We are delivering on arts and culture

Roger Jardine: RIGHT TO REPLY

Charl Blignaut accuses the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology of not delivering (Friday, February 27 to March 5). This is based on what he sees as the inability of the department to transform the performing arts councils.

This transformation process is, in fact, progressing according to schedule. A three- year expenditure plan was instituted in the 1997/98 financial year, in which state subsidies to the councils gradually decline. In 1994 the councils accounted for 67,65% of the arts and culture budget. In the 1998/99 budget, they will receive 31,95%. By 2000, the government will subsidise only the core infrastructure, staff and essential activities of the councils. The money cut from these institutions has largely been used to set up the National Arts Council.

As Blignaut correctly states, the board of Pact will be reconstituted, in line with the White Paper. The board will no longer be made up of provincial representatives, but of experts in the relevant fields. It will be appointed by the minister and the MEC for arts and culture.

Since its establishment, the department has managed to transform the way in which the government views, supports and develops arts and culture. Before, the state was merely a conduit for public money to be passed on to the performing arts councils. It funded ballet, opera, musical theatre and orchestras.

Three years later, a far wider variety of arts organisations, projects and artists have received financial support for the first time: R129-million’s worth of funding requests were received; 600 new film projects were presented for funding. These figures are expected to increase as the existence of new, accessible cultural institutions motivate more South Africans to express themselves creatively and to create employment for themselves.

Blignaut accuses the department of being inefficient in implementing our policies, and limits our achievements to the establishment of the National Arts Council and Business Arts South Africa. But he misses the point that whereas provinces and arm’s-length bodies are the primary agents of delivery, the department’s development of policy and legislative frameworks is in itself delivery.

Blignaut misses many other examples of material implementation. Since 1994, for example, the department has funded 536 arts organisations and projects; 143 artists have been assisted to travel and perform overseas.

Drama and poetry workshops have been held in prisons; an educational play on how to access reconstruction and development funds has been touring impoverished and inaccessible areas; visual artists have been able to hold public exhibitions; authors and playwrights have been funded; and the department has concluded several foreign agreements, and more are in the pipeline. This year we plan to spend approximately R50-million on the building of 43 community arts centres to act as catalysts for development.

The department has also ensured that culture and cultural development are included in the national tourism strategy. The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labour now include culture in their industrial and employment strategies.

Blignaut writes that the department is using its arm’s-length policy to distance itself from Pact. Interestingly, Robert Greig, arts editor of The Sunday Independent, accused us of hanging on to power by interfering in the affairs of Pact.

The arm’s-length relationship pertains to artists’ right to create free of state intervention. This does not, however, absolve the government from its mandate to formulate national policy and address the legacy of underdevelopment.

This record is far from Blignaut’s assertion that I suggested the department was failing in delivery. On the contrary, I was upbeat about our performance, notwithstanding the many challenges that we confront. We will strive to improve our performance.

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