Arterial Network is an African civil society network working across the continent in the creative sector. Our starting point is that whether we have cultural policies or not, whether our governments implement the cultural declarations, conventions and treaties that they sign or not, it is up to us - civil society practitioners and professionals - collectively to set a creative vision within our respective realities, and to collaborate with each other and with regional and international partners in pursuit of that vision.  We can no longer disempower ourselves by giving agency for our livelihoods to others. 

We believe that the ultimate beneficiaries of development are people, human beings who are not only physical entities, but who also have emotional, intellectual, spiritual, psychological and intellectual dimensions.

Accordingly, we understand development as the ongoing generation and application of human, financial and other resources to create and sustain the optimal social, political and economic conditions in which human beings enjoy the full gamut of human rights and freedoms articulated in the UDHR.

For us the cultural dimension of development is three-fold:

  1. development and culture – defined briefly as ‘a way of life’ - co-exist in a dialectical relationship, with each acting upon the other simultaneously, with the best development strategies premised on an understanding of and respect for the values, ideas, worldviews, belief systems, social forms of organisation and traditions – in short, the culture - of the beneficiaries of development
  2. everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts, not as a right to be enjoyed only after other rights have been afforded, but at the same time as all the other fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  3. the arts – music, dance, theatre, film, visual arts, literature, etc – are the creative means through which individuals and communities explore, challenge, celebrate and make meaning of their lives, and these both mirror and impact on their values, beliefs and social mores i.e. their culture

 Within development-speak, the arts have at least 3 different kinds of value:

  1. as means of enlightenment, catharsis and pleasure, they have value in their own right and contribute to personal development
  2. as instruments of social cohesion, education, intercultural dialogue and as vehicles for achieving some other “social good”, they have social value, contributing to social development and
  3. in the form of creative industries, they have economic value, creating jobs and generating resources to fund other aspects of development

It is counterproductive to set these roles up against each other, or to give one greater value than another, for in the context of development, they all have a right to co-exist on the continuum of subsidised to market-driven creative practices.  In the real world, many creative practitioners make their living from a combination of subsidised art for its own sake, as instruments for social good and commercial art.

With these basic premises, Arterial Network pursues many of the objectives outlined in the Brussels Declaration such as the following:

  1. with the support of the Commonwealth Foundation, developing cultural policies and strategies that integrate culture, the arts and development, in our case, based on the Nairobi Plan of Action on Cultural Industries adopted by the African Union ministers of culture in Algiers in 2008
  2. undertaking research into the creative economy, collecting and distributing data for advocacy and intervention purposes
  3. pursuing strategies to create sustainable regional and international markets for African creative goods and services
  4. building capacity and leadership through training programmes for cultural entrepreneurs, the use of information technology in the arts, arts journalism, the production of relevant toolkits, etc
  5. developing in-country networks of professionals, artists and activists to promote and protect their interests
  6. collecting and disseminating information through monthly newsletters, websites and news alerts

While we guard our independence and assert our right and need to set our own agenda, we recognise that we can achieve our goals only in partnership with others.  For this reason, we warmly welcome the informal alliance of EU agencies and a partnership with them as announced earlier, as it affirms our experience of close relationships with agencies such as HIVOS, Doen Foundation, Africalia, Mimeta Foundation, Interarts Foundation, the EU’s Investing in People programme, the Commonwealth Foundation, and our in-country relationships with EUNIC agencies like the Goethe Institute, British Council and French Institute.

In addition, our vision is to help catalyse other or help to build existing networks with whom we can engage strategically in pursuit of our objectives

  1. an African chapter of arts councils, public funding and policy agencies affiliated to IFACCA, the first meeting of which took place in Harare during the Harare International Festival of the Arts at the end of April
  2. a proposed African association of business sponsors of the arts as we look increasingly to generate resources from within Africa itself, and building local foundations such as Art Moves Africa, a key mobility fund to support the movement of artists on the continent in building regional markets
  3. a continental alliance of arts journalists to disseminate information and monitor cultural developments, also spurred in Harare last week with the support of Africalia
  4. a pan-African network of Festivals, with a planning meeting in July
  5. a network of African creative cities to facilitate tours and the distribution of African products, as mooted at a meeting in Accra two months ago and since local governments are more responsive to the arts than their national counterparts
  6. people-to-people, artists-to-artists partnerships between African civil society networks and their counterparts in the north and
  7. networks with colleagues in the south, including the Caribbean, Pacific region, Latin America, the Arab world and Asia to explore synergies and build strategic alliances

We recognise that we do these against the background of a colonial history where 17 African countries this year celebrate 50 years of independence, yet  and more than 35 countries occupy the lowest echelons of the HDI, testimony to the developmental challenges on the continent.  And we do this in the context of a new scramble for Africa’s resources with China, India, Brazil now major players along with the EU and the US.  These contexts require a multi-pronged approach to address the related challenges and realise the enormous possibilities.

We have heard that the EU will make available 50 million euros for investing in culture in ACP countries in the next few years, and while this is to be welcomed, it is sobering to note that this is less than what the world spends on arms in one day.  In South Africa, average expectancy has declined from 64 in 1994 at the time of the country’s first democratic elections to just more than 50, 16 years later.  Yet, in that time, we spent more than 5,4 billion euros on one arms deal.

For Arterial Network, it is not only about the role of culture in realising the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, goals that are symptomatic of a structurally inequitable world order on the one hand and in some African cases, of post-liberation mismanagement and the greed of elites on the other; rather, it is about cultivating a confident, creative, networked, skilled citizenry capable of constantly re-imagining and actively reshaping their worlds, as agents rather than as victims of history.  And we do this as per MDG 8: by building global and regional partnerships. 

We invite and look forward to working with many of you not only in improving the length and quality of life in Africa, but in creating a more just, more equitable world.

Mike van Graan

Secretary General: Arterial Network

May 2010


AuthorCato Litangen