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Delphine Buysse in collaboration with Mame Farma Fall

Intersecting Trajectories and Funding Paradigm Shifts in the Cultural Sector: A Perspective from Dakar

Current and Past Scenarios in Relation to Cultural Policies

The independence movements placed African countries in the historical situation of needing to conceive a project that would convey a vision imbued with a strong national identity. As a former French colony, Senegal did not escape this phenomenon, and its first president would rely on Négritude as a national and democratic ideology. Léopold Sédar Senghor perceived culture as a means of economic, social, and political development, and his two fundamental axes were the rooting of the values of Black African civilization[i] and to the opening to other civilizations. Moreover, in the preamble of its constitution, the State would grant a primordial place to cultural values as fundamental for the cementing of national unity.

Under the driving force of the poet president, Senegal sees the creation of many institutions such as the National Institute of Arts, the Daniel Sorano National Theatre, the National Tapestry Manufacture, and the Dynamic Museum, whose first exhibition will take place on the occasion of the first World Festival of Black Arts (also known as FESMAN) in 1966. In 1968, he enacted a law stipulating that one percent of the total amount of public construction must be reserved for the realization of contemporary works of art. It is the symbol of a desire to extend an aesthetico-political vision to the walls of the city of Dakar. President Senghor is the subject of much criticism, mainly related to the nature of his links with the former colony, perceived as a defender of the "neo-colonialism" imagined by France to perpetuate its domination over Africa.[1] His detractors also accuse him of promulgating an art of diplomacy and state, on which artists become financially and intellectually dependent.[2] Finally, he is challenged for his use of Négritude as a theory and praxis of disalienation.

From Léopold Sédar Senghor to Macky Sall, through the period of structural adjustment under Diouf and Wade’s large-scale projects,[3] each president has developed his own version of policy for the cultural sector. The analysis that emerges is a severe lack of continuity which results in a form of institutional instability due to a succession of ministers who barely have time to implement the projects. In an interview with the newspaper Enquête + in 2017, Professor Ibrahima Wane deplored the lack of development of "a real policy with a vision, priorities, and evaluation methods.”[4] There are initiatives, but they are merely band-aids in the context or the struggle as part of the cultural sector, “on the basis of some bright ideas.”[5]

In this case, the current president's first sectoral policy letter was not drafted until three years after his first term, which reveals the regard given to culture in a world where what the intangible is not considered. Moreover, the fact that culture in Senegal is mainly informal is probably not an argument. “Unfortunately, in our policies, we only see what is profitable; culture is not quantifiable in a few figures,”[6]' regrets Professor Ibrahima Wane.

Image 1: AC Assembly 2023 in the Netherlands, Photograph by © Delphine Buysse


RAW Material Company
Invited by David Adjaye in 2009 to co-curate his exhibition GEO-Graphics: A Map of African Art Past and Present in Brussels, curator Koyo Kouoh decides to present the independent institutions that have reshaped the art scene in Africa. She was already asking the question of the potential for change for art institutions in a context undermined by politics and market rules.

Some time later, RAW Material Company is born in Senegal as an independent space, in resistance to the legacy of a dominant vision of the arts, imposed through a cultural policy implemented by the post-colonial administration and in response to the need to address the institutional void and the absence of critical thinking spaces in the arts sphere. In 2011, the Center for Art, Knowledge, and Society opens a physical space in Dakar for knowledge sharing, expression of free and differentiated thought and alternative education.

Convinced that "art centers are not only products of their environment, but also active agents capable of shaping their societies in return,”[7] its founder Koyo Kouoh applies her research to a self-organized functioning that emancipates itself from dominant paradigms that are based on a dichotomous opposition of center and periphery.


Navigating the Fundraising System
Notwithstanding the number of cultural initiatives, symbols of a dynamic and flourishing scene in Senegal, the cultural sector still sorely lacks government support. Thus, the first funding solutions that actors turn to are external: it comes mostly from cooperation agencies or institutions. Often non-structural, this type of subsidy rarely involves working capital or the launch of a structure but is presented in the form of calls which focus almost essentially on projects: this has the effect of maintaining a form of dependence on donors, with the cultural actors barely keeping their chins above water. Long and complex to fill out, most of these forms and files recreate a form of hierarchy of knowledge where only those who have the keys to a precise semantics are able to apply. Moreover, the appeals are unfortunately often written by people who are far removed from the concrete realities of the field. They sometimes reveal a network hierarchy which leaves the strange sensation that the dice are already loaded. There is also a lack of follow-up and analysis of the projects, which prevents continuity and the reproduction of models that work.

When the call is won, the administrative aspects are often so demanding that they can jeopardize the artistic and organizational autonomy of the projects. Some institutions impose their themes in relation to their funding axes, sometimes defined one or two years in advance. This inevitably influences the themes addressed by the cultural actors, even if they are really relevant in their programmatic axes, meaning ideally linked to their contexts. For example, it is obvious that digital technology is a priority, but everything depends on how it is approached in accordance with endemic problems, such as access to electricity or technology.

The standards, rules, criteria, and other deliverables can become so restrictive that they almost require additional staff to manage the files, and they end up nipping the project in the bud by taking over the research or implementation of the latter. In addition, the the extensive administrative process of cooperating institution and the delays of bank transfers to Africa add to this scarcity of human resources. It happens sometimes that the institutions consider themselves better able to manage these files and end up proposing an artistic program that remains a form of cultural diplomacy where the stakes of representation are blatant.

The RAW Model
From the very beginning, RAW Material Company set up a mechanism of savings that allowed it to maintain autonomy from the financing systems and to cope with the precariousness of the cultural sector. During the pandemic, for example, some contracts with donors coming to an end were difficult to renew due to the global situation, but this savings system, accompanied by patronage, made it possible to secure the entire staff as a priority in order to take time to find solutions and new partnerships. Since its creation in 2011, Koyo Kouoh, Marie-Hélène Pereira, and now Fatima Bintou Rassoul Sy have decided to focus first and foremost on strengthening the team. According to Mame Farma Fall, administrative director of RAW Material Company, "The second way to avoid any interference in the artistic vision is undoubtedly to build a long-term program that shows a strong and inalienable direction and to take into consideration the importance of narrative reports."

RAW's business model as it exists today was really thought out and formalized during the first transition period (2014-2016), which gave rise to a new physical space and the Academies. This (initially biannual) program for research, study of practice, artistic thinking, and curating takes the form of an experimental and experiential residency based on knowledge sharing between a director, faculty, and fellows. For Mame Farma, "The Academy is the flagship project of RAW Material Company, which has allowed for the adhesion of larger funders and a move away from an economic system that initially relied on more ad hoc and localized funding. The institution relies partly on the strength of this project, and the publications provide some real continuity. In addition to the outcomes related to the involvement of the ecosystem or the new forms of collaboration that emerge, the impacts are felt beyond the borders of Senegal.

Today, RAW operates on an economic model that differs from most cultural structures in the Senegalese environment, which allows it to have a real team of employees. Its founder is also known for the "empowerment" she transmits, mainly to women. Mame Farma started in 2016 that feels she was truly accompanied before taking over the administration. "After Koyo was appointed to Zeitz Mocaa’s artistic direction, RAW successfully completed the various handovers," says the administrator, "and yet, a handover is not an easy thing: it is not just about practical changes, it requires a lot of intellectual and psychological preparation."


OH Gallery, Dak’art Biennale, 2022: overview of the IN exhibitions in the Ancien Palais de Justice de Dakar. Photograph by: © OHGallery.

Biennials and Funding Paradigm Shifts
This article is a continuation of five years of research exploring the phenomenon of biennials and their impact on contemporary art production and the market. It is therefore interesting to take a detour through the case of the Dak’art Biennale to address the shift in funding paradigms. Like any biennial, the Dak'Art Biennale is political, and all the more so since it is mainly financed by the State. It is also supported by cooperation institutions and private donors. The difficulty lies in the lack of access to official but non-confidential information. Reports have been produced by the different artistic directors, but they are not made public and remain difficult to find. Statistical surveys have been implemented for the last two editions with investigators present to conduct satisfaction surveys in the official exhibition venues, but the results and analyses remain untraceable. A larger study had even been implemented by the European Union in 2014. The lack of resources suggests that the issues raised are not taken into account and that the economic impacts are not really studied. In 2022, an open letter requesting an audit was sent to the ministry by a group of Senegalese artists.

In recent editions of the Dak'art Biennale, a system of commissions that operates through a contracting cell was established. However, the bidding system recreates inequalities because its circumvention allows those with the greatest number of possibilities to submit responses, regardless of conflicts of interest. This form of commodification of biennials leads to imbalances in ecosystems. At the level of management and organization, everything happens as if Bourdieusian fields are clashing with sectors of activity that do not understand each other or do not share the same vision of the art world.

This post-pandemic edition of Dak’Art Biennale was a great success both locally and internationally, except maybe for a single article that,[8] besides being the result of journalistic work carried out with an agenda, nevertheless made an interesting argument: events, art centers, and museums are developing at an incredible speed in the sub-region and on the continent, which inevitably leads to an increase in market injunctions and, at the same time, in competition. If Dakar will always have a prominent place in the history of contemporary art and biennials, it is essential that government authorities grasp the issues and challenges to remain in the race. For example, it is hard to believe that Senegal still does not have a pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It is also incredible to think that a place as mythical as Dakar still does not have an official space dedicated to visual arts.


Reproduction of Unequal Relationships and Dichotomies
In North-South collaborative projects, the Northern partner is often designated as the controlling authority. This configuration induces vertical lines between the North and the South and unbalances social dynamics from the outset, with the risk of creating perverse effects. By imposing a hierarchy of roles rather than a division of tasks based on the sharing of knowledge, it perpetuates systems of representation that lead to a form of negation of the knowledge and skills linked to the mastery of the context, systematically infantilizing the Southern partner, regardless of their years of experience or the naivety of the Northern actor.

And that's not counting the forms of exploitation that can arise if budgets are managed in a non-transparent way, or simply when one of the parties doesn't have control over all aspects of a complex, context-related situation. One of the many examples is the issue of obtaining a visa. Discriminatory conditions often require artists from the South to have a minimum amount of money in their bank account, or to have a bank account at their disposal, which is not always the case. Added to this are the difficulties of accessing certain banks abroad, not to mention the fees not refunded in the case of a refusal. If the artist nevertheless manages to obtain a visa, regardless of all these factors, his or her situation becomes even more precarious, since in most cases he or she will only receive payment on arrival.

In the absence of regulations, and given the informality of the cultural sector, cooperative bodies sometimes play with the shortcomings of the system. In one case, for example, a structure offers a photographer the possibility of exhibiting within its walls, covering production costs but on the condition that the works are transferred to the structure at the end of the exhibition; in another case, the request made to the photographer simply amounts to transferring his or her rights in perpetuity. While the question of intellectual property is quickly resolved, that of rights is unfortunately subject to both a lack of regulation and a form of ignorance that needs to be remedied with a great deal of comprehension. Indeed, copyright, exhibiting rights, and acquisition rights must be dealt with separately. Initially created to protect performing artists, there is an organization to protect copyright in Senegal, SODAVE, but its application to the visual arts still lacks mediation.

Many external initiatives are attracted by the influence of Dakar. They arrive with ambitious project proposals, replete with a fixed and almost caricatured nomenclature that promises "sustainable exchanges" and other advantages of “visibility, multiculturality, etc.” However, most of the time it turns out that these exchanges have been considered in a one-sided manner, biased by the development paradigm which consists of thinking that a method that has proved its worth in one context necessarily be ideal in another part of the world.

Allegedly based on co-construction principles, they are sometimes devoid of content, or may be imbued with a non-anchored practice, i.e., a way of doing things that is not based on a contextualized study and that forgets to take into account a number of essential points: the historicity of the context (what has already been done, what has worked), continuity (what has failed and why, the phenomena of reproduction), the cosmologies of links (local ecosystem), sociological sustainability (i.e., feasibility with regard to sociology), and the receiver, recipient, or beneficiary (his or her challenges, needs, desires, obstacles, etc.). The perpetuation, even unconscious, of epistemological prejudices does not allow for true collaboration in the form of knowledge exchange, free from clichés or projections. Deciphering these phenomena requires an acuity that can only be acquired over the years, and which must be accompanied by a sufficiently strong anchoring but also, it has to be said, by an economic model that allows aligned refusal for ethical reasons.

If Dakar has always been the object of a singular force of attraction, the magnet effect sometimes occurs when large-scale exogenous proposals arrive, full of good intentions,  knowing that they will benefit from its aura. They present themselves as unmissable events on the Dakar, and even Senegalese, agenda, which didn't wait for them to exist, as Senegal already vibrates with a multitude of cultural initiatives on a daily basis. Everyone is looking to make the most of the repercussions of this arrival, opportunities being fostered by networking and relational capitalization that reproduce the hierarchies inherent in the diktat of the market. The cooptation or non-cooptation of speakers/participants thus redraws a cartography, revealing an entre-soi, partially inevitable in a microcosm, but nonetheless guided by personal interests and geo-political strategies (name dropping, social washing). This generates tensions in the social fabric that undoubtedly reflect the fragility of the cultural sector, because the sociology of art is not taken into consideration: there is an ecosystem that works and fights daily in the field. We can no longer continue to move forward while ignoring these ecologies of links.

Antoine Tempé, RAW Material Company, 2016. Photograph by: Antoine Tempé © RAW Material Company

Alternative Responses
Exogenous injunctions have always existed in Dakar because of its history and the security situation, but also because of the dynamism, creativity, and hard work of its artists and cultural actors. The real question behind this article lies in the responses that the actors, intermediaries, and artists themselves have found to address these external injunctions while retaining their particularism. How do they navigate the great game of contemporary art? How do they navigate the globalization of culture and the global standardization it brings with it, while avoiding a form of acculturation?

Perhaps the most obvious example is Issa Samb, aka Joe Ouakam, who is the godfather of RAW Material. Joe Ouakam is a multidisciplinary artist who has helped liberate an independent movement from a dominant vision in Senegal. As a militant artist, he has fought throughout his career for mental and artistic freedom, through healthy contestation and respectful critiques. He chose to remain in Senegal when others left because he was aware of the impact of the environment on the act of creation. Influenced by Marxism, he developed an aesthetic "rarely found in the canons of contemporary African art.”[9] Alongside Djibril Diop Mambéty, El Hadj Sy, and Youssoupha Dione, Agit'Art collective was founded in the mid-1970s, in resistance to a projection of the political and cultural philosophy of négritude and an object-based conception of art. Ephemerality, interdisciplinarity, interaction, and participatory action were the watchwords. In the interview conducted by artist Mohamed Ali Fadlabi[10] on the occasion of "Word! Word? Word!, Issa Samb and the Undecipherable Form,”[11] held at the Norwegian Office for Contemporary Art, Issa addresses these questions about the links maintained by President Senghor between Senegalese artists and the state, confessing his disagreement with the ideology of négritude but acknowledging the importance of Senghor's and Senegal's involvement in culture. Anchored in the collectives, he also had a very particular vision of the art market system. In a documentary directed by Wasis Diop in 2010, he talks about the effects of this materialization on young artists and the "agents" of the commercial world who "sing about people they undeserve, hoping only to make a profit from them."

Despite her international notoriety, RAW founder Koyo Kouoh and her successors have always maintained a form of independence from the diktat of hegemonic or speculative validation systems, relying first and foremost on hard work, exacting standards, and rigor. However, RAW is not impervious to the market and participates in it in some ways. Most of its members have backgrounds in finance, business, or art marketing. This has always enabled the team to maintain a cultural awareness of what is going on in the market. In fact, RAW members are regularly invited to take part in curatorial programs in the framework of international events that are totally linked to the market economy (1:54, ARCO, Expo Chicago, Berlin Gallery Weekend, etc.). RAW is therefore not totally sidelined from the system, as it has become a crediting system for artists or organizations. In the triangular process of valuing artworks, prescribers have an influence on the symbolic value of artworks, and therefore inevitably on their market value. Passing through RAW offers another form of validation, based on learning a method, entering a network, and the resulting collaborations. This was the case, for example, for artist Ibrahima Thiam, who was integrated into Galerie OH following the D'une Rive à l'autre exhibition.

Arts Collaboratory, Tontine and lumbung
By joining the transcontinental network Arts Collaboratory in 2013, RAW quickly became involved in the conversation about collaborative solidarity between the Souths, which called into question old inherited practices and mechanisms ill-suited to multiple scales.

Created in 2007, Arts Collaboratory was initially conceived as a funding program and knowledge-sharing platform by two Dutch foundations (DOEN and Hivos). Its aim was to support alternative arts structures attempting to act in their own contexts, and at the same time to create a network of South-South organizations. In 2013, the network expanded considerably to twenty-five independent art centers located on five continents—among them ruangrupa.[12] All share a common vision and goal of sustainable social change in diverse local contexts, through a multiplicity of practices. In 2015, following a reflection on the role of funding bodies in the sustainability of artistic and organizational practices, the main funders withdrew from their central role and joined the conversation as members or observers. The collective then began a process of experimentation in which both funding and arts organizations work together towards a genuine paradigm shift in funding, more specifically in the relationship between donors and recipients.

In this process, the main questions raised involve the rethinking of funding models, work methodologies including art on a local and transnational level, unlearning old ways of working, and collective and translocal autonomy. The working group reflects on the terminology of sustainability and money and looks for ways of doing things differently: replacing restrictive accountability mechanisms, creating collective management methods, exploring less material economies such as sharing or exchange, experimenting with mutual support (care), and horizontal relationships with donors.

In Senegal and in West Africa, we find traditional solidarity institutions such as the tontine, which is a "system of savings and credit, but also of social protection, a place of cultural exchange and a network of influence.”[13] The basic principle is simple: they rotate savings and credit associations in which members make regular payments, in kind or in money, the total of which is distributed in turn (Bouman, 1977; Henry et al., 1991).[14] Not all tontines are alike: there are family tontines, neighborhood tontines, entrepreneurial tontines, religious tontines and so on. What they all have in common, however, is that they privilege the group over the individual. The first written mention of tontines in Africa dates back to 1952. However, “esusu[15] is said to have existed since the mid-19th century.

These savings operate according to autonomous logics, most often in parallel with the banking sector, the main official saver. The associations of rotating savings and credit is "a form of collective saving in which the notion of group is decisive in the collection and distribution of funds; the tontine group acts as a mediator between agents who alternately have a capacity and a need for financing.”[16] One of the distinctive features of Senegalese tontines is their capacity for self-control, thanks to the social mechanisms developed by the tontine owners who manage them. The latter set up very solid circuits that define their norms and rules for collecting and allocating resources, making tontines well-organized and formal financial structures, contrary to what many economists think.[17] All too often, a binary comparison marginalizes this system, even though it is standardized but reputed to be informal.

Like the tontine, the lumbung[18] is a collaborative model that applies to ideas, knowledge, processes, and the shared use of resources. The proposal by the ruangrupa collective is to consider lumbung as a practice (enabling an alternative economy of collectivity, resource sharing, and equitable distribution) and not as a concept. Appointed artistic director of documenta fifteen, the collective set up a kind of laboratory to showcase lumbung and allow it to develop through lasting interactions and relationships, collectively shaping the artistic process. As Art Basel 2022 drew to a close with a scathing critique of the over-capitalization of the art world, documenta fifteen opened, under the direction of a group of collectives whose first public statement very quickly pledged their opposition to the forms of domination induced by certain worldviews.

In the art sphere, funding hierarchies are linked to information and network hierarchies. Funding paradigms thus not only reproduce inequalities, dichotomies, and new hegemonies, but above all perpetuate a form of epistemicide, i.e., a negation of other forms of knowledge. Dependencies, prioritizations, interference in artistic direction, lack of contextualization and follow-up, social inequalities, and the weight of organizational modalities are all tinged with this development paradigm. Nevertheless, there are alternative responses, even if we have to acknowledge that the two spheres of the art world have always coexisted, as evidenced by the symbolic value and market value of a work, which are intimately linked. From collectives to structures, we have enough examples and hindsight today to study these working models, which come to us from all over the world, mainly from the South. But documenta fifteen also raised the question of what we mean by "Souths." It would be reductive to think that the solution is limited to territorialization. Moreover, it is essential to avoid the pitfall of contrasting traditional versus modern solutions, which once again projects an exoticizing dichotomy. This reveals the precautionary nature of deconstruction mechanisms, so as not to reproduce what we are in the process of questioning. Today, systems of domination are everywhere, and intersectionality shows us that questions can be considered in meta terms. Hence the importance of working together to challenge any thinking that imposes itself as dominant, because one method in its entirety will always be less effective than several methods together.


Delphine Buysse, Curator of Programs at RAW Material Company since 2022, in collaboration with Mame Farma Fall, General Manager of RAW Material Company since 2016

Delphine Buysse is a Belgian-born curator who has lived on the African continent for 17 years now. Based in Dakar since 2018, she was part of the curatorial team of the 14th Dakar Biennale. Buysse has a degree in communication of art and an MBA in cultural management and the art market. She is pursuing her studies in philosophy and is a PhD candidate in sociology of art at Cheikh Anta Diop University (Dakar). She was a member of the doctoral school of Les Ateliers de la Pensée, in Dakar, in 2022. She has a strong focus in urban spaces and works with community-based initiatives to promote greater access to contemporary art also in relation to digital art. Buysse has collaborated with initiatives like the KIKK Festival (art, science, and technology) in Belgium since 2019 and with Ker Thiossane in Dakar, among other art institutions. She founded two organizations in Dakar to support emerging artists and taught at ISAC (UCAD). She is now curator of programs at RAW Material Company.

Mame Farma Fall is a financial auditor. She has more than 8 years' experience in auditing assignments with a chartered accountancy firm in Dakar. She also manages the accounts of a number of small and medium-sized enterprises with the A2C accounting assistance firm. She is General Manager at RAW Material Company where she has coordinated many exhibitions and discursive programs since 2016 in collaboration with the programming team. Farma works closely with the Program Director on funding applications. At the same time, she manages RAW's accounts and staff.

Her passion is fashion, with a project called SIMACK AADA set to be a couture studio, where she will aim to revalue the beauty of our African outfits, and authenticity.



[1] Laureline Savoye, “Sénégal : Léopold Sédar Senghor, icône pour les uns, énigme pour d’autres,” Le Monde Afrique, December 23, 2021.

[2] Anne-Marie Bouttiaux and Koyo Kouoh, David Adjaye’s Geo-Graphics: A Map of Art Practices in Africa, Past and Present (Brussels: Centre for Fine Arts, 2010).

[3] Thierno Diagne Ba, “Politique culturelle du Sénégal de Senghor à Sall,” Le Quotidien, July 18, 2014.

[4] Bigue Bob, “Des acteurs dressent le bilan à mi-parcours de Macky Sall,” Enquête + (February 2017).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Koyo Kouoh, Combler les vides. L’émergence des espaces indépendants d’art contemporain en Afrique, in État des Lieux. Symposium sur la création d’institutions d’art en Afrique (Dakar: RAW Material Company and Hatje Cantz, 2013), 9-11.

[8] Armelle Malvoisin, “La Biennale de Dak’Art tient par son Off,” May 29, 2022.

[9] Koyo Kouoh, ed., Word! Word? Word! Issa Samb and the Undecipherable Form (Berlin: OCA Norway, Sternberg Press, and RAW Material Company, 2013), 7-34.

[10] Conversation between the Sudanese artist Fadlabi and the Senegalese artist Issa Samb, The Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), translation by M. Chanat, 2013.

[11] The Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA).

[12] See below.

[13] Emmanuel Bidzogo, “Vers un véritable autofinancement de l'investissement en Afrique ? Témoignage en forme de projet, de souhait, de suggestion sur les tontines au Cameroun,” La Revue des Sciences de Gestion 255-256, nos. 3-4 (2012): 167-170.

[14] Raphaël Nkakleu, “Quand la tontine d'entreprise crée le capital social intra-organisationnel en Afrique : Une étude de cas,” Management & Avenir 27, no. 7 (2009): 119-134.

[15] This is the name for tontine in Nigeria.

[16] Papa Sow, “Formes et comportements d’épargne des Sénégalais et Gambiens de la Catalogne (Espagne),” Géographie et cultures 56 (2006).

[17] Ibid.

[18] This is the Indonesian term for a communal rice barn, where the surplus harvest is stored for the benefit of the community.

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Issue 58

Speculations: Funding and Financing Non-Profit Art

by Ronald Kolb, Dorothee Richter, Shwetal Patel