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Influential Women Commend SACO Conference

Leading women in the arts and culture sector have praised the inaugural South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) national conference, held in Port Elizabeth on 16 and 17 May, for the diverse set of speakers and practical narratives shared at the event.

Over the two-day conference, focused on the theme ‘Counting Culture’, local and international speakers engaged delegates on a collection of creative, cultural and economic topics relating to the work SACO is currently undertaking, and which form part of a National Research Agenda.

The Observatory is a new national research institute, hosted by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on behalf of the Department of Arts and Culture, with partnership support from the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University. The inaugural conference saw role-players from across the county and beyond congregate to consider the SACO’s role.

The National Arts Council (NAC) CEO Rosemary Mangope says the Conference proved that the SACO is integral to the local arts and culture landscape. ‘The SACO is long overdue. There is a saying that goes “if you can measure it, you can preserve it”, the myth that arts and culture cannot be measured is exactly that… a myth!’ she said.

The fact is, the arts have both an intrinsic and instrumental value. The instrumental value lies in the contribution of the arts to broad social and economic goals such as economic growth, tolerance of diversity and academic performance. The existence of SACO can illustrate, beyond doubt, how arts, culture and heritage can contribute to socio-economic development.

Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) CEO, Michelle Constant echoed Mangope’s sentiments, adding that “research is crucial in forging deeper insight into the value of the creative economy”. Constant believes the SACO’s true value lies in its ability to allow the intrinsic and extrinsic values of the arts to be tracked.

The fact that the SACO is now an established organisation with a strong research framework pleased most in attendance. Avril Joffe, an academic at the Centre for Cultural Policy Management at the Wits School of Arts, who was involved in drafting the concept of the SACO under the Mzansi Golden Economy, says she is excited by the possibilities the organisation presents.

“I look forward to the successful contribution of the outputs and outcomes of the Observatory’s work to better policies, programmes and allocation of resources,” Joffe says.

Influential Women Commend SACO Conference
Monica Newton, DDG at the Department of Arts and Culture, speaking at the South African Cultural Observatory conference. Photograph by Michael Sheehan.

The conference emcee, local media personality and regional director of the Creative Industries Coalition, Buli G Ngomane, said the SACO offers ‘boundless opportunities’.

“I believe the SACO opens the door to broader understanding of the sector and will guide thought leaders in laying the foundation for the sector to prosper. The Observatory’s work is vital,” she says.

Ngomane added that the conference also allowed delegates to contribute valuable input. “The Research Agenda, which forms the basis from which the SACO operates received a boost of fresh input from delegates. The engagement will see this already exceptional document bend towards the needs of the sector.”

The conference, held during Africa Month, had a distinct Afro-positive slant, but it was the female contributors who showed the power of women in the sector.

Joffe and Constant both presented at the conference, and Mangope received praise for her insights while chairing a plenary session focused on the ‘Creative Culture and the Economy’. Other notable contributions from leading women in the sector came from the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) Deputy Director General, Monica Newton; the National University of Life and Environmental Studies in the Ukraine’s Dr Oksana Ryabchenko; Rhodes University Economics Professor and the SACO’s Chief Research Strategist, Prof. Jen Snowball; the CEO of Kunste Onbeperk, Rhode Snyman, and Denise Roodt, the Dean of AFDA Film School in Port Elizabeth, among others.

The first of many to come, the inaugural conference focused on mapping the impact of the South African creative and cultural industries, and offered delegates the chance to really engage with SACO’s objectives, while being afforded the chance to offer insights and critically debate issues surrounding art, culture and economics.

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