Learning from other Arts Councils

I am continuing with the discussion on the establishment of an Arts Council in Botswana. What can Arts Councils around the world teach us? Nearby we have the National Arts Council of South Africa. They have a vision: “to promote through arts, the free and creative expression of South Africa’s cultures.”

They also have a mission statement: “To develop and promote excellence in the arts”. I think most people can accept that South Africa has a diverse and thriving artistic community. Just looking at their literary festivals, which are many and in all corners of the country nowadays, one can be envious.

The National Arts Council of South Africa was established by legislation, the National Arts Council Act 1997. In that Act it stipulates that the council will be under the minister. It will include a representative elected from each province as well as members from a shortlist compiled by the minister. The chairperson of the council is elected by the council and should not be one of the provincial representatives.

There is a hired chief executive officer to take care of the running of the council’s activities. If needed, the council can appoint various advisory panels from different sectors of the arts. The members of the council will remain on the council for a maximum of three years. They are not eligible for grants while on the council, and should not be members of any political party. 

The funding for the council comes from Parliament primarily. They also get funding from the payment for their services, donations and contributions, and interest in investments.  Their Arts Council gives out grants to artists and arts organisations. They cover tuition for people wanting to pursue an arts degree. They also can carry out research on the arts. They keep a database of artists and arts organisations.

 Some of their flagship projects f rom their website include:

l The South African Book Development Project- “The council has awarded funding for a series of titles to be published in marginalised indigenous languages, with the aim of building capacity amongst publishers and writers from previously marginalised groups to increase their sustainability in the mainstream sector, while also increasing the number of black authors earning royalties.” 

lVuyani Dance Theatre: “VDT has been awarded funding for a new dance production featuring 16 dancers designed to tour SA. The production will focus on positive stories, with the aim of inspiring the youth to appreciate their own cultures and traditions.” 

l The Eastern Cape Philharmonic

Orchestra: “The ECPO has been funded for its multi-stranded Music Investment Project focusing on previously disadvantaged learners, including the training of instrument repairers; the Violin Project, targeting primary school students; a bridging course for senior learners who wish to further their studies at tertiary institutions, and the Youth Orchestra and Youth Orchestral Experience, which prepares young musicians for professional performances. The project will focus entirely on previously disadvantaged youngsters, who will receive quality music tuition and opportunities to perform.”

It is easy to see from this list, The National Arts Council of South Africa is actively working to transform the arts and to include groups that previously were left out.  They have also produced reports on their research projects. Many of them evaluate the effect of funding on the projects the council has helped. They also have done research on community participation in the arts. 

From their website they appear to be transparent about who they fund, though it does not list for what exactly the individual or organisation is being funded for and the amount. I read criticism online about the council paying late and paying less than was asked for. A project’s budget is set for the success of the project. Half of the budget being funded is as good as no funding at all.

There was also criticism from a writer friend that the South African Arts Council did not even reply to her email; the ministry that oversees the council was much more helpful.   The situation in South Africa is different from Botswana. They had a thriving arts community before independence though the bulk of the country were excluded from funding and government support because of apartheid.

Now they have a lot of work to do to try to rectify that long institutional imbalance. In Botswana, that is less of a problem, though of course we still have marginalised groups that need to be focused on. Instead we are starting with a weak arts community that needs to be strengthened, improved, and professionalised. I do think we can learn something from South Africa regarding the make-up of the council and the work that it does. 


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