The Arterial Network started as a dynamic, continent-wide network of non-government organisations, creative industry companies, festivals and individual artists engaged in the African creative sector at a conference – Revitalising Africa’s Cultural Assets - on Goiree Island, March 2007. 

At its second biennial meeting in Johannesburg, September 2009 attended by 132 delegates from 28 African countries, a decision was taken to build a more formal network which led to the adoption of a constitutional framework, the election of a ten-person Steering Committee (two per African region), the appointment or election of 28 country representatives and the adoption of strategic priorities for the next 3-5 years.  

Arterial Network is administered by a Secretariat based in Cape Town, with regional secretariats (East, West, Central and North) in the pipeline.


The African Context

Africa is much more than the usual images of war, famine, poverty and disease.  It is also a continent of natural beauty, rich in resources, warm and generous people and vibrant cultural life.  It is not one homogenous whole; rather conditions vary considerably between regions and countries as well as within countries. 

However, there are various international indicators that reflect the context in which arts practitioners live and work on the continent, conditions which present challenges but also serve to shape their practice.

The United Nations Human Development Index that measures life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living in 182 countries list 38 countries in the Very High Human Development category, with no African country featured in this category.

Libya is the only African country in the list of 44 countries ranked in the High Human Development category, featuring at 55. It is possible to live to an average of 77 in Libya, but there is no democracy and the country has a poor human rights record.

Of the 50 countries ranked at the bottom of the Human Development Index, 39 are on the African continent, and this excludes Zimbabwe and Somalia for lack of data i.e. more than three-quarters of African countries reflect among the lowest in terms of life expectancy, literacy, income and general quality of life in the world.  Even South Africa, with the largest economy, among the highest economic growth rates on the continent and 4 free elections in 15 years, is ranked at only 129 out of 182 countries, reflecting the challenges that countries with significantly smaller economies face.

A third of African countries have average life expectancies of 50 or below. 

Less than 15 countries are considered to be electoral democracies, with 27 (half the continent’s countries) deemed to be pseudo-democracies (democracies on paper but where authoritarian governments do not allow change through elections) and nearly a fifth are dictatorships i.e. with no elections or one-party elections.  This has implications for the practice of and respect for human rights in Africa.

Currently, there are armed conflicts in at least seven African countries so that huge amounts of resources are expended on or lost through conflict rather than invested in development.  Numerous conflicts assume a cultural character whether Muslim-Christian conflicts in Nigeria, ethnic conflicts that form the basis of electoral or political conflicts e.g. Kenya, or xenophobia e.g. South Africa.

A third of African countries will celebrate 50 years of independence (and concomitant development) in 2010.  Yet the Millennium Development Goals resonate most with the African experience: Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education; Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women; Goal 4: Reduce child mortality; Goal 5: Improve maternal health; Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability; Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development.

Key challenges on the continent are poverty (most people live on less than $2 US per day), the lack of democracy and respect for human rights and the absence of the requisite skills, literacy and education to drive and sustain multi-sector development . 

At the same time, the continent is subject to competing geo-political forces (USA, EU, China, Brazil and India) that see Africa’s natural resources as key to their future economic growth and sustainability.  This competition and global interests pose further challenges to the kind of development that will take place in Africa and the growth – or not - of democracy and human rights on the continent.


It is in this context that the vision of Arterial Network is of a vibrant, dynamic and sustainable African creative civil society sector engaged in qualitative practice in the arts in their own right, as well as in a manner that contributes to development, to the eradication of poverty, to human rights and to democracy on the African continent.

Development and Culture 

International support to the African continent is shaped by the discourse of development (for which there are numerous definitions or emphases). 

Some agencies and multilateral institutions frame their support to the continent in terms of “the cultural dimension of development.”

Our vision is rooted in our context and we pursue our vision in the framework of the cultural dimension of development which we understand as follows:

1. First, we define development as “the ongoing generation and application of resources (financial, human, infrastructural, etc) to create and sustain the optimal conditions (social, political, economic, etc) in which human beings enjoy the full range of rights and freedoms espoused in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

2. Our view of “the cultural dimension of development” is as follows:

2.1. Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone shall have the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community (and) to enjoy the arts….”.  We believe that development, in creating the optimal conditions for the full expression of human rights and freedoms, must by necessity create the conditions for this right to be enjoyed simultaneously along with other rights and freedoms.

2.2 Development, human rights and democracy present challenges and ruptures to the worldviews, beliefs, values and traditional practices of many communities.  In this way, the culture of a community – in its broad anthropological sense –can inhibit or facilitate development (as defined above).  A Millennium Development Goal such as promoting gender equality may challenge a traditional cultural practice.  Another goal such as reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS may be thwarted by polygamous cultural practices or the influence of religion on the use of condoms.  Culture and development are thus integrally linked as development strategies, human rights and democracy are themselves premised on particular values, worldviews and beliefs.

2.3 The cultural dimension of development is not only relevant to the supposed beneficiaries of development, but also to those in the global north or in well-resourced economies who drive the development agenda often in terms of their strategic economic and/or security interests.  The values, beliefs, ideological assumptions and worldviews of these development drivers also need to be interrogated with regard to their influence on, and shaping of, development practices and strategies in the global south.

2.4 The arts are important means in development as carriers, interpreters and celebrants of the values, beliefs and worldviews and practices that construct individual and community identity i.e. they are integral to the cultural life of a community.

There are three broad categories of artistic practice each relevant to development as defined above:

2.4.1 the arts as having value in their own right: for personal catharsis, enjoyment, stimulation, affirmation of identity, etc i.e. the arts for personal development

2.4.2 the arts instrumentalised for a socially-good end e.g. to promote intercultural dialogue, to educate communities about good health practices, to raise awareness of climate change i.e. art for social development and

2.4.3 the arts as economic drivers e.g. creative industries to create employment, generate income, reduce poverty, etc i.e. art for economic development

We believe that these are all equally valid categories of artistic practice within a developmental framework and that they necessarily co-exist (often – and in our view, unnecessarily - in tension with each other as emphasis is placed on one or the other depending on the prevailing social, political or economic conditions).



In the context of the conditions on the African continent, our vision and our understanding of development and the cultural dimension of development, our aims are as follows:

1. To build and/or further develop effective, sustainable national, regional and continental networks within and across arts disciplines to play advocacy and lobbying roles within countries, regions, on the continent and internationally as appropriate, and in support of the African creative sector

2. To collect and distribute relevant information, data and documents to empower civil society arts and culture organisations in African countries and regions to plan and take informed action in their interests.

3. To provoke debate, discussions and theorising around arts, culture, creative industries and contemporary arts and culture discourses and to develop African positions and leadership on such issues.

4. To help to build national, regional, continental and international circuits (festivals, outlets, etc) to distribute African cultural goods and services and enable African artists to tour their works and to generate income through their creative output

5. To facilitate the training and development of human resources required to practice, distribute and market the arts and creative goods and services of the African continent.

6. To mobilise local, regional, continental and international resources in support of the development, promotion and distribution of African creative goods and services.

7. To improve the working and living conditions, and defend the rights of artists and creative practitioners on the African continent.

Statement of Principles

Arterial Network is committed to the following fundamental principles which members are required to abide by and practice:

1. a commitment to participatory democracy including free and fair elections of leadership and accountability to membership

2. a commitment to human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially the right to freedom of creative expression

3. a commitment to transparency in decision-making, the allocation of  tenders and paid work, the communication of decisions in all financial matters with the concomitant need to declare conflicts of interest, real and potential

4. a commitment to partnerships, to working collaboratively with existing organisations and institutions and to sharing resources and knowledge, rather than working in competition and consuming resources through duplication

5. anti-discrimination on the basis of gender, language, culture, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religious belief, health, age and disability

6. respect for cultural diversity and cultural co-existence but recognising the need to challenge cultural practices that conflict with fundamental human rights

7. recognising and affirming different forms of knowledge, including traditional and indigenous knowledge

8. respect for the varying conditions in which artists and markets operate on the continent and the need to respond to this range of conditions

9. continuous pursuit of international best practice and improvement of the quality of products, goods, services and organisational practices while rooted in African experience

10. a commitment to addressing the challenge of HIV/AIDS within Africa’s creative sector

11. a commitment to working in the best interests of Arterial Network as a whole and the pursuit of its vision and strategic objectives rather than individual or factionary interests


Arterial Network’s vision in practical terms

Practically, the pursuit and realisation of the vision of Arterial Network would be reflected in the following ways:

1. Festivals: at least one major annual or biannual festival/event in each discipline (music, theatre, dance, film, literature, visual arts, etc) celebrating that discipline across the whole continent.  In the medium term, to have at least one such festival/event per African region and ultimately, to have a national arts festival in each country.   These festivals would form a network of festivals across the continent to promote and encourage the arts and the creation of regional and international markets.

2. At least two cities per African region being earmarked as “creative cities” or cultural capitals within their regions, forming a circuit of at least ten cities across the continent with the requisite infrastructure, human capacity, resources, marketing expertise, political space, etc to host major festivals and events and tours by regional, continental and international artists.  Ultimately, to have at least one city per country highlighted as the “cultural capital” in which to invest cultural resources.

3. At least one sustainable, national, multidisciplinary network of artists, NGOs and civil society players in the creative sector in each of the 53 countries to represent the interests of the creative sector in that country and to link into a continental network of national networks.   Ultimately, each discipline would have its own national, regional and continental networks linked into the national and continental Arterial Networks.  Initially one country network is to link to one similar network in the global north e.g. Netherlands linked to Mozambique, Italy linked to Ethiopia, etc for a fixed time period (e.g. 5 years) to build the financial, human and infrastructural capacity to ensure the long term sustainability of the African network, but also to create structural north-south co-operation, and access to each other’s markets as per the UNESCO convention on cultural diversity.

4. One continental secretariat and at least five regional secretariats (one per region) to help develop and sustain national networks and activities in each region.  Ultimately, to have a secretariat in each country running the affairs of the national creative civil society network.

5. At least one website providing detailed directory-type information about the arts in every African country.

6. At least one website providing detailed information about the leading artists in every discipline in every African country.  Ultimately, at least 5 000 artists across all the art disciplines living on the continent and active regionally and globally with works of relatively high quality.

7. A generic cultural policy based on existing international, African and national cultural policies that could be adapted to the specifics of each country, and cultural indicators to monitor cultural development in each country.  Ultimately, for each country to have a cultural policy.                                                                                                                        

8. At least one training institution per region providing excellent education and training in

8.1 the various arts disciplines (music, theatre, film, dance, literature, visual arts)

8.2 arts education i.e. people who can train others and

8.3 cultural entrepreneurship and arts management

i.e. to create and support regional hubs of excellence, ultimately leading to national hubs of excellence.

9. At least one continental research agency to undertake research into every aspect of the arts on the continent; in the medium term, to have one per region and ultimately, one per country. 

10. A transcontinental fund to support sustainable arts networks in each country with a capital fund of 58 million Euros to support – indefinitely – 40 national networks, 4 regional secretariats and a continental secretariat (5,8 million euros per year)

11. A transcontinental fund to support the production and distribution of African creative goods and services, with a capital fund of 75 million Euros (allocating 7,5 million Euros per year).

12. Catalysing other networks on the continent with whom civil society artists’ network could engage strategically in the future, including a network of public arts funding bodies, a Pan-African network of business sponsors of the arts, a network of international partners active in the African creative sector, etc.

13. A cadre of well-informed and confident leaders in every country who could represent the interests and views of their creative constituencies at national, regional and international levels.

14. A continent with a vibrant creative economy, breaking down historical colonial, language and geographical divides through regular tours, exhibitions, residencies, exchanges and collaborations by its artistic community.


Discussion Document, March 2010

This discussion document aims to outline and summarise Arterial Network’s vision, aims and goals in the context of the conditions in which it is active on the African continent.  It is being debated within Arterial Network’s continental and country leadership, with the intention of being a base document for internal and external use.

AuthorCato Litangen