The creative industry has for a long time bemoaned the absence of arts schools in the country, with many artists failing to refine and upgrade their inborn talents.
But while there are still not enough institutions of such nature, (University of Malawi formerly Chancellor College) in Zomba has contributed immensely to the growth of arts in Malawi in different disciplines through the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
While some graduates in arts have failed to remain faithful to the discipline, others are still in it and they continue to make tremendous contributions in different sectors.
Opening its doors in 1964, Chanco now Unima, saw the gap in the creative industry and in order to raise its bar, decided to establish the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
Some students were shortlisted to go for studies at the college, as teaching started on September 29, 1965.
In 1967, other constituent colleges were incorporated.
However, in 1973, Chancellor College moved from Chichiri in Blantyre to the current campus – Chirunga in Zomba.
Since then the college has produced several graduates in different disciplines, including arts. While some other artists have failed to get entry into Unima because of the entry requirements, the Department of Fine and Performing Arts has opened up by holding workshops in various art disciplines although more needs to be done.
There are even some graduates in arts, who have worked hard and are enjoying the fruits outside the country.
Some of the names that are enjoying the fruits of arts refined from Department of Fine and Performing Arts include Massa Lemu, who is currently in the United States of America.
The other graduate from Unima who has embraced arts is Thokozani Kapiri.
Kapiri, who used to star with Nanzikambe Arts, has held and directed several productions in and outside the country.
The actor and playwright, who is a theatre studies lecturer at Mzuzu University, has had stints in Switzerland where he pursued further studies.
He said that one cannot understand the insurmountable contribution that the Department of Fine and Performing Arts has rendered to the creative industry.
“From its genesis, drama was taught as part of literary studies in the English Department until the pioneer academics like David Kerr and Chris Kamlongera championed that art and performance must have its own department,” he said.
Kapiri also zeroes in on Theatre for Development which he said has contributed greatly in different programmes for various organisations in civic education.
Some of the organisations that have benefited from the expertise of graduates from Unima in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts include Creccom, Story Workshop, Pakachere and Nanzikambe Arts.
“We cannot talk about theatre in the country without mentioning the Department of Fine and Performing Arts and our crafts have been staged in the famous Little Theatre,” he said.
Kapiri said through Little Theatre, students and people from outside the campus have had to watch different productions.
“Little Theatre has hosted performances of such names like Edwin Saidi, Chancy Mauluka and Edgar ndi Davis Band led by Edgar Kachere and Davis Njobvu,” he said.
Lilongwe-based filmmaker and visual artist Elson Kambalu is also a graduate from Unima, who drunk from the well of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
Kambalu, who is the proprietor of La Galleria in Lilongwe, in 2017 screened his debut film titled Mlandu Wa Njinga in the Little Theatre. The film received an overwhelming support from the audience.
The film tells the story of a man, who served eight years in jail and after his release, fails to enjoy life. He goes back to jail after being found once again on the wrong side of the law.
With his love for arts, Kambalu has contributed to the many films that have been produced by different filmmakers in the country telling a Malawian story.
In its efforts of propelling the creative industry in the country, a team from Department of Fine and Performing Arts recently also participated in the one-week Music in Africa Sound Connect Fund conference in South Africa.
The Unima team participated in the conference alongside Tumaini Letu and Music Crossroads Malawi.
University of Malawi Head of Department – Fine and Performing Arts Catherine Makhumula-Mtimuni said they were happy to be part of the Sound Connect Fund Grantee Networking Conference.
“Two months ago, Sound Connect Fund awarded the University of Malawi 180,000 Euros to strengthen the creative industries in Malawi. We plan to use this money for professional development trainings for artists, to establish a creative hub and state of the art, sound studio and also to launch a website resource for the creative industries of Malawi,” Makhumula-Mtimuni said.
She said the conference was a networking opportunity for them to interact with other grantees of the Sound Connect Fund.
“This is also meant to build our capabilities in project and financial management. We were happy to represent Malawi alongside Tresor Mpauni from Tumaini Letu and Mathews Mfune from Music Crossroads Malawi,” Makhumula-Mtimuni said.
She said the Department of Fine and Performing Arts will continue to engage in different initiatives as part of its contribution to the growth of arts and culture in the country.