KPY Keynote 2017 - Mike van Graan (21st February 2017) - Ebbs and Flows of Arts and Culture Policy: the South African Experience

21 Feb, 2017

The South African government tabled a draft White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage in 2016 as a new policy statement twenty years after the adoption of the first post-apartheid cultural policy document in 1996. Then, the challenge was to affirm the right of all South Africans - rather than only white South Africans - to “participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts”. The current draft policy document seeks to respond to the key contemporary challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, legacies of the apartheid past but exacerbated over the last twenty-two years.

This presentation will seek to interrogate the changes in the policies, the reasons for these, the processes by which policies have come about and the key challenges to and possibilities of implementation. It will also seek to evaluate the latest policy draft against key international cultural policy documents and discourses.

Mike van Graan is currently a Richard von Weizsaecker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, and is an Associate Professor of Drama at the University of Cape Town.

He served in leadership positions in a variety of anti-apartheid cultural organisations including Director of the Community Arts Project, Projects Officer for the Congress of South African Writers and General Secretary of the National Arts Coalition.

After the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, he was appointed as a Special Adviser to the first minister responsible for arts and culture where he played an influential role in shaping post-apartheid cultural policies. In 2011, he was appointed by UNESCO as a Technical Expert to assist governments in the global south to develop cultural policies aligned to the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Until early 2016, he served as the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town whose two-fold mission was to help develop leadership for the African creative sector and to build regional markets for African artists and their creative works. He also served as the founding Secretary General of Arterial Network, a pan-African network of artists, cultural activists, creative enterprises and others engaged in the African creative sector and its contribution to human rights, democracy and development on the African continent.

He was appointed as Artscape’s Associate Playwright from 2011-2014 and is considered as one of South Africa’s leading contemporary playwrights, having garnered numerous nominations and awards for his plays that interrogate the post-apartheid South African condition. He received the Standing Ovation award at South Africa’s 2012 National Arts Festival for his sustained contribution to the Festival as a writer and activist, and in 2013 was appointed as the inaugural Festival Playwright where four of his plays were showcased. To date, he has written 27 plays, with his later - When Swallows Cry (a commission from a Norwegian theatre company on the theme of migration) – premiering in January 2017 at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.