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Promoting art the partnership way

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NKOSI — People have been recognising us

Malawi’s arts sector is strewn with stories of success borne out of partnerships.

After all, as comedian Eric Mabedi aptly observed, the arts sector is full of interesting players but lacks a sense of purpose when players are pulling in different directions.

Even Culture Minister Michael Usi acknowledges this fact, pointing out that this is the reason the government has introduced bail-out initiatives targeting the arts sector.

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“The government realises that artists, as partners in development, artists play a crucial role in national development efforts. However, like all sectors, they have not been spared the negative effects of Covid-19.

“We, therefore, came up with the initiative so that we could, somehow, alleviate some of the challenges they face,” he said.

Not that the minister does not realise that the solution is not permanent; it is just that the government wants to alleviate part of the pain artists have been reeling from due to the contagion.

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“Even though the financial help will not be a permanent solution to the pickle Malawian artists are in, it will still make a difference,” he said.

That is why, in walking the talk, just in May this year, Malawi Gaming Board (MGB) financially bailed out local artists.

MGB Chairperson Bernard Mndau said the initiative had not come out of the blues, but was a product of collaboration.

“We worked with arts associations to ensure that the initiative meets their needs,” he said.

The initiative had an immediate impact as some individual artists carted home K100,000 each, with earmarked groups going home with K200,000 in the bag.

Some artists, notably Lawrence Khwisa, also known as Lulu, won K100,000. Equal amounts fell on the laps of gospel artist Princess Chitsulo, Michael Kasito and Anne Phiri.

In terms of groups, lady luck smiled at Let Girls Lead Dance Group, Kwandege Cultural Group and Frantic Dance Ensemble, which got K200,000 each.

While impressed, Poetry Association of Malawi Chairperson Nyamalikiti Mthiwatiwa said it would make more sense if the Ministry of Finance included arts on the list of those that would get a piece of the cake that is the national budget.

Surely, in comparison with the 221 artists that benefitted from the MGB intervention, the national budget would cater for more artists.

However, save for funds allocated for Blantyre Cultural Centre amphitheatre completion works, there is not much the arts sector can salivate at, even as members of Parliament are in the Committee of Supply stage.

That is where partners such as the European Union (EU) come in.

Speaking during an event called Art in the Park Visual Arts Exhibition, while Wildlife Environmental Society of Malawi (Wesm) organised in May this year, acting Head of the EU Delegation in Malawi, AurelieValtat, said nothing unites people more than art, hence their commitment to promoting arts activities.

“Art is a universal language. For us, as Europeans, it’s really about building bridges between Malawians and Europeans and finding common ground. Culture and art is the perfect way to speak when we don’t speak the same language.

“We think that there is a potential for Malawian artists to create their own jobs, develop an industry and this is why we would like to make sure that Malawian art is very visible,” she said.

Director of Arts Humphrey Mpondaminga felt that the coming in of the EU was a stitch in time, especially that the arts industry was facing a number of challenges, with Covid, specifically, eating into the gains the sector has registered of late.

“It has not been easy. As you know, it has been over a year since we were hit by Covid-19 pandemic. It has been very tough for the sector. The sector relies on informal setups. We are happy that, in recent weeks, artists have been coming out to perform,” he said.

He said government had, in the offing, a number of programmes to support artists and the creative industry.

“In terms of infrastructure development, we are still working on the Blantyre Cultural Centre to ensure that it’s completed. Our interest is to ensure that the facility hosts even visual arts, other than just performing arts,” he said.

Artist Andy Nkosi is of the view that there are positive strides being made in the sector.

“People have, in the past two years, been recognising artists,” he said.

What he means is that no longer do artists’ names enter the picture when people are talking in past tense.

Artists should not be burdened with mementos because doing so is like letting them carry dead flowers.

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