Young, free and creative in South Africa

Professor Richard Haines, CEO at South African Cultural Observatory, tells IAM why his organisation is focussing on youth

Young people will shape the cultural and creative economy of the future. While they have always been at the forefront of the culture and content of cool, now more than ever it is important to consider the value, power and role of the youth in building and sustaining this economy.

With Youth Month bringing the importance of young people into sharp focus, it’s important to consider their impact on the arts, culture and heritage sectors and the creative and cultural industries as the opportunities and threats of the fourth industrial revolution make themselves manifest.

Our 2017 National Conference (24-25 May) really worked hard to incorporate youth perspectives. To this end, we collaborated with the Market Theatre Foundation to create a seamless conference ‘precinct experience’ in Newtown that favoured the students at the Market Theatre Laboratory, the Market Photo Workshop, and other creative youth.

Four young, Black women photographers were hired to capture the conference proceedings, adding to their portfolios and client experience. Two groups of 25 theatre performance students surprised conference goers with a cameo performance, while other students worked with the SACO Conference team to manage the conference over the two days, gaining invaluable insight into how to run an event.

The youth flavour extended past this collaboration to include the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company, which performed at the conference. Bokani Dyer with his trio and guests – including Zoe Modiga – played at the conference evening cocktail function at the Market Theatre.

The cocktail function on the evening of 24 May kept with the youth theme, as guests moved from jazz to theatre with a choice of either Can Themba’s The Suit, directed by James Ngcobo, or Wits School of Art’s performance of Kgafela oa Magogodi’s satirical play Chilahaebolae.

In addition we had a really strong youth-focused programme with a whole session dedicated to ‘Youth and Development for the Creative Economy’, which featured some promising young researchers and practitioners, including Dr Beth Vale from the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra), Tobile Chitteden from Room 13, Calvin Bosilong from Ideas Expo Botswana and Mary Duker from Nelson Mandela University.

Through this conference we achieved much of what we set out to do, in terms of gaining a broad idea of the current trends shaping the development of the creative economy here and further afield. We also stimulated debate while profiling the potential of the creative industry as a powerful economic driver, incorporating the youth angle. This is something we will endeavour to do throughout the next year as we run a nationwide roadshow of domain workshops and gear up for the 2018 National Conference.

This article first appeared on the South African Cultural Observatory website.