The shape of arts policy to come

The government will be publishing its White Paper on Arts and Culture in the new year. HAZEL FRIEDMAN finds out what’s in store for

IT doesn’t take soothsayer’s skills to predict the contents of the government’s White Paper on Arts and Culture, which will be released in the new year. Simply refer to the first draft proposal of the government-appointed Arts and Culture Task Group (Actag), released in May this year, and the second, published in August: apart from the blunting of some clauses and the sharpening of others, the spirit of the paper will remain the same — a total transformation of the ways in which arts and culture will be structured and

Despite its shortcomings, Actag will be remembered as the most representative policy- making body ever convened on the arts in this country. As such, it has succeeded admirably in serving as a conduit for the White Paper in articulating an accessible cultural democracy, the likes of which South Africa has never

Says Andries Oliphant, chairperson of the now- dissolved Actag, who is assisting the Ministry of Arts and Culture in co-ordinating and formulating its final policy: “The Actag report serves as an essential basis for the White Paper, but it needs to be translated into a manageable, co-ordinated system of integrated implementation, within the context of the country’s limited resources.”

Founded in the principles of openness, accountability and transparency, the White Paper will confirm the abolition of the old government’s performing arts councils (PACs) — all of which benefited unfairly from the previous government’s “white might” approach to culture, which saw a skewed centralisation of cultural resources within white sectors of society at the expense of the values, traditions and cultural expressions of the black majority.

But while the White Paper will hopefully not attempt to impose arbitrary racial and cultural distinctions between Western and African art, it will propose the establishment of structures geared towards addressing the needs of neglected and marginalised sectors. Chief among these will be the establishment of a National Arts Council to determine and administer arts funding; the creation of a statutory national film body which will regulate the industry; the allocation over the next five years of at least 50 percent of arts funding to the development of culture in historically disadvantaged communities; and the introduction of compulsory arts education up to Standard Eight.

Chapter and verse

The White Paper will deal with a policy and vision for South African culture, and the role of government in facilitating its development. It is divided into three chapters; the first section will deal with “arts and culture”: fine arts, crafts, theatre, dance and music; the second with heritage (museums, monuments, place names, heraldry); and the separate, third chapter with the specific needs of the capital-intensive film industry.

Building blocks

With input from hotly debated submissions from nine provincial task teams, the White Paper represents a composite of three funding models used by most of the Commonwealth countries which embarked on a radical transformation of their arts sponsorship policies after World War II:

l the patron model implemented in the United Kingdom, which adopts an essentially laissez- faire attitude towards the arts, with government supplying the funds without stringent structures of accountability;

l the facilitative approach taken by Canada, whereby a legal framework has been secured for the private sector to enter the realm of arts sponsorship through tax concessions, trusts and endorsements; and

l the architectural model implemented in social democracies such as The Netherlands, which have established integrated networks of support, with governments funding up to 90 percent of the arts, without the latter being exposed to the vagaries of the market as is often the case with the facilitative model.

As Oliphant points out, South Africa is in the privileged position of being able to take the best of these three models, without having to resort to the engineer model (used in the former Soviet Union) whereby the state owns and controls all the means of artistic expression.

“Of paramount importance is the principle of autonomy,” he explains, “but this also entails some form of responsibility on the part of government and the stakeholders.”

But, while the White Paper will strongly advocate government involvement in funding, this will be implemented and administered at arm’s length via the National Arts Council, whose members will be selected by a panel of independent judges chosen from public nominations. A shortlist will be prepared, public hearings arranged and the final selection rubber-stamped by the ministry. In other words, government will be required only to confirm the process without intervening directly in the appointments.

The nine provinces will be entitled to establish their own sub-committees and advisory boards to lobby for adequate slices of the funding pie.

No honey, no money

Cultural stakeholders will have to apply to the National Arts Council for financial support which will be awarded to them if they meet the following criteria: intrinsic artistic merit; financial and artistic need; cost-effectiveness; contribution to community artistic development, human resources development and training; educational value; and audience development. Each funding proposal will have to report on all of the above criteria.

Bones of contention

Key cultural figures are concerned that the White Paper’s arts policy will be prescribed in accordance with the principles of heritage and reconciliation. This, they suggest, could lead to the arts council ruling through a system of “censorship by consensus”. They also stress that arts funding should be done completely independently of the government of the day.

In addition, they believe that the criteria for arts funding are too rigid. Certain cultural stakeholders, they argue, might need funding for projects of intrinsic artistic merit, but which might not make any palpable contribution to audience development or human resources training, for example. Conversely, a potentially beneficial educational project might have little artistic merit.

They also argue that while the National Arts Council will be stringently structured at national level, at regional levels administration could become disconcertingly opaque, resulting in the possible exclusion of small community-based cultural groups from the national funding pie.

There are also fears that urban centres will continue to receive a larger share than their rural counterparts, as was the case with the 1994/95 budget which allocated a piffling

R2-million to the Northern Province and

R71-million to Gauteng.

The chief director of the Ministry of Arts and Culture, Themba WaKashe, insists the council will be broadly representative, reflecting a diversity of viewpoints. “We are also trying to avoid a situation where there will be a conflict of interest between council members whose personal agendas might take top priority over the interests of democracy,” he says. “But we will be dependent on the council make- up from public nominations. It is therefore not up to us to prescribe who should or should not be selected.”

The dissolution of the PACs means that formerly protected cultural institutions such as the State Theatre in Pretoria will no longer receive block grants from government for core funding and projects. From now on they will have to join the queues waiting for cultural hand-outs from a cash-strapped government.

This, together with the proposed allocation of at least 50 percent of arts funding to the development of culture in historically disadvantaged communities, has generated an outcry from certain quarters — among them the office of Deputy President FW de Klerk — – who fear that the high arts, like ballet, opera and classical music, will suffer as a result. But, in the light of the disparities inherited from the previous government, relegation of the PACs to a lower rung on the priority ladder through fund-slashing is one way of redressing the imbalances.

In addition to proposing fund-raising through tax incentives, lotteries and levies, the White Paper will probably seek radically to revise South Africa’s hopelessly outdated copyright legislation. But these moves could incur the wrath of the private-sector giants such as the publishing houses and record companies who are comfortable with existing laws affecting intellectual property; not to mention distributors who might be loathe to part with even a tiny percentage of their takings in order to finance the local film

No money, no honey

The White Paper on Arts will probably request at least one percent of the national Budget to be allocated to arts and culture, simultaneously suggesting that the government either increase its subsidy or provide incentives for private-sector sponsorship. But this is dependent on the Budget allocations, and to date the prognosis from government quarters is not encouraging. The previous government regarded the arts budget as an appendage of education. Currently it stands at a mere 0,01 percent of the entire Budget. Even if this amount were doubled, it would be miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

Says Oliphant: “We are not asking for a lot. At the same time we don’t want to be paralysed through lack of funding. In the past, we’ve had to get by on minimal means and we are determined to refine, restructure and reconstitute local culture with or without the

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