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Artists’ selfish act on Arts and Heritage Council

Capital Hill


It must be disastrous when a hitherto latent player finally stirs into wakefulness.

If the wakefulness results from a sudden bout of enlightenment, it would be understood if a reawakened player were to demand everything as one way of claiming what has been lost along the way.

But when the state of wakefulness is sparked by the works of a Good Samaritan, the misplaced wakefulness and feigned anger, as has been the case with local artists of late, would be misplaced.

The issue at hand here about artists’ protestations over the government’s decision to create the Arts and Heritage Council, and not Arts Council as artists wanted.

Some artists, probably the what-is-in-a-name type, have been up in arms, agitating for the creation of Heritage Council and Arts Council and opposing the creation of a body that would be dealing with both cultural and heritage issues.

To begin with, the local artists could be acting from a position of ignorance, considering that countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, among others, have their versions of arts and heritage bodies.

I have, in mind, the Arts & Heritage establishment, which is an agency that renders support to heritage institutions as well as museums. The goal is that these bodies should put contemporary art at the heart of their activities.

I, actually, liked comments of the UK Local Government Association on this. In a document, titled ‘Protecting and improving local arts and cultural services, including museums, libraries and archaeological services.

House of Lords’, the association posits thus: “In order for local arts and cultural services to continue to thrive, we need the government to advocate the economic and strategic value of museums, libraries and cultural services and to steer national policy in a way which reinforces collaboration between sectors.

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport can enhance this work by working with the Office for Civil Society and Innovation to ensure that local museums are able to access volunteering and engagement opportunities offered by the National Citizens Service, and comparable civic engagement initiatives. The department also needs to be working with those council areas considering a devolution deal to explore how museums and a cultural offer can be included.”

My interest in this is the integrated nature of culture, arts— and even media and sport.

Surely, days when sector players worked in isolation are over.

Just in South Africa, the National Heritage Council does more than representing one aspect of life. Created to build a nation proud of its African heritage and transform, protect and promote South African heritage for sustainable development through the values of ubuntu, integrity, creativity, professionalism and equity, the council does more than dwell on heritage in its bid to promote and protect national heritage for present and future generations.

That is why it promotes history, which includes issues about the arts, and culture, ensuring that indigenous knowledge systems— in our case we can include the issue of traditional instruments— is treasured and preserved.

And, of course, in furtherance of its objectives, it offers grants, which Malawian artists seem intent on getting, having been on the peripheral of policymakers’ consideration.

As the Mill Magazine puts it, there is no way culture and arts could be separated. In its article, titled ‘Culture Matters: The Importance of Art Councils’, it says “Art is culture, expression, freedom, beauty, pain, sadness, and happiness.”

The magazine also puts the issue of arts councils— from the look of things, this is what local artists want because they do not want to share the cake with anyone else; they want all pieces of the cake— in the best way possible.

It indicates: “Art councils are most simply defined as a government or private, non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the arts in many ways such as funding local artists, awarding prizes and grants, and organising events at home and abroad. Art councils typically are created to fund local artists and art-related events, performances, and exhibitions. They also help give artistic opportunities to kids in school.

“Beneficial not only to the national, state, regional, and local economies, these councils act as support systems for artists. Art councils are typically funded through charity events, memberships, grants, and donations. Charity events in various forms can also serve as performance platforms for relatively unknown to nationally recognized artists.

“Each art council typically has its own unique vision and mission to help preserve community culture, help fund local artists, organise events and increase awareness while stimulating tourism due to the richness art adds to an area. They continuously strive to ensure cultural experiences are preserved through varied forms of artistic expression.”

I do not think I have to add anything to this, except to say demanding the creation of a stand-alone arts council, as opposed to Arts and Heritage Council, is a selfish act. Culture, heritage and arts are one, no question about that.

Considering that the reverberations, read cries, of local artists have been ignored for so long, while sports organisations have been carting home wads of cash, one would have expected local artists to appreciate the government’s gesture.

After all, they say half a loaf is better than none.

Let local artists burst with unbridled passion when coming up artworks, and not when opposing the creation of Arts and Heritage Council.

If local musicians of this generation do not want anything to do with Arts and Heritage Council, let them be. Let them continue crying wolf but, surely, future generations will laud for laying a sound financial and policy foundation for heritage and arts in this country.

Take it or leave it, but may Arts and Heritage Council live long.

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