The value of art goes beyond the price tag

Jen Snowball’s talk was a fitting kick-off for Think!Fest as it offered insight into the broader impact of arts, culture and creativity on the South African economy.

During the National Arts Festival, hundreds of people are employed in various festival related jobs. Several people get a platform to perform and sell their arts while others travel across the country and the world to pay for and celebrate art. Altogether, these activities have a great influence on  Grahamstown and Eastern Cape.


“How do you express social values, intrinsic values, what the cultural sector like this arts festival produces, in a way that makes sense to funders, policy makers, [and communities who host these kinds of festivals?” Snowball asks. Many people don’t like the idea of putting a price on culture and creativity because while it produces money, most of its value is social and spiritual.

The South African Cultural Observatory is an independent research centre funded by the Department of Arts and Culture which produces research related to the Cultural and Creative industry (CCI). Its particular focus is on understanding the value of this industry economically and socially, which could be considerably more important than the money coming in.

Snowball notes that in general, the Cultural and Creative Industry grows faster than the rest of the economy. This industry includes a wide range of areas, from visual arts and crafts, to cultural heritages such as museums, books and press, design, performance, celebrations such as festivals, audio and interactive media such as music, television and the Internet. These categories can stretch to include things such as video games, advertising and publishing. While there have been debates about what should or should not be included in the CCI definition,  different countries decide depending on what makes sense for them.

Snowball and the Cultural Observatory’s research looks into factors such as regional concentrations of cultural industries, types of CCI firms within different regions, and ownership and employment statistics within these. This gives compelling insight into the nature of the CCI and the smaller sectors within it. Factors such as race, gender, age of ownership and structure of labour force and employment tell researchers about the level of transformation within the industry.

Snowball takes the audience through her latest research, explaining that mapping studies are useful to create visibility for the sector and measure the impacts of events such as the festival and state their worth when applying for funding and lobbying for support. The studies also allow for the progress of the industry to be tracked over time. Mapping studies show how the creative and cultural sector compares in terms of growth and development to the rest of the economy, and can help to identify areas where growth is happening. This kind of research also enables relevant policies to be developed for the existing industry.

“The more that you know about the sector, the more helpful it can be for people who are actually in the industry to benchmark themselves against what else is going on,” she says.

Placing social and economic value on art is incredibly useful, as it acknowledges art as meaningful to society and the economy, and provides support and platforms that are much needed. The research also gives people realistic expectations of what it is like to work within a sector, allowing it to develop and transform in directions useful to a region or the country. It also highlights the striking need for some economic and business knowledge for individuals and firms starting up in the Arts and Culture industry.

To keep in touch with Snowball’s research and find out more about the South African Cultural Observatory, see the website here. The Cultural Observatory are also available via Facebook and Twitter.

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