South African Cultural Observatory

SACO conference attracts top global academics, speakers

BY 31.03.17

THE South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) is proud to announce its first set of international speakers for its National Conference on the ‘Creative Economy and Development’ in May.

“We are very pleased to have attracted some of the foremost minds in the field of cultural economics, who are going to share best and cutting-edge practices with delegates. It’s very exciting to have such a brains trust joining us for the national conference to help advance South Africa’s creative economy,” said Professor Richard Haines, SACO chief executive.

The SACO is a leading national think tank focused on monitoring, mapping, measuring and valuing South Africa’s cultural and creative economy.  It is a project of the Department of Arts & Culture (DAC), launched in 2015, and hosted by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in partnership with Rhodes and Fort Hare Universities. It is mandated to produce a working cultural information system for South Africa.

The SACO conference keynote speakers include: Professor Lluis Bonet, Director of the Cultural Management Programme, from the University of Barcelona, a leading authority in cultural economics; Professor Erez Lieberman Aiden, Director of the Rice University Culturomics Cultural Observatory in Houston (formerly Harvard Cultural Observatory); Geoffrey Wood, Professor of International Business, at the University of Essex; and Andres Gribnicow, Creative Economy Undersecretary at the Argentinian Ministry of Culture. 

Bonet, who was a research fellow at MIT and the University of Montpelier, is a board member of the Association of Cultural Economics International, and an active participant in many European research projects, including BeSpectATIve!, Focus EULAC and the Culture Diplomacy Platform.

With a prestigious CAC Research Award for his findings on the impact of the digital age on the audio-visual industry, Bonet plans to share insights from Spain’s attempts to grow its creative economy; and generally European Union experiences in cultural economics and policy.

He will provide an account of what Spain is currently doing to use its assets and space to grow artists and businesses, and provide guidelines as to how these practices can be adopted and adapted to developing economies.

Recognised around the world for his contribution to science, medicine and cultural change, Aiden is a renowned inventor, scientist and academic, and has been lauded as ‘America’s brightest young academic’.

Together with Jean-Baptiste Michel, Prof Aiden developed Google’s Ngram Viewer, a tool used by millions of people every day to probe cultural change by exploring the frequency of words and phrases in texts printed as far back as the 1500s.

Aiden will be discussing his analysis of the collection of digitized texts which includes approximately 8% of all books ever published. He will survey the vast terrain of ‘culturomics’ and argue that an examination of the linguistic and cultural phenomenon reflected in the language of these texts can provide significant insights into the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology.

 “Culturomics allows us to extend the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry and opens up opportunities for an investigation of a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences, humanities and culture,” Aiden said.

With a PhD from Rhodes University, the third international speaker started his academic career a bit closer to home.

As the current Dean of the Essex Business School, Wood’s latest research explores the relationship between institutional mediation, economy, society and the firm, and traces the long causes and consequences of the unanticipated and unprecedented political and economic crisis in the United States and the United Kingdom (U.K.) – and what this means for the rest of the world.

“Many countries can no longer grow through a focus on traditional manufacturing or natural resources; this highlights the importance of other areas of the economy, and the role of creative endeavours in broadening the basis of growth.

“We know that, from the U.K. experience, active regional policies have led to the development of self-sustaining clusters of creative industries – but that such efforts have been quite spatially confined,” Wood said, adding that it is important to ask what can be learnt from the experience and what positive lessons are replicable elsewhere.

Wood will cover this thinking in his conference paper ‘The Twilight of Liberal Markets, and What It Means for Economy, Culture and Society.’

“I am delighted to attend this gathering, and for the opportunity to meet with leading figures from across the field. Hopefully, this will open the way for new collaborations and synergies across national boundaries,” Wood said.

The fourth international speaker, Argentine Gribnicow, is responsible for the National Directorates of Creative Industries, Cultural Entrepreneurship and Cultural Innovation and has vast experience in the management of cultural, social and economic projects related with NGOs, public and private art and design organisations.

His paper which examines the ‘Creative Argentinean’ and calls for the promotion of talent and creativity as engines of economic development in the country, stands to provide some interesting perspectives regarding the cultural economy of the global south.

“More local and international speakers are expected to be announced in the next two weeks,” Haines said, adding that the programme is shaping up to feature a diverse mix of practitioner perspectives and academic rigour.

The SACO Conference coincides with Africa Day celebrations on May 25, and is scheduled to take place over two days on May 24 and 25 at the Turbine Hall in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The call for papers and presentations under the conference’s major guiding theme ‘The Creative Economy & Development – Perspectives from Developed and Emerging Economies’ – is still open until 31 March 2017. Conference registration is open until April 28. Delegates can register here: www.southafricanculturalobservatory.co.za/2017-saco-conference/registration

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