The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development.
They were turbulent years for South Africa's National Arts Council (NAC). Scarcely ten years after it was established in 1997, the art fund was completely disbanded. The reason: mismanagement and allegations of corruption. Millions of rand have reportedly disappeared. The NAC got off to a new start in August 2006.
For years before then, artists were organising sit-ins to demand more transparency in the allocation of subsidies. Furthermore, a number of provincial bodies had not yet established a de-centralised art fund in 2006, the art world complained. These art funds were assigned responsibility for distributing local NAC subsidies. Artists and cultural institutions, especially in more rural areas, received no government funding.
In turn, the Ministry of Art and Culture, to which the NAC belongs and makes recommendations, was referred to in the media as the 'party department' and 'the government's entertainment branch'. There seemed to be nothing more to do than organising parties and commemorative events. Critics said that the formulation and implementation of policy were being ignored.
But those dark days are a thing of the past now that the NAC has cleaned itself up. It is now working to repair its image and generate positive publicity. Thus the fact that the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) South Africa was recently appointed to organise the fourth World Summit on Arts and Culture suits the NAC's objective. This event will be held in Johannesburg in September 2009.
South Africa's cultural policy was formulated in 1996, albeit that a new three-year strategic plan was recently compiled. That plan once again states the three central points of policy: supporting art is to enhance social cohesion and economic empowerment. The right of free expression must also be safeguarded for all parts of the population. Renewed attention is devoted to cultural heritage. In 2006, South Africa initiated the establishment of the African World Heritage Fund, with a start capital of ten million dollars, with the objective of shortening the continent’s long list of threatened heritage. The Fund’s first projects will be launched in 2008.