Archive | April, 2011

Arts and Culture policies: why I care

6 Apr

A few days ago, I started a quest for the ANC and the DA’s arts and culture policies. Honestly, I didn’t expect this to be difficult. In my naive little mind, I assumed political parties would have policies on, well, everything.

I would like to state two things here very clearly: I don’t know as much about politics as I would like to, or probably should; I absolutely understand that there are several things which are high priority in this country, such as education, health, safety.

So: why do I care about arts and culture policies? Last year I was privileged to give a talk at Culturelink‘s conference, entitled “The democratisation of Culture”.  Here’s part of what I said then:

“In South Africa our culture, like our politics, was strongly controlled for many years under the apartheid regime. When the dust settled after 1994, new attempts were made to control what culture was in our country and who would have access to it. The question of what culture is, and who owns it, is a critical one.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines culture as “integrated patterns of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that are both a result of and integral to the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Culture thus consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols”.

If all of this is culture, then who can it belong to apart from: everyone.”

I am not asking about how much money you think arts and culture should get, or who should get it, that’s another topic for another time. But it would make me feel better if I knew exactly how political parties are taking into consideration what I consider to be a vital part of what makes us human.

It disturbs me, therefore, that neither party has such a policy. The ANC pointed me to their manifesto, which refers to:

“• Increase access to information and the arts:
– Extend the distribution of community libraries, including
upgrading of existing libraries with new materials,
information and communication (ICT) infrastructure and
internet access.
– Extend provision and upgrading of community arts centres to
enable thousands of artists to practice and develop their skills
in the field of music, drama, craft and filmmaking.”

I applaud both of these ideas (applause is a particularly artsy concept, I know), but would like to see them interrogated further. In Cape Town alone there are several municipal cultural venues which are sitting empty, most of the time. The facilities are in several instances there, and what is lacking is the efficient management thereof.

And I am awaiting with interest a response from the DA regarding how they are referring to arts and culture in other policies.

It disturbs me that arts and culture are absent from our thinking, absent from our rhetoric. It disturbs me that they are seen as add-ons, or “good to haves”. I am not, by any means, urging politicians to leap in and try and “control” arts and culture once more.  I am merely searching for an understanding that as fully rounded beings, culture is as essential to our souls as water is to our bodies.

NOTE: I am fully aware that there are more parties than just the ANC and the DA, and I would be interested to see any and all arts and culture policies. I however went after the two biggest parties, as I felt it most likely they would have them.