Five years ago, the Arterial Network, a pan-African arts network, was set up to address poor government policies, the marginalisation of artists and a lack of funding facing the African Cultural sector. Nancy Onyango reports on the advances it has already made.
At the founding conference of the Arterial Network in March 2007, delegates from 14 African countries identified the lack of information, poor government policies and institutional framework, weak civil society structures, the marginalisation of artists and the arts, an absence of funding and poor leadership as some of the key challenges confronting the African cultural sector. Rather than depend on their respective governments, it was agreed that arts practitioners, arts managers, and all those who were involved in and sought to make their living within the African creative sector, would take responsibility for themselves and their livelihood.
Thus was born Arterial Network, a civil society network owned, directed and managed by African creative practitioners, arts administrators and cultural entrepreneurs. With the support of our international partners and Spier, a South African company providing support to the continental secretariat in Cape Town (we also have regional secretariats in Mali and Kenya), we have been able to respond to many of the challenges identified at the founding conference.
Unlike the usual poster stereotype presentation of Africa by images of war, famine, poverty and disease, Africa is a continent endowed with rich resources, natural scenic beauty and a mix of vibrant cultures and ethnic groups. The United Nations Human Development Report uses life expectancy, literacy, employment and a decent standard of living to measure the quality of life in each country. The 2011 report reconfirms that the race towards the development finish line for Africa is still a mirage as no African country is listed in the ‘very high’ development category. The key challenges that prevail on the continent are characterised by high mortality rates and underdevelopment, poverty, conflict, lack of democracy and respect for human rights, illiteracy and the lack of skills and resources to sustain development.
It is in this context that the vision of the Arterial Network is based and through its activities around the continent it strives to develop a vibrant, dynamic and sustainable African creative civil society sector. This is one that is engaged in qualitative practice in the arts in a manner that contributes to development, human rights and democracy and the eradication of poverty on the African continent.
Five years after our launch as an informal network, we have grown to have 80 per cent coverage in the Africa continent with a total of 40 country chapters where we have successfully set up national and multidisplinary networks of artists and civil society members. The network has also catalysed the formation of other networks on the continent, such as the African festivals and events network (Afrifestnet) and African arts journalists network, which can now actively contribute to the marketing and distribution of creative goods in the African continent and beyond.
Arterial network advocates the strengthening of African creative industries which are currently faced by a myriad of challenges such as weak marketing and distribution structures for cultural goods and services within the continent and beyond, and infringement of intellectual property rights and copyrights. In addition, we have developed the capacity of artists and managers working in the creative sector through training and various toolkits on management, fundraising, advocacy and arts marketing. We have also represented African civil society positions in international forums such as the African Union, UNESCO and the World Arts Summit, which identified new talent by hosting continental competitions in playwriting and poetry to identify new talent and by mapping the state of freedom of creative expression across the continent.
In the next year we will be focusing on Art Watch Africa: the project will document, monitor and campaign around the practice and constraints on freedom of creative expression; it will promote cultural cooperation in the global south (south to south cooperation); it will conduct capacity-building programmes for artists, cultural leaders and journalists; and it will host an annual creative industries conference.
Nancy Onyango is Communications and Marketing Manager of Arterial Network.