Youth enriched and engaged at SACO Conference
Younger delegates at the inaugural South African Cultural Observatory conference have commended the new institution for the constructive content provided in Port Elizabeth on 17 and 18 May, and for the employment opportunities initiatives like SACO offer.
The two-day conference which centred on the theme ‘Counting Culture’, saw local and international speakers engage delegates on a confluence of creative, cultural and economic themes. These topics, which are directly in line with the work SACO is undertaking, form part of the National Research Agenda.
The Observatory is a new national research institute, hosted by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on behalf of the Department of Arts and Culture, with partnership support from the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University.
Youth-related issues were among the central conference topics and the conference provided a platform for younger delegates to present their research in the creative and cultural industries.
Art Critic for the Johannesburg Times, 26-year-old Gabriel Crouse, presented the paper, ‘Portraying South Africa’ during a parallel discussion titled ‘Fine Arts: Markets and Social Values’. Crouse, who described the conference as “top shelf” says he gained new contacts and fresh ideas over the two days.
Crouse says the Eastern Cape focus was also a draw; “The conference was held in one of the most contested political regions of the country soon before an important election. I come from Joburg, a place that so often seems to be the Capital in every way. It is not. The location of the conference and the emphasis on locality in a variety of talks and especially in the Q&A sections were humbling.”
Zambian presenter, Bruce Ernest, both the Chairperson of the Zambia Creative Expo and the Managing Director of We Create Ltd, is cited as a highlight of the conference by many of his young peers.
Both Isaac Bongani Mahlangu, a research associate at the Wits Art Museum, and Madeleine Lambert, M&E and Research Officer at Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) praised Ernest’s presentation titled ‘Creative Africa – current and future options’.
While Mahlangu commended Ernest’s presentation for both its energy and insights into the creative sector’s impact on social and economic dynamics, Lambert says the work Ernest presented highlights an impressive calibre of inventive work being done throughout Africa.
“I find the creative work being done on the continent to be incredibly inspiring and tenacious, where people are really taking initiative and not waiting for funding or external support to get their ideas off the ground,” says Lambert. “It’s not to say we aren’t doing this kind of thing in South Africa, but I don’t think it’s happening enough and there is room for mutual learning across the continent.”
Ernest believes future SACO conferences will offer more of this border-crossing knowledge exchange. “Since this was an inaugural event, a notable outcome is the fact that future events look forward to a more Africa-wide interaction and a multidimensional view of culture and creativity,” he says.
Ernest believes a fair chunk of responsibility lies on the youth to ensure these avenues of sharing are kept open. “Culture and creativity belongs to all and the youth are supposed to be in the centre of action because they are the torch bearers of culture and creativity. I believe that the future belongs to all, but it mostly belongs to the youth who will carry the promising message ahead.”
According to Crouse, events like the SACO conference ensure this kind of torch bearing is possible. “Know-how is acquired, mostly, by activity, especially team-work. To participate in SACO is to learn with and from some of the country’s most lucid deliberators. That is a privilege for any young person who attends, and enjoying that privilege means developing and sharing that know-how in time to come.”
Lambert echoed this, adding the research opportunities SACO presents would further cement youth involvement in the sector for years to come.
“I’m a strong advocate for lifelong learning and for collaboration, which is why I think SACO is such an important initiative and resource for the sector, and particularly for youth,” she says. “I also believe that research is an aspect of the sector needing notable development and that it can help us understand the strengths and impact of the sector, our audiences and markets, where and how to improve, and learn from one another.”
The SACO CEO, Prof. Richard Haines says this is a central tenet of the SACO. “The SACO is involved with building capability in the sector, by creating opportunities in the arts, culture and heritage sectors,” he says.
Haines also says the SACO is strongly encouraging the participation of students, particularly post-graduate students, to involve arts, culture, statistical and economics-based research in their future work.”
The SACO’s recently launched scholarship programme, and their internship opportunities, further demonstrate the Observatory’s investment in the youth. “SACO is already employing emerging researchers, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, and we are offering scholarships, and opportunities for young people to work while they study,” Haines explains.
And he says at future SACO conferences even more emphasis will be placed on youth-involvement.