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“Sound Connects” Conference: ACP-EU Culture Programme support for the cultural and creative sectors in Southern Africa

The “Sound Connects” conference, a gathering of the ACP-EU Culture programme for Southern Africa, was held in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, from January 31st to February 2nd, 2024. The event brought together experts from the cultural and creative industries, international funders, regional actors, as well as cultural organisations supported by the Sound Connects Fund (SCF) for information sessions, sharing experiences, and networking.

In anticipation of the regional event, two workshop days were dedicated to SCF cultural operators to address key aspects of project management. These activities, conducted in a playful manner through the mediation of facilitators, allowed beneficiaries to exchange ideas and collectively reflect on best practices to optimize the management of their cultural enterprises, also in the perspective of future projects.

This was also an opportunity to highlight the support program set up by the Sound Connects Fund for the benefit of the three groups of beneficiaries. Among the flagship products, we can mention the “Sound Connects Fund Academy” or the support for financial management and reporting provided by auditors employed by the programme. These initiatives were designed taking into account the difficulties faced by organisations, covering aspects ranging from branding to administrative tasks, as well as strengthening self-confidence and confidence in one’s project.

A discussion session with the beneficiaries led to a very fruitful exchange on the experience of the ACP-EU Culture programme, the added value of the support received, but also the problems encountered in project management and suggestions for alternative approaches. In general, feedback has been very positive as the assistance received has been beneficial in terms of visibility and credibility with public and private partners and recognition of artists and creators at the national and regional levels. It also allowed the capacity building of the operators involved, facing the often unprecedented challenges related to the administrative and financial constraints of the program and the management of complex projects. The program also played an accelerator role by emphasising the importance of networking and dialogue among peers, activities contributing to the structuring of the cultural ecosystem at the local as well as international level.

These appreciations did not prevent beneficiaries from highlighting some drawbacks, notably in the application of eligibility or management rules that are too strict and inappropriate to certain situations on the ground, calling for more flexibility in the design and management of the programme. The often too short duration of projects has also been criticised, as it is seen as a barrier to success and especially to the sustainability of actions on the ground. Among the proposed recommendations, mention should be made of diversifying the nature of funding, going beyond the systematic use of grants – mainly suitable for emerging organisations – to include in the toolbox loans or guarantees, allowing more advanced structures to raise funds more structurally.

A better understanding of the cultural economy in Africa

The first day of the regional meeting, open to the public, was marked by the presentation of the findings of a study conducted by Avril Joffe (UNESCO) and Ayeta Wangusa on the promotion of decent work within the African cultural and creative economy. The emphasis was placed on the informal nature of this economy, highlighting the need for a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying this situation. It is evident that a contextual approach is essential for formulating appropriate policies that take into account this constantly evolving informality.

The discussion also highlighted the complexity of the African creative economy, which goes far beyond the mere production of cultural goods and services. It encompasses traditions, practices, and activities carried by indigenous populations, giving this economy a unique identity. One of the challenges highlighted during the presentation lies in the need to make understand the different facets of the African cultural and creative economy to institutional actors and other funders. This would allow the formulation of programmes and policies adapted to the needs of this dynamic and constantly evolving sector.

A panel discussion devoted to “success stories” allowed SCF project holders in Southern Africa to share their successes, failures, and opportunities for future collaborations. The discussion brought out several themes such as the dual nature of technology as a tool and responsibility, or the challenges of promoting inclusion and overcoming ableism in projects involving people with disabilities. It was also reminded of the importance of language in shaping perceptions and promoting inclusion, as well as the need to create environments that embrace diversity and empower individuals of all abilities.

The session ended with some cultural organisations advocating for a transition to collaborative and partnership-based models compared to traditional donor-beneficiary relationships. Finally, the need for training, incubation spaces for artists, and emphasis on sustainability through diversification of revenue sources and solid business plans were highlighted as crucial strategies for fostering long-term success beyond dependence on funding.

Support strategies for cultural industries in Southern Africa

A session dedicated to support strategies for cultural and creative industries in Southern Africa highlighted various issues and opportunities. Drawing on the situation observed in Mozambique, artist mentoring and the dissemination of quality cultural products were identified as crucial areas. In this perspective, the deployment of creative business incubators emerges as a concrete response to these challenges. By focusing on sustainability, artist promotion, art marketing, formalisation of cultural activities, as well as the establishment of partnerships and networks, these initiatives meet the imperatives of sustainability and growth in this field. The issue of access to funding and revenue generation is another crucial aspect. Thus, it is essential for cultural organisations to diversify their sources of funding and develop sustainable strategies. The development of quality proposals, highlighting a competitive advantage, is essential to gain the trust of funders, given that many organisations rely on funding from calls for projects.

Finally, access to information is also of paramount importance. Staying tuned, exchanging with peers, participating in cultural events allows artists and cultural organisations to stay informed about funding and support opportunities available.

The regional meeting was complemented by various networking activities, opportunities to discover local artists and projects, and ended with a visit to the Marrabenta Festival, aimed at showcasing an emblematic form of popular music and dance in Mozambique.



Photo credit: © Music in Africa


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