A strong regional flavour is anticipated at the first ever South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) national conference, next week, driven by universities from across the Eastern Cape. The SACO is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on behalf of the Department of Arts Culture (DAC), and the conference will take place in Port Elizabeth from Monday, 16 to Tuesday, 17 May.
Significant contributions from NMMU and fellow Eastern Cape-based universities, Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare, will ensure academic influence is at the forefront of this new national institution, which is focused on mapping the impact of the South African creative and cultural industries. There is also strong participation expected from other South African universities.
This inaugural conference, which serves to introduce the creative and academic sectors to the Observatory, will be held at The Boardwalk International Convention Centre, and will set the agenda for this significant organisation.
CEO of SACO, Prof. Richard Haines of NMMU says his campus’ involvement, and that of their fellow Eastern Cape universities, is significant for a number of reasons. “First, the involvement shows the potential existing in the Eastern Cape and associates the name of Madiba with a wonderful project, that of helping establish a world-class and public research institution for the study of culture and the cultural economy. Culture is increasingly being seen as an indispensable aspect of sustainable economic development and human well-being,” he says.
Over the two days, arts and economics academics from each of the three universities, among many other distinguished speakers, will present papers and findings pertinent to the work SACO is undertaking. Delegates will investigate the growing global economic impact of the creative sector, how to measure and amplify its impact, and find the best methods to articulate African and international best practice.
“The SACO initiative allows the NMMU to strengthen linkages with the universities of Fort Hare and Rhodes, and organisations such as the Grahamstown Foundation, National Arts Festival and Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), thus extending our national footprint,” Prof Haines adds.
“Also, opportunities for interacting with national and international agencies and actors involved in the study of culture and the creative industries are expanded dramatically.”
“The SACO initiative, we hope, will have a substantial impact on the promotion of scholarship and capacity-building in regard to the arts, culture and heritage sectors and the creative industries,” he says.
Haines adds that there will be extensive outreach and engagement opportunities in regard to the organisations, firms and individuals working in the cultural economy.”
Professor of Economics at Rhodes University, Prof. Jen Snowball, and lead research at the SACO, who will be presenting a number of times over the conference, says university involvement in an undertaking such as the SACO is both symbolic and deeply practical.
“Universities are public institutions that are partially funded by government. As such, it is appropriate that the theoretical knowledge and research expertise that universities have should be used to address questions that are important for the country,” she says. “The SACO offers the opportunity for us to work much more closely with DAC and people in the cultural economy to jointly increase our understanding of the sector and identify opportunities for further developing it.”
Under the banner ‘Counting Culture’, the conference will highlight the growing economic influence of the creative sector – spanning visual and performing arts, heritage and museums, festivals, architecture, advertising, design, music and digital media – which is increasingly globally recognised for its socio-economic contribution.
Prof. Diane Tharpe, the Director of the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University says this focus will allow a spotlight to be shone on the hard work done on campuses across the country.
“Universities and academics offer information gathered through their research and community engagement projects, and in ILAM’s case, we offer information on our groundbreaking work in carrying out digital return of our historic recordings of African music to their communities of origin,” she says.
Tharpe adds that the SACO Conference will allow relevant parties to share the culture-based work they have been doing with their peers.
The Director of the Fort Hare Institute of Social and Economic Research in South Africa, Prof. Leslie Bank says partnerships between tertiary education institutions and institutes like SACO are mutually beneficial. “They offer access to a wide range of relevant research, community engagement opportunities and knowledge about the key aspects of the South African cultural space. Academics and students also bring creativity and bring new knowledge to the field,” he says. “The SACO should make every effort to engage academics and universities in delivering on its mandate.”
Snowball echoes Banks’ sentiments: “Partnerships like this offer researchers, including postgraduate students, the opportunity to engage with national-level data, policy-makers and industry professionals to build capacity in the sector, and to produce high quality, policy relevant research.”
Prof. Haines noted that universities undertake initiatives such as being the service provider for the South African Cultural Observatory as it increases their national and international exposure, opens up the institution to new ideas, approaches and linkages.
“Research institutes such as the SACO contributes to the core research function of the contemporary university. It also allows impressive opportunities to engage with national policy making processes,” he says.
Attendance to the conference is free, but delegates will be responsible for their own transportation, accommodation and catering.
To register for the conference online, go to www.saco2016.co.za or contact conference organizer, Salome Clack at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 082 907 0954.
Author: Gilly Hemphill
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