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January 27 2017

10 Years of Arterial Network | Back to the Beginning

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With the 10 Year Anniversary of Arterial Network coming up in March 2017, we’re casting our minds back to where the network comes from and preparing for a revitalised year ahead. Over the years, Arterial Network has been moulded to respond to the needs of the arts and cultural sector. This ability to adapt to changing needs has defined Arterial Network’s history and will no doubt continue to shape its future.

Where it all began: Gorée Island, March 2007
Arterial Network was established at a conference on Gorée Island, Senegal in March 2007. The theme of the conference was Vitalising African Cultural Assets and the assembly comprised 48 delegates from 14 African countries along with an additional 13 delegates from mainly European countries. The South African writer, poet and painter Breyten Breytenbach delivered an inspiring keynote address that urged those present to imagine an Africa beyond the television images of poverty, brutality, war, corruption, disease and the like.

The Conference took place against the backdrop of the adoption of UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005). The challenge was to position African artists, creative practice and cultural industries so that they could benefit from the recommendations of the Convention and assert their place on the global stage and in the global creative economy.  

Through sharing their expertise and experiences, the conference delegates were able to identify the following items as the strengths and weaknesses of the African creative sector:

- uniquely African content of the cultural forms produced in the various disciplines across the continent
- African culture is still an integral part of daily life in most countries across the continent
- many prominent role models produce world-class products that are eagerly consumed around the world
- many examples of best practice institutions in the different disciplines across the continent
- an existing cultural capital - people, skills, basic infrastructure and some distribution channels  - as a foundation to build on.

- limited government support, absence of cultural policy and supportive legislation
- low status of the arts and artists means that laws protecting artists’ rights are not prioritised
- poor lobbying and organising capacity
- a lack of reliable statistical information
- limited disposable income
- lack of locally-owned distribution channels
- poor marketing and business skills
- poor education and training - absence of art education
- limited resources to market African product and values/ideas into global markets
- perceived low value of local cultural consumer goods
- funding environment is not supportive
- environment does not enable the flourishing of the arts - logistical and infrastructural challenges, language and the cost of travel to name a few
- limited critical discourse on arts and culture in the public and media due to a lack of trained critical arts journalists

With these challenges in mind, the specific aims of the conference were:
1. To reflect on the current situation of the cultural sector in Africa,
2. To investigate possible new strategies for networking, coordination, capacity-building and funding modalities to do this; and
3. To overcome the obstacles that hitherto had hindered the establishment of sustainable initiatives in the cultural sector on the continent.

A Task Team was elected to take forward the recommendations from the conference. This Task Team met in August 2007 to plan for the next three years. It was agreed at that meeting that the Arterial Network would meet every two years to assess progress made and to set an agenda for the next few years for the civil society network of artists, NGOs and institutions engaged in the African creative sector. It was further agreed that the next meeting would take place in September 2009, just before the World Summit on Arts and Culture to be hosted by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) in Johannesburg.

The Next Step: Johannesburg, September 2009
Following the Gorée conference, the research team conducted research on the situation of the Creative Economy in Africa. Contact was also developed with various partners, including Hivos, Stichting DOEN, Africalia, Danish Center for Culture and Development, Art Moves Africa, OCPA, Goethe-Institute and many others. In accordance with the March 2007 decision, the first conference of Arterial Network was held in September 2009 at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg.

The four key aims of the Arterial Network Conference in September 2009 were to:
1. Bring together delegates from at least 25 African countries to discuss issues pertinent to them, to prepare for the World Summit and to consolidate the continental network and global partnerships,
2. Project African thought, perspectives, artists and thinkers onto the global stage provided by the World Summit on Arts and Culture,
3. Set a clear agenda for the Arterial Network’s activities for the next three to five years; and
4. Elect a continental Steering Committee to guide the organisation’s activities and growth.

The members of the first Steering Committee (representing the five regions of Africa) consisted of the following Arterial Network members:

North Africa: Salma Said (Egypt) and Khadija el Bennaoui (Morocco)

East Africa: Joy Mboya (Kenya) and Sarah Nsigaye (Uganda)

West Africa: Tade Adekunle (Nigeria) and Diarra Lassana (Igo) (Mali)

Central Africa: Patrick Mudekereza (DRC) and Telesphore Mba Bizo (Cameroon)

Southern Africa: Mulenga Kapwepwe (Zambia) and Filimone Meigos (Mozambique)

Mulenga Kapwepwe (Zambia) was named the first Arterial Network Chairperson in 2009, in an atmosphere of great promise and excitement for what was to come. To read more about her impressions of the network’s inception, click here.

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