UNESCO’s sustainable development goals have been brought about in order to help counties develop in three key areas. These areas can be understood as economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. That being said, sustainable development goal number eight; promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all has some challenges when considering its objectives in relation to the arts and culture sector. The cultural industries have always been asked to justify economic investment and government intervention, tracing back to economic theories such as Baumol’s cost disease, considering artist’s inability to increase productivity and resulting difficulty with wages that do not correspond with inflation, and a general lack of data (Lee, 2017). Therefore, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics is aiming to help generate more data so that governments can use this information to develop policies that better help the creative industries and allow for sustainable economic growth. So far UIS is the first to attempt to conduct surveys about this sector on a global scale and has tried to develop comparable indicators (Cultural Employment, 2020). For the purpose of this piece a case study will be done on UIS’s data on annual imports and exports of cultural goods in South Africa and how this relates to economic growth in the cultural industries. According to Snowball (2016) this report “sets out ways in which the arts, culture and heritage sectors can contribute to the growth and development of South Africa’s economy”.

According to a research report by the Human Sciences Research Council African Micro-Economic Research Umbrella for the South African Department of Arts and Culture, they stated that it was difficult to accurately determine quantitative values on the export of visual arts (Hagg, 2010, p.83). The report indicated that “the country is a small but significant player relative to the scale of the international marketplace, [however] the third most frequently cited major career/business obstacle for artists, businesses and organisations included in the survey related to a perceived lack of market demand” (p.4). It then will be interesting to compare this information to the data provided on South African cultural products. However, there are limitations to the data as cultural exports are an umbrella term for different cultural products. This means that there can be no examination of the role of the Department of Trade and Industry’s export incentives and customized programmes for the film and craft industries in two-thousand-and-five (p.61). It was stated that the Department of Trade and Industry has not directly addressed the visual art sector in these incentives.

(International trade in cultural goods: Exports and imports of cultural goods by country, 2019)

These numbers reflect that South Africa is importing 1,541,569,519 more cultural goods than it is importing. Therefore, it may be assumed that some of the government incentives have had a positive effect on the number of cultural goods exported as there has been an increase of 92,117,829 from two-thousand-and-eleven to two-thousand-and-seventeen. However, these assumptions cannot be tested with this data alone as there is no proven correlational effect. Furthermore, from this data set it is ambiguous as to what constitutes one unit of a cultural good that has been imported or exported and the dimensions in which this is to be considered. According to the EU-SA trade report, the cultural industries with “the largest export volumes from South Africa to the rest of the world in 2010 were: Design (US$129.93m), Publishing (US$112.35m), Visual Arts (US$24.95m), and Art Crafts (US$18.78)” (South African Cultural Observatory, 2017, p.14). This then provides a deeper level of insight and illustrates that the customized programmes for the crafts sector have been beneficial to some extent.

Furthermore, comparing this data to the findings of the 2013 EU-SA trade report reveals that between two-thousand-and-two to two-thousand-and-ten cultural exports to Europe and North America decreased but rose to other African nation-states (South African Cultural Observatory, 2017). This then provides a potential avenue for policymakers to explore cultural economic growth and trade. Incentives or changes in tariffs between African countries may be a possible solution in order to generate greater economic growth.

Although the data provided by UIS is a start at having a comprehensive global database for the cultural economies, there are still large gaps in the data. This was seen when comparing the data to that of the EU-SA trade report. This information was extracted from the South African Cultural Observatory, an extension of the Department of Arts and Culture who are conducting socio-economic research on the local cultural industry (About Us, 2020). Although SACO was only founded in two-thousand-and-eleven it will be useful for the government to have a centralized resource centre to consult for policy-making procedures, instead of relying on external bodies such as UNESCO to provide accurate data. This can be seen in the instance of the most recent data in the previous table stopping at the year two-thousand-and-seventeen.

It appears that worldwide greater efforts are being made in order to explore and understand the cultural industries. However, there is still a long way to go in collecting a more comprehensive set of empirical data around the cultural industries and its subsectors. Furthermore, long-term studies of specific regions and industries should be examined in order to establish cause and effect trends between government intervention and economic outcomes.


Data.uis.unesco.org.eur.idm.oclc.org. 2019. International Trade In Cultural Goods: Exports And Imports Of Cultural Goods By Country. [online] Available at: <http://data.uis.unesco.org.eur.idm.oclc.org/#> [Accessed 13 October 2020].

Hagg, J., 2010. An Assessment Of The Visual Arts Sector In South Africa And Assistance To The Department Of Arts And Culture In Developing A National Policy For The Visual Arts. DAC/0006/07/T. [online] Johannesburg: The Human Sciences Research Council African Micro-Economic Research Umbrella, pp.1-83. Available at: <http://repository.hsrc.ac.za/handle/20.500.11910/3811> [Accessed 13 October 2020].

Lee, T., 2017. William Baumol, Whose Famous Economic Theory Explains The Modern World, Has Died. [online] Vox. Available at: <https://www.vox.com/new-money/2017/5/4/15547364/baumol-cost-disease-explained> [Accessed 13 October 2020].

Snowball, J., 2016. Why Art And Culture Contribute More To An Economy Than Growth And Jobs. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/why-art-and-culture-contribute-more-to-an-economy-than-growth-and-jobs-52224> [Accessed 13 October 2020].

South African Cultural Observatory, 2017. South Africa’s Trade In Cultural Goods And Services With A Focus On Cultural Trade With BRICS Partners. [online] Available at: <https://www.southafricanculturalobservatory.org.za/download/334> [Accessed 13 October 2020].

Southafricanculturalobservatory.org.za. 2020. About Us. [online] Available at: <https://www.southafricanculturalobservatory.org.za/about-us#:~:text=Initiated%20by%20the%20Department%20of,heritage%20(ACH)%20sectors%20and%20the> [Accessed 13 October 2020].

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. 2020. Cultural Employment. [online] Available at: <http://uis.unesco.org.eur.idm.oclc.org/en/topic/cultural-employment> [Accessed 13 October 2020].