Only 1% of 2018 cultural infrastructure is located in Africa

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The City of Culture in Tunis, Ministry of Culture,
The City of Culture in Tunis, Ministry of Culture, 2018

The latest Cultural Infrastructure Index has been published, and only 3 projects out of the 270 completed or announced worldwide in 2018 are located in Africa. 

Since 2016, the Cultural Infrastructure Index has been tracking major investments, above 10 million USD, in museums and other cultural institutions around the world. According to the latest report, in 2018, a whopping 8 billion USD was spent to complete 148 cultural projects, and a further 8.7 billion USD has been earmarked for 122 new projects.

North America and Europe lead the way with respectively 40% and nearly 30% of all completed and announced projects. While these regions’ leadership positions remain unchallenged from a quantitative point of view, the survey highlights a marked shift toward Asia. Buoyed by three flagship projects in China, Asia takes the second-place in terms of the value of the investment in cultural assets. The region is poised to take over the lead position with 3.1 billion USD worth of new projects against 2.3 billion USD in North America.

Over the last three years, according the yearly index, there has been a notable stability in the investment in cultural assets throughout the world. It is good news for the art industry, especially as it faces new challenges that push museums and galleries, the most predominant forms of cultural buildings, to reconsider their roles and operating models.

Entrance to the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar
Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal, 2018

In that context, the data about Africa is rather grim with three completed projects – The City of Culture in Tunis, the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, The Norval Foundation in Cape Town – and no new project announced. As a continent, often confined to the category of underachievers, it could be tempting to leave it at that and consider this as yet another African shortfall. However, while the 1% cultural real estate highlights an indisputable lack of infrastructure, the data doesn’t paint a comprehensive picture of the situation throughout the continent.

In Nigeria, the most advanced art platform on the continent after South Africa, the investment in art and its infrastructure are almost exclusively funded through private individuals and organisations. Gbenga Oyebode, a lawyer, investor, and a major art collector, confirmed the pivotal role of the private sector in a detailed report on the Nigerian art ecosystem in the New York Times. Not all these private investors are keen to report on the value of their investments in art infrastructure. The overall cost of the Norval Foundation is not disclosed in the report. There is scant financial data available online on other venues that have been inaugurated in the last few years, such as Museum Al Maaden in Marrakech, Morrocco (internationally launched in 2018), Saint Louis Museum of Photography in Senegal (2017).

The Norval Foundations in Cape Town, Image from Instagram
The Norval Foundation in Cape Town, Image from Instagram

When the projects are public, some cash-strapped governments struggle to come up with the required funding. Benin, the West African country at the forefront of the battle for the restitution of its cultural heritage, announced in March 2018 the creation of three museums. Various news reports have recently indicated that the country is ironically seeking a loan of 20 million euros from the French Development Agency to build the museums that will house the historical treasures upon their return from France. Neither of these museum projects has made it onto the 2018 index. However, they might appear as completed projects in a few years.

Beyond the considerations of the quantity and the cost of art spaces built every year, the question that is worth asking is that of the purpose. What are the goals assigned to the buildings that are erected? Back in June, at Wish Africa Expo in London, British-Nigerian Artist Yinka Shonibare presented his projects in Nigeria. He explained how he transformed his original plan of an art museum into a hybrid art space better suited to the needs of the country and the local community. His personal experience sheds some light on the low number of projects that are present in the index. Mega Museums and their striking architecture make headlines, capture imaginations, and undoubtedly remain the norm in the art world. However, there is a possibility that smaller and nimbler organisations, that don’t require 10 million USD to build, better serve at least for the time being, the needs of the African public.

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