The division of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, UJ Arts & Culture has created an inaugural Futures & Beyond: Creativity and 4IR Forum. The aim of the forum is to provide a platform for critical and robust discourse around the integration of arts and technology within the context of the creative sector.

Despite the growing awareness of how the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) will transform the sector, we’ve become acutely aware of the limited engagement and discourse around this topic in both South Africa and on the continent. And yet, the faster technological integration occurs, the more pressing our need becomes for knowledge production on the subject.

We have seen through the global outbreak of Covid-19 how rapidly humanity was forced to further integrate technology on a macro and micro scale. In some instances, artists and creatives utilised digital platforms, with limited success, to survive. The migration of in-class to online teaching and the exchange of working in the office to the confines of home has wielded profound consequences for all.

Our ‘new normal’ highlights infinite possibilities and exacerbates existing challenges that the creative sector and society must confront. As creatives, academics, and from a creative sector perspective, we can no longer claim ignorance or immunity to the effects of 4IR.

To develop a successful strategy for the production of literature on 4IR, we must frame our research findings through an African lens. There might be global commonalities, but the world’s North-South socio-economic divide remains. Severe unemployment, economic instability, limited investment in technology and inequality continue to hinder local progress. We do not exist in the same context as Europe, and so our way forward must cater for and address our continent and country’s particular idiosyncrasies.

The South African Presidential Commission on 4IR has identified the creative economy as a key player in 4IR. It offers substantial economic growth and environmental stability, but like much of the international literature available, how to achieve these eventualities remains unclear. Beyond the borders of speculation, there is little knowledge available on its practical application.

Together with our presenting partner Andani.Africa, we have conducted preliminary research to understand the broad narratives currently present. It provides an exciting opportunity for the creative sector to take ownership of what is happening, and further develop, utilise, and articulate our expertise in a way that benefits our evolving world.

In 2020, creativity was ranked fifth place on the World Economic Forum’s list of critical skills. On a cognitive level, it is on par with mathematical reasoning. Our sector abounds with innovation, critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills, which are the core building blocks for the success and longevity of 4IR.

In particular, the skills that accompany the humanities enable us to imbue 4IR with creativity and much-needed humanism, both locally and abroad. This is crucial as fears around AI, data privacy and protection abound. We cannot stop the fourth industrial revolution, but we can spearhead agile responses to changing innovations, and shape ethical developments by informing policy development.

Intellectual property (IP) remains the cornerstone for the development of 4IR and so too should its policy. Our future relies on a knowledge-based economy and there is a necessity to develop responsiveness to creative IP. 4IR can assist our sector with many of its IP needs, but it lies within our hands to improve its current management.

On a practical level, our sector can also achieve better productivity and general business practice. Current work challenges, highlighted by but not necessarily unique to Covid-19, such as interdisciplinary collaboration, decentralisation and time sovereignty have long-since been part of our working ethos.

All industrial revolutions have wrought profound changes in education, gender relations, globalisation and urbanisation. 4IR is no different and the creative sector’s ability to question the status quo and to reimagine its potential is fundamental to a society in the throes of creating a new future. Technological innovations require creativity. How to train people in creativity still remains a decisive challenge. We can have a significant role in the future of 4IR and how it will get there. The caveat: our potential needs to be better established.

Due to colonialism, Africa could not fully participate in the first three industrial revolutions. For some, this lack of priori is a setback but for others, it offers opportunities to leapfrog into the future. Already there is substantial growth within low bandwidth technologies on the continent. They provide immense value for creators, users and audiences because entry barriers are relatively low. Even though levels of 4IR readiness are inconsistent across African countries, the continent’s rapid digitisation signifies limitless opportunities for the Global South.

The South African Presidential Commission on 4IR recognises the creative economy as an emerging sector. There is room to upskill, re-skill and create new avenues of employment, which can address many of the challenges we face. However, these are general narratives and conjectured possibilities. Engaging with the future requires a willingness to explore different trajectories conceptually and practically, to publicise our findings and forge a new way forward based on our discoveries.

My hope for the discussion is to advance interdisciplinary collaboration and spark proactive conversations of an exploratory nature. Through workshops and case studies, we can extrapolate learnings and collate new insights around the integration of arts and 4IR to fill current gaps in the existing literature.

How might we empower ourselves to deal with disruptive change? What tools are at our disposal to deal with disruption? If they don’t exist, how might we develop them? What is creativity’s role in the broader social shift to 4IR? We want to discuss what individuals and organisations are learning and leaning towards, as well as growing concerns and responses to contemporary ethical issues.

If we develop a robust thematic approach, which serves as a tangible roadmap, we can drive change. If we do not, and the arts remain on the fringe of a vital conversation, at the peril of humanity.

The South African Presidential Commission on 4IR has identified the creative economy as a key player in 4IR. It offers substantial economic growth and environmental stability, but like much of the international literature available, how to achieve these eventualities remains unclear.

On a practical level, our sector can also achieve better productivity and general business practice.

The South African Presidential Commission on 4IR recognises the creative economy as an emerging sector.