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Saturday, 21 July 2012

An arts ministry at long last, now what?

Sylvia Masebo

By Andrew Mulenga

One cannot help but harmonize with the smug expressions on the faces of the artistes from Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) who recently held a gathering to celebrate the re-alignment of the tourism ministry which now includes the arts.

It is now called the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and last week President Michael Sata appointed Sylvia Masebo as minister.

“We have a task, we have a job to make the Zambian people understand that art can create employment”, said Masebo addressing the small crowd of artistes at the ZAM gathering.
Nevertheless, for the minister to say “we have a job to do” may perhaps be an understatement looking at the epic task that lies ahead as a result of the neglect of an entire sector for a period that almost spans the entire post-colonial epoch.

In an interview for this column shortly after the Patriotic Front was voted into power last year, arts writer Roy Kausa said: "I am appealing to government to quickly consider the arts to fall under the tourism ministry. Then with the help of stakeholders the ministry can identify which people can sit on the National Arts Council from the various arts disciplines”.
Obviously at the time Kausa was making these suggestions, he had no idea that his words were prophetic to a certain degree.

 "The minister of tourism should call a meeting where the creative community can sit down and map a way forward otherwise I see no future for the arts if they fall under the ministry of chiefs and traditional rulers, because tourism as well as art is dynamic. Let culture related issues be handled by the chiefs and other traditional rulers", he continued.
Wise words and valid suggestions indeed from Kausa, but his proposals would just be part of the beginning.
A starting point for Masebo and government to strengthen and support role of the arts towards realising a vibrant and diverse creative sector, the anaemic National Cultural Policy of 2003 must be revised as soon as possible. A new cultural policy must set the framework for Government’s constitutionalized support for the arts for the next few years, furnishing us with a collective, planned direction and grounds for investment in the sector.
In the past, government support of the arts was weak because the creative sector was fragmented over too many line ministries this was acknowledge by means of a disclaimer in the National Cultural Policy (2003, p6):

"2.7 Administration and Co-ordination of Cultural Affairs. The Cultural Sector cuts across a number of line ministries such as: 
a) The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (under which the Department of Cultural services and the National Arts Council of Zambia fall); 
b) The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (under which Zambia Music Copyright Protection Society and film and cinema administration fall); 
c) The Ministry of Tourism (under which the National Museum Board and National Heritage Conservation Commission Falls);
d) The Ministry of Local Government and Housing (under which the administration of Chiefs falls); e) The Ministry of Science Technology and Vocational Training (under which the training of artists in colleges falls); 
f) The Ministry of Home Affairs (under which the national Archives falls).
The above scenario raises the problem of co-ordination for effective and efficient delivery of cultural services to the nation."
But let bye bygones be bygones, the revised cultural policy must formulate and implement the support of professionals and amateurs alike in the disciplines of theatre, music, dance, fine arts, crafts, cinema, fashion, poetry and copyright-related issues, as well as to protect Zambia’s cultural worth and create an annual National Arts Festival that will encompass all these mentioned categories of the arts.

Another thing that belongs in the dustbin, particularly now that tourism and art is under one roof is the Zambia National Tourism Board’s (ZNTB) promotional booklet targeted at tourists and visitors among other things.
If one flips through the pages to the city profiles and travel tips, it elaborately covers banking, climate, etiquette, currency, visa requirements and language among other things but does not mention a single thing about the arts.
There is no mention of the contemporary art scene or works that can be viewed at the National Museum and private collections such as Chaminuka, Villa Lucia and Namwandwe, or the Henry Tayali gallery and Twaya Arts.
Furthermore, there is no mention of the thriving handicrafts markets and curios that can be bought at Livingstone’s Mukuni market, the Kabwata Cultural Village and Arcade’s Sunday market in Lusaka, or even the Twapya roadside market in Ndola.
The Lusaka Playhouse, Kitwe and Chingola little theatres get no reference too, suggesting that theatre is none existent in Zambia and that a visitor cannot catch up with local productions.
Similarly, there are no profiles or consideration of local arts festivals such as the Mwela Arts festival or the Chikuni Music Festival that, according to an insider at ZNTB attracts scores of traditional musicians and over 70,000 villagers annually.
And although it might be delving into foreign affairs territory, a recent comment in the June 2012 edition of the Bulletin & Record magazine by Jack Zimba upon returning from a US State Department sponsored educational trip to Washington DC further highlights the shambolic image of Zambia that Masebo and team will have to consider correcting.
“Being at the Zambian embassy felt like walking into a typical government office back home. We had to wait a couple of minutes before an Asian man appeared at the reception and gave us a not-so-warm welcome. Dirty carpets lined the floors of the embassy offices and the toilet was not up to Washington standards,” writes Zimba “What was even more shocking was that there were posters bearing the old “Zambia, the Real Africa slogan still hanging on the walls of the conference room and reception area. The ZNTB, which markets Zambia’s tourism, rebranded itself last July with a new logo and motto, discarding  the “Zambia, the Real Africa”, which was seen to project the wrong image and adopting “Zambia: Let’s Explore”.
Obviously the tourism booklet and Zimba’s experience insinuate that Zambia is in dire need of re-marketing. As such, sentiments from Livingstone-based veteran artist Benjamin Mibenge who is also a retired graphic designer from what was called the Zambia Information Services come to memory.
“My government too is not doing much for the arts as far as I am concerned. Government should immediately employ or assign people to specifically acquire and decorate our embassies with Zambian art; it used to be done in the 60s and 70s, why not now?” said the 67-year-old who is responsible for redesigning the interiors of the Livingstone and Moto Moto Museum  during an interview with the Saturday Post early this year.

Another item Masebo should consider for the recycle bin would be the annual Ngoma Awards, they are clearly out of date and have been begging for improvement for years. According to sources the awards could not take place last year because of lack of resources, political will as well as uncertainty within the ranks of the arts council as they had no clue to which side the political hammer will fall late last year.

 Winning an art award should be a life changing moment both inspirationally and financially, the prize money given to artistes for the Ngomas being about K1.5m is nothing short of a joke. With government patronage and its business connections, an artiste should be able to walk home with at least a K50m cash prize.

Artists and creative practitioners have been blubbering for government recognition for decades, finally their time has come. However, outsiders may be unaware that the realms of the Zambian arts scene are notoriously factionalized and antagonistic, a truth that many insiders would want to ignore. At this point in time it would be wise for them to work together as a unit if they do not wish to see tourism become the more dominant half of the ministry (which is very likely), and like Masebo says they have a job to do, it is therefore important that they help her help them by being united.

Masebo is an experienced ministerial leader, as well as a trendy fashion icon with an affinity for the arts. Surrounded by the right people, if drawn from the adequate arts administrators and creative individuals whom are not lacking in the country, she is bound to be successful. One only hopes she does not end up with a cadre of PF members that have been waiting in the side-lines for their share of the victory pie or members of the archetypal family tree that has become a norm in post-Kaunda leadership. 

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