shows that they can put on at their stages. We also have international festival buyers looking for work. They present an interesting opportunity for this work to travel beyond South African shores. They have such an important role in driving the arts economy. They are both a market as well as a testing environment, and in and of themselves an incredibly important social, cultural and economic event.

The role of the private and public sector?

Absolutely essential! In essence we need private investment, for entrepreneurs investing in the economy themselves to develop businesses. At the BASA awards held in Johannesburg on Monday, Ravi Naidoo was recognised as the creator, designer, founder and visionary that created the Design indaba. Here is an entrepreneur interested in design who invested himself in one of the largest design conferences and markets in the world, and that is essential because government can't do it alone.

Private sector sponsorship is absolutely fundamental to the arts. Without Standard Bank there probably wouldn't be a JOJ. Without the work that the Transnet foundation has done with the Village Green at the NAF, there wouldn't be a craft focus at the NAF, so it as absolutely fundamental that from marketing and CSI budgets, corporates continue to invest, but it is equally important that entrepreneurs and the private sector invest in businesses themselves. So we begin to see real hard economic investment in the arts and culture centre. While some of it will always be state subsidized and be essential for the life blood of the nation.

Our portfolio chairperson, Mr Xoliswa Tom was MEC of the EC and she always says, “Your culture is you. If you lose it you lose your identity and an important element of yourself.” We always need to balance out those elements but if we don't all invest and all invest in clearly stated objectives, the sector will really struggle. Although it will continue, it will not grow as expected.

Have you seen growth over the last 20 years?

We do know from an economic impact study we did in 2013 and I can send you the dry report. Based on the information which was a national study done for the first time across the entire country, the creative economy contributed 90 B to the South African GDP which represented 2.9% of GDP which is quite significant. The sector created directly and indirectly over 500 000 jobs. Mining in this country creates about 500 000 jobs. We are in our quite small and dispersed manner, very very impactful.

The predominant areas that we find the economic impact is design and creative services. Music, film, performing arts – those are the big areas where there are substantial opportunities for job creation and are driving investment. It has been an interesting study and we will repeat that study through the cultural observatory in a little while. I will send you that report, it will start to give you a picture regionally as there are statistics as well, but also nationally to give you a sense of that question of impact.

Given what we know about the changes in the music industry for example where recorded music revenues are dropping, live music revenues are rising. Absolutely the work that we do to support live events are absolutely fundamental to the livelihood of artists, to the lives of people.

We are starting to see the resurgence in Johannesburg of jazz venues like the Orbit, the Mahogany room continues to do great stuff in Cape Town. And those are so important for place making in cities, for keeping people in cities, for being attractive for people to come and live here; and creating a city that has a life beyond people just working here. The people really become invested in it. It is a huge enterprise to consider. But we are currently revising our rather elderly white paper of 1996 to bring our policy environment to a current point where we can begin to see what has been done in the past and what needs to be done in the future to ensure that we protect and preserve what we need to. That we promote and develop what we need to and most importantly that we begin to get a more coherent framework of how provincial government, local government and national government work together and how money is invested in one way or another. Resources are really scarce at the moment.

What about inter-regional collaborations?

We are starting to see a lot of work happening in fact I have just come back from India where a Brics film festival has been created. It started in India, It will move to China and it will come to us when we are the chair of Brics in 2018. Those really are very important mechanisms that begin to create through an organised framework – the cultural agreement we signed in Russia in 2015. And they begin to share the work – so we have 4 South African films, 4 Russian, 4 Brazilian, 4 Chinese and 4 Indian films. Filmmakers were interacting with each other through panel discussions. We had the Africa month programme where we are also starting to try and get into regional cooperation – SADAC and a couple of others to create opportunities for African artists here and for South African artists on the continent. Early days yet, we are still feeling our way. It is not quite as organised as we would like. There are countries where culture, cultural policy and cultural investment are very strong, countries where there is a lot less government focus. At the moment we are looking at small cultural seasons with Gabon and Algeria, and we will continue to roll out those programmes over the next 10 years.

The last question on infrastructure and sustainability?

It is such a huge question because obviously there is an environmental footprint because when you have people flying in, driving in to small towns where you might have constrained resources you suddenly have enormous numbers of people. The issues that Grahamstown and the NAF faced this year, working very closely with a very responsive city government to get things done I think it is a discussion we are going to have more and more with the festivals, and all stake holders especially city government stake holders because they are going to become important in helping us as festival organisers and festival supporters that are responsible to the environment. Lots of ideas circulating but nothing that is clear at the moment. Starting to think about how we make sure that festival goers recycle? One of the really amazing things about Africa Burn, in the Karoo, is that whatever you come in with, you have to take out. It is one of the principles of the festival because it is conscious of its environment. And those are the kind of things we need to be thinking about, making sure that festival goers are aware of the impact that they have on towns and cities and make sure we conscientise people to resourcing issues.

Environmental sustainability is an element that is covered in our white paper.

Some of the private festivals are leaders in this field. Is there any interaction?

There is a lot of interaction between festivals all the time. We as government are not necessarily part of every conversation. But it is certainly true that we should be talking to each other more. Publically funded, privately funded, independent festivals, because government itself organises some of the festivals – Mapungubwe for example, Macufe in the OVS are run by the provincial departments. It is absolutely true that we need to be talking more and that is something that we should be doing more of in the future, both in terms of making sure that we are not duplicating efforts but where there are efficiencies and assistances that can be done – absolutely. We have got festivals like Free festival in Bloemfontein, the old Vry-fees that is starting to work very closely with institutions in Bloemfontein like Kaaps, Ricardo Peech really leading the charge there to bring people in Bloemfontein together under the ambit of this festival, so there are very exciting things happening in the festival space.

 

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