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The falling leaf, so say the Chinese, returns to the roots of the tree!

After benefitting from support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy— which, among other things, facilitated the payment of rental fees for arts associations at Arts House in Blantyre—all things have come to an end and some arts associations have to fall like the proverbial dry leaf and return to the roots of the tree.

This is because The Royal Norwegian Embassy is no longer supporting the Cultural Support Scheme. In fact, a new child, in the form of the Cultural Fund of Malawi, is born and Hivos, the institution in charge of the new fund, has other priorities other than paying rentals for local arts associations as a pool.

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Predictably, the alarm bells have started ringing, with the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) asking the government to bail the creative industry out and save them from singing a wailing song.

Mawu president, Sambalikagwa Mvona, said organisations such as his only have this month left to vacate the Arts building in Blantyre.

“In terms of office space, we, artists, are struggling. This is the last month for us to acquire office space. Contract with the [Royal] Norwegian Government is expiring [this month end],” Mvona said.

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The Cultural Support Scheme is a small grant scheme which aims to promote and strengthen the capacity of the associations so that they can serve the interests of their members better.

About nine arts associations are assisted with office space and some running costs, in addition to having the opportunity of applying for small funding projects.

Mvona said arts associations would be grateful if the government— through the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development— would consider allocating them space at the Blantyre Cultural Centre as one way of easing office-space headache.

Arts House in Blantyre offers shelter to a number of arts organisations, among them Mawu, Musicians Union of Malawi Southern Region Chapter and Visual Arts Association of Malawi.

Speaking in a separate interview yesterday, Book Publishers Association of Malawi (BPAM) president, Alfred Msadala, said the development was likely to negatively affect some other associations while would source funds through other means.

“Associations used to benefit from Cultural Support Scheme, which has phased out. Now there is the Cultural Fund of Malawi, being administered by Hivos. I understand Hivos is not supposed to pay rent [for arts associations] and, instead, they will look at individual associations. Those who convince them may get support for their individual organisations,” Msadala said.

However, Msadala said BPAM members had no need for worry because the [BPAM] secretariat would continue operating from the Arts House premises.

“We will still be there [Arts House] up to April because we have managed to pay rentals using funds from other sources. Before we came here [Arts House], our secretariat was at Feed the Children [Blantyre], we then went to NBS House in Limbe before moving to Arts House. We moved in here [Arts House] for solidarity sake and, on the grounds of solidarity, we are concerned that other associations may be forced to vacate [Arts House],” Msadala said.

The Royal Norwegian Embassy has been bankrolling a number of projects in the country.

According to Norway’s official website, http://www. norway.mw, Malawi has been a recipient of millions of kwacha, as the foreign government had spent NOK 6 million [about USD 1 million] by 2013.

The Norwegian Government indicates that it has had a long-term involvement in the cultural sector in Malawi, providing funding along two main lines of government-to-government cooperation, and support to cultural actors in civil society.

“Cooperation between the governments have been through the Department of Culture [in the Ministry of Tourism and Culture]. This multi-year agreement has cumulatively amounted to NOK 8.1 million, which has enabled rehabilitation and maintenance of a number of historical buildings. These funds have also helped [in] the conservation of prehistoric art forms such as rock painting, and the preservation of Malawian culture through story collection and recording of songs, dances and games [intangible heritage],” reads part of a website post titled “Information about Norwegian Development Cooperation in Malawi focusing on Culture”.

But, it seems, it is time for the leaf of some arts associations to return to the root of the tree, as the negatively affected associations seek to put their house in order and gather the ruins of lost shelter at Arts House.

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