As it turns out, some powerful people have been listening to that call, like Senegalese president Macky Sall, who has personally invested 500 million CFA (roughly $900,000) as a gesture of support. Sall announced this pledge at the ouverture—Dak’art’s version of a press conference, which, in this case, took the form of an ambitious 3.5 hour musical pageant held at the Grand National Theater, with performances by Youssou N’dour; a 300-person Senegalese choir; a Rwandan drum-and-dance troupe; a Tunisian violinist; and an Afro-Jazz modern dance ensemble.
Sall himself was present, sitting in a group of Dakarois school children; the casualness (and lack of security) was a little jolting. He was there to do his part to elevate the arts as an economic driver for Senegal. “The present edition of the biennial comes in the context of the marked permanence of a cultural economy in a changing world, where culture contributes more and more to richness,” he said, addressing an audience in which cabinet ministers and foreign dignitaries were mushed alongside radical artists and notable locals clad in boubous and dukus.
“The visibility of contemporary African art has improved in terms of revenues, the number of works, numbers of art shows, and quality level,” he added, outlining four imperatives or demands: energize the domestic market; amplify arts education efforts; place art in public; and protect artistic production. “We have to organize our creative resources and accommodate the cultural sector,” he said, speaking quite honestly. “The government supports investing in art because art helps economic development.” Sall then debuted the new “1% Law,” a national bill allocating 20 million CFA ($36,036) towards placing art in new public construction projects.
An impressive overture, indeed, but the work is far from done. “An artist without a gallery or a studio is someone who does not exist,” Njami says flatly. “This biennial brings a lot of people, lots of tension, and from there, artists create things.” But, he adds, after the flurry of events, many Dakarois note the city falls quiet—and so does the art scene. “Without any activity, how do you want the market to exist?” the curator asks. “Without the structure, there cannot be a valuable potential. The structure is the museums, the galleries, the collectors, the critics. This is how the market will shift.”