By Adwoa Owusuaa Bobie, Akosua K. Darkwah and Katherine V. Gough
The Ghanaian Government is berated for its lack of support for the creative industries, despite its first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, developing a comprehensive set of cultural and creative policies in the 1960s. In Nkrumah’s zeal to create a cultural identity for the new nation, he promoted the African Personality concept, i.e., developing the country based on the population’s ways of life, culture, customs and traditions. Numerous cultural institutions, such as the Art Council of Ghana, Centre for African Studies, and the National Theatre were established, a fair number of which still exist today. Following the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966, it was 2004 before a culture and creative industry policy document was developed, and first in 2010 that the cultural and creative industries were incorporated into the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda. These policies, however, have been confronted with implementation challenges, especially funding constraints, obstructing their effectiveness.
During the past two decades, the important role government policies play in growing the cultural and creative industries in countries of both the global North and South has been highlighted. While comprehensive creative policies and their effective implementation can clearly yield positive results, they are not the only way to grow the cultural and creative industries, as we are discovering in the research project Advancing Creative Industries for Development in Ghana (ACIG), funded by DANIDA. In the context of largely ineffective government policies, private organisations have stepped in to provide services that promote the work of artists in Ghana. Two such organisations are the Savanna Centre for Contemporary Arts (SCCA) in Tamale, northern Ghana and Radford University in Accra, the capital city of Ghana.
The SCCA, founded by the world-renowned Ghanaian visual artist, Ibrahim Mahama, is providing an avenue for conversation between established and budding creative artists. By showcasing the retrospective works of older artists, the institution is providing a space to discuss the relevance of older artists to contemporary arts, while introducing the future generation to the creative industry through workshops and training. According to Mahama, his experiences abroad in arts institutions led to him creating SCCA, the aim of which is "to build institutions that we keep travelling to and working for ...(so) that our children can have (the) same experiences." Mahama is passionate about bringing local people into creative spaces, which they are typically excluded from.
Savanna Centre for Contemporary Art. Day 1 of 'Serious Play', A workshop for basic schools. Instagram.
At the private Radford University, the fashion department is producing graduates whose creative abilities and works are globally competitive. The curriculum teaches fashion beyond aesthetics to include the political, social and economic spaces of the artist. Students’ projections of socio-economic or political issues through their aesthetics pushes their creative works beyond the usual artistic boundaries in Ghana. According to a lecturer at the department:
A student will pick something political, is there a war somewhere? Like now, is it medical, can it be something about Covid? Or is it about autism, is it about disability? So we choose these areas and we design and work towards that. So when we put the clothes on the catwalk, it actually tells a story.
It is this storytelling through aesthetics that has attracted the attention of corporate bodies, NGOs, fashion event organisers and fashion brands across the world to attend the students’ end of year fashion shows. Graduates such as Steve French, Papa Oppong, and Afua Biney have gone on to establish thriving brands and some have won prestigious international fashion awards.
Radford University College. 'Showing off style and glamour' at the Launch of Graduate Fashion Show. Instagram.
These two brief examples are illustrative of how private institutions in Ghana are surmounting the challenges of inadequate government policies and structures by providing spaces and opportunities for artists to thrive and grow in Ghana. This should not, however, absolve governments from their responsibility to support the cultural and creative industries, the need for which has become even more apparent during the current pandemic.