Cultural Industries and Development in Africa
Conference sponsored by the Howard Gilman
Foundation, June 11-13, 1998, White Oak Plantation, Yulee, Florida
Katherine Salahi is Co-ordinator of the Bellagio Publishing Network.
The drive from Jacksonville, Florida to White
Oak Plantation on the Florida/Georgia border could easily be mistaken
for parts of Africa - all the panoramic landscapes and humid warmth.
And then you see black rhino and cheetahs and you know for certain
you were on the wrong flight. But we weren't.
White Oak Plantation is the source of the trees
that are used for the paper mills which made the late Howard Gilman
rich enough to realise his dreams of supporting the arts and animal
conservation. The plantation houses an incredible assortment of animals,
many of them rare species that come from, and are sometimes shipped
back to Africa. They are cared for by a dynamic young team of conservationists,
who mingle easily with the more bookish conference participants (`leave
your formal clothes at home') and no doubt with the other guests who
visit. Mikhail Baryshnikov, a personal friend of Mr Gilman, has his
own world-standard dance studio there `for when he visits'.
The conference, convened by the Gilman Foundation
with help from Dr Alberta Arthurs (MEM Associates), brought together
27 cultural professionals, academics, donors and government officials
from Africa, Europe and the USA for a weekend of discussions on cultural
industries and their role in development. The sessions began with
an overview, before moving on to perspectives from the field: visual
and performing arts (dance, theatre, music), communication and information
(radio, media, publishing, film and television), conservation (museums,
cultural heritage, tourism). Private and public sector responses followed.
Final sessions discussed adding cultural industries to the development
agenda, concluding with how to proceed from talk to action.
Alberta Arthurs opened with an upbeat comment
on changes in the perception of Africa in the US, helped by Bill Clinton's
visit to Africa, and the appointment of Jesse Jackson as White House
Special Advisor on Africa. Africa is now regarded as a world force,
a continent of economic opportunities. She urged us to be concrete
and practical, to explore `how to help cultural actors make a living'.
Stephen Stern (World Bank Partnerships Leader,
Culture and Development) talked about the World Bank's new interest
in culture and development and its new willingness to listen to indigenous
people. `Now they want to find out how to make the interest instrumental.'
`This is the first conference to talk about
using culture to create jobs and wealth', noted Carol Steinberg (Chief
Director of Arts and Culture, South African Department of Arts, Culture,
Science and Technology) approvingly. `It needs to be tackled with
integrity and concern for culture.' She urged African governments
`to mainstream cultural industries', with the caveat that empowerment
must be for the disadvantaged not the élites. This theme was
loudly echoed by Professor Kwabena Nketia (Emeritus Professor, International
Centre for African Music and Dance), Ester Ocloo (Founder, Aid to
Artisans Ghana) and Daniel Ndagala (Tanzanian Commissioner for Culture)
among others, as the sessions on different cultural enterprises developed.
Publishing was well represented by Chief Victor
Nwankwo (former Chair, APNET). Publishing can partner any or all of
the creative activities and as such should be counted as a strategic
North American academics skilfully turned the
wide-ranging discussions into structured summaries, at times `translating'
what the cultural practitioners said into the language of northern
consultants and experts - a cultural exercise that left some feathers
As Damien Pwono (Senior Program Advisor in Arts
and Humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation) pointed out early on
in the meeting, the many significant discussions on African cultural
industries since 1975 all reached the same conclusions: that political
and economic realities are the main constraints, internally and externally,
and yet individuals and institutions somehow keep going. Could there,
he suggested, be an annual conference of policy-makers, politicians
and professionals? Is there a way of restructuring the OAU Fund for
Culture? These were some of the many practical suggestions that we
heard and hope to see (or better still participate in) being implemented.
The conference opened doors to new possibilities.
The sight of the Danish-South African partnership in full flow at the
bowling alley won't be forgotten easily, nor will many of the useful
contacts and connections made in the extraordinary atmosphere of White
Oak. [BPN, No. 24, 1998. p. 5]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 24, 1998>>