Archive: Issue No. 58, June 2002

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Arts and culture's budgetary blues
by Mike van Graan

Mike van Graan's column, The Cultural Weapon, is regularly published on

The Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology delivered his budget speech on Friday May 24. The budget for Arts and Culture increased this year by a whopping 36%. So why are arts practitioners and observers hugely disappointed?

On the face of it, there is much to celebrate in this year's arts and culture budget. The overall allocation to arts and culture increases from R362 577 000 in 2001/2 to R495 091 000 this year, an increase of R132 514 000 or 36,54% - by far the largest increase this programme has seen since 1994. Arts and Culture now represent 36% of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology's (DACST) budget with science and technology consuming 55%, as opposed to 32% and 60% respectively in 2001/2. As a percentage of the total vote, DACST's salary bill is at its lowest since 1994, accounting for 5,7% of the total, and continuing the steady decline from 6,5% since 1998/9. The National Arts Council's (NAC) budget is up by R15m for a total of more than R40m (reflecting an increase of 60%), while Business and Arts South Africa's (BASA) budget is increased by 50% to R3m.

The first point to note though, is that while this year's arts and culture vote is an increase on last year's allocation, in 1995/6, arts and culture accounted for 44,6% of the total budget against the 48,9% of science and technology. Since then, the overall DACST budget has grown by an average of 15% each year, while the average growth for arts and culture has been 12% against the 17% average growth for science and technology. In other words, while science and technology has shown an upward trend since 1995/6 as a percentage of DACST's overall budget, reaching a high of 60% in 2000/1, arts and culture declined steadily from 44,6% in 1995/6 to a low of 31,3% of the total budget in 2000/1. So, while an increase in funding for arts and culture needs to be applauded, it must be borne in mind that should arts and culture have been funded at the 44% level that it was funded at in 1995/6, over R100m more would be available to arts and culture today than is the case.

But a second and more important point than the statistical breakdowns which reveal the disturbing trend of under-funding for arts and culture within a budget that - on the whole - has grown by 164% in 8 years, is what the increased sum of R132,5m for 2002/3 is actually spent on.

In the Arts, Culture and Heritage Institutions section of the budget (dealing mainly with museums), there is an increase of 51% on 2001/2's budget - a total of R62 705 000. This appears to be a major boost for heritage institutions in the country which have been seriously under-funded for a number of years (starting pre-1994). However, closer scrutiny reveals that this increase comprises two large items in the 2002/3 budget ie Freedom Park (a new heritage site to commemorate the liberation struggle) with an increase of R49 500 000 in 2002/3, and Transformation, a new item worth R13 000 000 for a total of R62 500 000 - nearly the total difference between the 2001/2 and 2002/3 heritage sections of the budget.

This year, the country's major museums ie the Northern Flagship and the Southern Flagship (each conglomerates of a number of significant heritage institutions in the Pretoria and Cape Town regions respectively) and Robben Island each have increases of 0,5% or less in 2002/3. Significantly, the increases for these primary repositories of the country's heritage do not even begin to broach the projected inflation rate for 2002/3.

For the next three years, government has allocated R350m to Freedom Park, which is more than two-and-a-half times more than the total amount allocated this year to the rest of the country's museums (including the big three mentioned above). Freedom Park, which is being developed under the leadership of Wally Serote, former chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, clearly demonstrates that the lack of funding for arts and culture is a myth ie if there is the political will, or if a project serves as a flagship to the contemporary political order, then funding - significant funding - is available. Conversely, that there is no or little funding for existing institutions could mean that - for all the pressure for, and attempts at transformation - they are politically expendable and may therefore be "bled" cynically to extinction.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the Conservation Bodies section of the DACST budget that increases by R2 511 000 in 2002/3 or 16,8%. While the 2002/3 breakdown for these were unavailable at the time of writing, amounts allocated to bodies such as the 1820 Foundation, Huguenot Monument, Voortrekker Monument and other monuments have been the same since at least 1995, not making any allowance even for inflation for more than seven years. Ultimately, if this pattern continues, at least some of these inherited, state-funded - and possibly politically embarrassing monuments - may simply cease to exist. Is this the unstated intention?

The Promotion of Arts and Culture section of the DACST budget that deals with subsidised theatres, promotion of the arts locally and internationally, BASA, funding for companies, etc - increases by R25,7m or 16,1% in 2002/3. However, one - new - item, Poverty Relief (to be used by DACST for its Cultural Industries Growth Strategy?), at R30m, more than accounts for this increase ie the increase does not benefit existing organisations, institutions or companies. In fact, the four former performing arts councils are cut by a total of R17 155 000 which accounts for the increase of R1m to BASA and the increase of R15 199 000 (total of R16 199) to the National Arts Council. These cuts represent a 21% decrease in funding for subsidised theatres, and have been made despite the White Paper declaring that cuts to these structures will have been completed in 2000. Rather than new funding for BASA and the NAC, it is simply a case of these funding bodies receiving funding recycled from performing arts infrastructure - thereby significantly reducing the capacity of such infrastructure to offer effective technical, marketing, stage, design and other services to the independent companies which may now apply to the NAC for this recycled funding, to hire the theatre.

While the 2001/2 item of funding for companies is cut from this year's budget, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra is listed as a direct beneficiary of DACST funding (as opposed to any other orchestra, and as opposed to the KZN Philharmonic having to apply to the NAC like other orchestras), raising questions about a lack of transparency and partisanship of the Minister, who hails from KwaZulu Natal. Why were all existing orchestras not invited to apply for such funds with transparent criteria set, so that all could have an equal opportunity to access such funds?

While the budget increases by R132,5m this year, it is far more sobering to note that this amount consists largely of new or increased amounts for items such as Freedom Park (R50m), Transformation (R13m), Poverty Relief (R30m), Capital works (R23,7m), Administration (R2,6m) and Promotion of Arts in RSA (R8,7m). In real terms, budget increases to major existing heritage institutions are negligible, while major performing arts institutions are cut drastically and the increases to funding agencies are recycled, rather than new, funds which in the case of the performing arts, amounts to shifting the deckchairs on a sinking Titanic.

For some, it is a positive signal that DACST's staffing budget has declined as a percentage of the total budget over the last number of years. But there is a context in which this needs to be understood. A significant percentage of the Department's budget is transferred to Arts and Culture, Science and Technology and Conservation bodies and institutions eg playhouses, museums, research councils, etc. However, since 1995/6, the amount of funds available to the Department for its own use in promoting arts and culture has grown steadily so that the amount of funds available for this purpose in 2002/3 is more than treble the amount available in 1995/6.

The percentage growth in Administration within the Department has been generally higher that the growth in Arts and Culture, and particularly higher in real terms than the funds allocated to arts and culture institutions. This has meant that while DACST has been able to increase its staff over the last number of years ("spending on personnel has grown at an average rate of 12,8% over the last three years (and) personnel expenditure growth is projected to be about 9% a year over the next three years, owing to annual improvements and higher staff numbers" - Estimates of National Expenditure one the DACST budget, 2001), staffing in arts and culture institutions for which DACST is responsible, and which institutions actually serve as the primary creators, celebrants, educators and documenters of South African arts and culture, has stagnated or declined in real terms. In some institutions - most notably the former performing arts councils - major job losses have occurred due to cut backs.

The real costs of DACST's staffing should be evaluated - not only as a percentage of its overall annual budgets (since generally more than 90% of these budgets would be transferred to other organisations and institutions), but rather as a percentage of the funds left for DACST to use. In 1995/6, DACST's salary bill represented 6,1% of its total budget, and in 1996/7 it was 7,1%. While it has shown a regular decline from 1998/9 (6,5%) to 2002/3 (5,7%), DACST's overall budget has grown from R757 977 000 in 1998/9 to R1 363 674 000 in 2002/3 i.e. a growth of nearly 80%. Considering that much of this budget is transferred to other organisations, a decline from 6,5% to 5,7% for the salary bill in a budget that has grown by 80% in that period, means that the salary bill has actually increased substantially in that period. In fact, it grew by 12,76% in 2000/1, by 13,3% in 2001/2 and by 17,61% in 2002/3, although it would appear - that when evaluated in the context of the overall DACST budget, the salary bill is in decline. The opposite is in fact true.

With the figures available at the time of writing - expenditure on staff at DACST accounted for 65% of its "after-transfer" funds in 1995/6, 58% in 1996/7, 62% in 2000/1, 61% in 2001/2 and for 51% in 2002/3.

Again, while it would appear that staff expenditure is down from 61% to 51% a year later, the reality is that the funds available for DACST after transfers increased from 107 841 in 2001/2 to R152 400 in 2002/3 (an increase of 41%) so that 51% of this increased "after-transfer" amount actually represents a significant increase ie the expenditure on staff actually increases from R66 089 000 in 2001/2 to R77 770 000 in 2002/3, an actual increase of 17,7%, significantly higher than the average increase to any heritage or cultural institution in 2002/3.

While jobs are shed in the arts and culture institutions that really "do" the cultural work, the number of jobs in DACST has increased, and continues to increase annually. Furthermore, DACST salaries and expenditure per staff member have generally been on the up, while those who work in the cultural institutions funded by DACST, and who are generally highly skilled professionals, have not had substantial improvements in their remuneration in the last number of years, resulting in the loss of skills and low morale.

In summary, if budgets follow or are expressions of policy, then the 2002/3 DACST budget reveals that:
a. there is funding for arts and culture, provided that such arts and culture projects serve as flagships to the new political order and/or conform to current political priorities;
b. existing museums and monuments are not priorities and are being funded reluctantly as opposed to them being part of a discernible, broader vision;
c. the performing arts are simply not a priority for the Department (the performing arts plan prepared by the State Theatre Board and endorsed by the NAC in 2001 is not reflected in the budget at all); and
d. the safest and most attractive jobs in arts and culture are in the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.

Mike van Graan is the General Secretary of the Performing Arts Network of South Africa. The views expressed in this column are his own and are not necessarily those of PANSA or of, where this article was first published.