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Cry from creatives

Consultations unearth challenges

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Michael Usi

Time is running out for creatives in the country. They would want the industry to start getting enough support from the government, and even the corporate world.

Creatives have for a long time called upon the government to fasten the process of establishing National Arts and Heritage Council (NaHec) following the approval of the Culture Policy in 2015.

It is now 16 years since the Culture Policy was launched and, contains information on the establishment of NaHec. NaHec is not there yet and one minister after the other has come spearheading the affairs of the creatives but little has been done.

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At one time, the NaHec Bill was said to be at Ministry of Justice and that was long time ago and, this time around, it is still there.

And with Parliament meeting next week, creatives are hoping that NaHec Bill will be tabled this time around.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Michael Usi, who is also a renowned artist, has said now and again that he will fight tooth and nail to have NaHec on the ground.

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He said he was aware of all the challenges that creatives were facing in the country and that NaHec was one of the important elements to grow art and culture in Malawi.

“The process has taken long for sure but NaHec will be established soon. I know where it is and I have been pushing,” Usi said recently.

Musician and art activist Eric Trinta, who is proprietor of Nyamithambo Arts Palace in Lilongwe and Nsanje, said the minister needs to put all his muscle towards NaHec and have its bill tabled this time around.

“NaHec is the solution to all the problems that creatives are facing now. You talk about sanity, funding, infrastructure and job creation. It is high time the government stopped paying a blind eye to NaHec and the creative sector. The creative sector has shown that it has potential and more young people are into it,” Trinta said.

Several arts associations are operating without offices and infrastructure for performances is even a challenge.

One of the mighty entertainment meccas in the country – Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) formerly French Cultural Centre —remains in a sorry state, with the government’s rehabilitation efforts moving at a snail’s pace.

And recently, in a bid to collect ideas in propelling arts in the country, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife in partnership with Unesco held regional consultations for the arts and culture sector on implementation of the Culture Policy.

The consultations started in the Southern Region before moving to the Central and then Northern Region where creatives from different art disciplines presented their ideas and challenges.

During consultations in Mzuzu, artists also bemoaned the absence of NaHec, saying it was high time the government committed to supporting the creative sector in the country.

The artists also spoke highly about limited infrastructure for arts in the Northern Region, which they claimed was worse compared to Southern and Central regions.

The consultations were made possible by the the Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Unesco Regional Office for Southern Africa through Malawi National Commission for Unesco which is supporting government’s efforts in ensuring the implementation of the Malawi Culture Policy in line with the 2005 Unesco Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Director of Museums and Monuments in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Lovemore Mazibuko hailed creatives for opening up and voicing out their concerns as regards growing arts in the country.

“We have had no opportunity to listen to stakeholders, so the consultations were all about hearing from them on successes and challenges so as to have smooth implementation of the Culture Policy,” Mazibuko said.

He said the consultations were a clear sign that the government has the creative sector at heart.

“Of course, some things have taken time to implement but we are heading in the right direction and there is progress,” Mazibuko said.

He clarified that the name NaHec, which has been a bone of contention by creatives, who feel heritage will take control, said it has nothing to do with the works of arts being submerged by heritage.

“There is a provision to establish NaHec and this is contained in NaHec Bill to be sent to Parliament but its naming has created a problem with many arts practitioners not comfortable with the combining of arts and heritage. To them, they feel like heritage will dominate but this is not correct,” Mazibuko said.

The creation of NaHec, which the creative industry feels should be named Arts Council, is aimed at coordinating arts industry for it to benefit from, among other things, subvention from the government.

“Most activities will be arts and not heritage. Heritage only comes in because of the issues to do with gazetting of national monuments. The thing is, instead of creating two parastatals with similar mandate, we thought of going for one and, so, this should not be cause for worry,” Mazibuko said.

Unesco’s Christopher Magomero described the consultations as productive and that they collected a lot of rich information for processing and sharing.

“A lot of activities have been implemented but there are still gaps; for instance, NaHec which is in the Culture Policy and we need it urgently,” Magomero said.

He said the establishment of NaHec is of great importance to the creative industry and that there is a need to push it.

“There is progress for sure as explained by the government. We need NaHec urgently and now that it is at an advanced stage, we don’t need to make changes now because that will bring in more delays. Changing the name would mean the bill budgets being recalled from Ministry of Justice where it is now,” Magomero said.

Blantyre-based creative, Thoko Kadewere, said recently that the consultations had come at the right time.

“There are certain policies that are there protecting creatives but it seems a lot of players don’t know. Through these consultations we highlighted a number of issues including capacity-building, laws and policies that protect and support artists and data costs,” Kadewere said.

Several other creatives have emphasised that there is creativity in the country but the challenge is empowerment and that there should be deliberate policies by the government to take arts as a serious career.

“We still have a long way to go on this because society looks at art as ‘zongosangalatsa’. Our friends are making a living out of art, so, we need to position ourselves so that our art can also be sold regionally and globally,” Sand Music Festival Lead Coordinator Nkhwachi Mhango, said.

Mhango also zeroed in on issues of piracy and that the corporate world needs to play its role of supporting the creative sector by channeling resources through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

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