Fred Darko writes… Creative Arts in Ghana: A free-for-nothing industry?

Barbara Oteng Gyasi, Minister of Arts, Tourism and Culture

Imagine a football game without rules and regulations: no referee, no assistant referees, and no fourth official to enforce the laws of the game. On the field are twenty-two footballers, each playing according to their hearts’ desire. I foresee total pandemonium.

The above scenario may seem far-fetched, especially in a professional context. Only amateurs operate without rules and regulations. Or isn’t it? Maybe, if we observe closely, we can identify a certain, so-called Creative Arts industry in Ghana that operates exactly like the football game scenario above.

You may wonder why I am cracking the whip on the so-called Creative Arts industry in Ghana at a time when COVID-19 is threatening us and the whole world with destruction. The simple reason is that, Ghana’s so-called Creative Arts industry is a façade, an illusion created to hide our shame. No such industry exists and COVID-19 has exposed the truth.

 Creative Arts industry

By definition, an “industry” consists of all the people and activities involved in making a particular product or providing a particular service (Collins dictionary). For example, a group of people and equipment producing cars are called the Automobile Industry. In the same vein, we have the Mining Industry, the Oil and Gas Industry, the Airline Industry, among many others. However, for governments and state institutions across the world, “industry” goes beyond the dictionary definition. For a group of people or companies to qualify as an industry, especially for economic reasons, there have to be rules and regulations governing their operations.

Ask a Ghanaian what the “Creative Arts industry” is, and I can bet my last pesewa that most people will talk about entertainment. This is because we have narrowed its meaning down to music and the performing arts, and if there is space in our minds, we add fine art. But the Creative Arts industry is broader than just performing arts and this is the reason why I like the definition of the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It defines the industry as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.

The Creative Arts industry is not only about music and performing arts but covers other sectors such as cultural and natural heritage, visual arts and crafts, books and press, audio-visual and interactive media, and design and creative services. These are all sectors where intellectual property is the end-product of skills and talents.

The Creative Arts industry is so critical in many countries to the point where the term “Creative Economy” has come to exist. John Howkins coined the term in 2001 to describe an economic system where value is based on novel imaginative qualities rather than the traditional resources of land, labour and capital. Let me not bore you with big English. Simply put, a creative economy is one in which the major source of revenue are not natural resources like gold, cocoa, timber and oil, but intellectual property like recorded music, movies, theatre, tourism, interactive media, novels, crafts, among others. AS indicated by A good example is the economy of Abu Dhabi, where they have shifted from oil production to creativity and arts as a source of revenue.

Another simple way of knowing whether a Creative Arts industry exists or not is to look at revenue figures. If there are no figures to show how much an industry is generating for the state, then that industry does not exist. Period! In the United States alone, the Creative Arts industry employs 4.9 million people who earn a combined salary of $370 billion (United States Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, 2019). It also contributes 4.2% of the gross domestic product of the country, representing $763.3 billion. In the United Kingdom, the industry contributed more than £85 billion in 2015, representing 5% of the UK economy’s gross (Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport). Do we know the figures from Ghana? Your guess is as good as mine.

The value of a well-regulated Creative Arts Industry cannot be underestimated. It ensures that other economic sectors benefit directly or indirectly. Sectors such as tourism, hospitality and transport benefits immensely from Creative Arts Industry. As the creative economy of Nigeria soared higher, it was not surprising that Nigeria was the only West-African country in the top ten list of World Tourism rankings in Africa in 2016 and 2017.


A proper regulated Creative Industry is important even when individuals are making money from their creative ventures. That is because it boosts investor confidence and ensures that the industry is supported in times of crisis. A big challenge with the creative arts in Ghana is the inadequacy of laws and policies that encourage, promote and sustain them. As indicated by  Schutz and Gelder, enforcement of laws and policies that would protect and promote the creative art is weak, depriving the nation and artists of maximum profits from their creations. Creative designs are not patented, giving room for intruders to use these designs for free for their own economic gains, leaving original creators and the nation at a loss.

The lack of a Creative Arts industry has also led to a number of problems for Ghana’s creative arts. One of such is the influx of foreign content on television in the form of Spanish telenovelas and Nollywood movies, at the expense of local content.

Another problem is the lack of government support. Because the government does not derive value from the creative arts, it does not prioritize their needs. The attention needed to improve the creative arts is directed towards others sectors. Successive Ghanaian governments have paid lip service as the performance of the sector deteriorates.

Then there are curricula issues. In 2007, Creative Arts was made a compulsory subject for all primary schools, yet many schools do not teach them as a core subject and those who attempt to teach them, treat them as hobbies or for pleasure. While in other advanced countries, creative arts are taught as a core in school curricula. In Sweden for instance, creative arts is taught as a business at all levels of education. This encourages the young ones to develop their talents, knowing that it is going to be their source of livelihood in future.

Countries that understand the value of the creative arts have removed barriers, developed strong Creative Industries and have invested billions of dollars into them. Today, they are reaping the benefits. Take a look at music festivals alone. According to UK Music, four million people from around the world attended the Glastonbury festival in 2017, with each person spending nearly £400. Coachella’s gross revenues reached a historic high in 2017 at $114 million. In Morocco, the annual Mwazine music festival brings in a total of 3,000 direct and indirect jobs. When a vibrant, well-regulated Creative Industry is developed with a clear strategy the benefits trickle down to other industries in the value chain as well.

Enter Coronavirus

As I said earlier, the coronavirus has truly exposed the so-called Creative Arts industry in Ghana. It has brought to bear the fact that Government does not value it like it values other sectors, hence it has not provided it with the needed support to sustain the players in the game. Individual artists who have had to cancel events and programmes are at a loss as to how they would generate income. This is because there is nothing like royalties for them, and until they organize “shows”, they will go to bed hungry. Creative agencies have crumbled to their knees, losing revenue as a result of cancelled events. Some of them have laid off staff while others have suspended operations until further notice.

However, we have seen government’s response when there are crisis in other industries. When there is a banking crisis, government through the Central Bank, bails out banks. Why? Because it sees the value of the well-regulated banking industry. When our natural resources and the mining industry are threatened because of the ‘Galamsey’ menace, government sends National Security operatives after illegal miners. So how come, that in a pandemic which has severely affected the creative arts, government’s support has been non-existent?

Let’s flip the coin and look at it from government’s perspective. If you were the government, would you give taxpayers’ money to an industry that is not regulated? Would you give money to an industry that you don’t derive value from? Would you give money to an industry that does not exist?

Let’s compare Ghana’s situation to just two countries with a well-regulated Creative Arts Industry in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. In Scotland, the government has multiple funds to support its Creative Arts Industry during this pandemic. One of them is the Creative Scotland Bridging Bursary Fund which provides one-off bursary payments of between £500 and £2,500 to freelance artists and creative practitioners that have lost earnings as a result of COVID-19. There is also the Creative Scotland Open Fund which provides up to £50,000 to help individuals and organizations to help support themselves during the pandemic.

In the United Arab Emirates, the government through the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development launched the National Creative Relief Program to support creative artists to face the challenges caused by COVID-19.

 Way forward

As far back as 2007, Ghana discovered oil. Within a year or two, the legal framework and regulatory policies regarding an oil industry were finalized. Don’t forget that Ghana had no experience in the oil industry at the time. Templates were probably derived from other oil-producing countries to develop our rules and regulations for an oil industry. But for centuries, our arts and culture have been with us; our music, movies, dance, literature, among others have been enjoyed by both Ghanaians and foreigners across generations. Why then has it taken us so long to establish a vibrant Creative Arts Industry?

The first step to developing a Creative Industry is urgency. We need to urgently regard the creative arts as a professional field, not a leisure or hobby. By regarding it as a professional field, we would be forced to develop regulations that govern it, ensuring that the players understand their roles. We need to urgently think of the creative arts as a business and teach it as such.

Still on the issue of urgency, we can learn a lot from the success story of the UAE. Once upon a time, the UAE was solely dependent on trade and oil production for its revenue. However, it dawned on them that oil is not an unlimited resource; it would run out one day. Today, Dubai is the business and financial hub of the UAE while Abu Dhabi is the creative and cultural hotspot. In fact, the economy of Abu Dhabi is a Creative Economy where the major source of revenue is the creative arts (from music festivals and cultural heritage to major sporting events). Thanks to this diversification, Abu Dhabi’s gross domestic product (GDP) stood at $59billion in the first quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (SCAD).

The second thing that Ghana can learn from the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular, is the merger of all the bodies and councils that govern the creative arts and tourism into one single authority. Once upon a time, there were at least three institutions running Abu Dhabi’s creative arts and tourism: the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the culture department of the Tourism Development and Investment Company. In February, 2017, the leader of UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, merged all those institutions and established the Department of Culture and Tourism to oversee creative arts and tourism in Abu Dhabi. This move makes it easier to regulate the industry because only one authority has oversight responsibility. Nothing happens in Abu Dhabi’s Creative Arts Industry without the Departments of Culture and Tourism’s approval and involvement.

In Ghana, we have many institutions playing the same role in an industry that does not even exist. We have the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts. There is also the Creative Arts Council, the Ghana Tourism Authority, and the Centres for National Culture.  It is not only the government that needs to act now. Groups and associations concerned with the development of the creative arts also have a role to play. The Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), the Events and Meetings Professionals Association of Ghana (EMPAG), Actors’ Guild, etc. need to speak up and demand accountability from the authorities and the so-called regulators.

In a well-regulated Creative Arts industry, the media is enforced to show a large percentage of locally-produced content as part of the conditions to operate. This gives local content producers the encouragement to step up and produce quality programmes. Furthermore, the media does not call on any Tom, Dick and Harry to discuss issues pertaining to the Creative Arts Industry. They bring in the experts, people who have the requisite skills and experience in the industry to share their knowledge and opinion. In Ghana, it is the opposite. So-called pundits, who recently completed journalism schools, rather go on radio and television stations as “experts” and mislead the public with impugnity.

For so long, we have pretended that we did until COVID-19 paid us a visit. While other countries are taking steps to sustain their Creative Arts Industry, authorities and regulators in Ghana are sitting at the touchlines drinking tea while twenty-two players run wild on the field. On the flip side, I see something positive coming out of this pandemic for our creative arts. That is a discussion for another time. For now, wash your hands, use a sanitizer, wear a nose mask, practice social distancing and wait for the next move.

The writer, Fred Darko, is Managing Director of E-volution International, a leading marketing communications and event management company operating in Ghana and Abu Dhabi. 

The views expressed by the writer are solely his and do not represent the position of Daily Mail GH

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