Are Matabeleland Young Artists Boxed In? Who Is To Blame?

Who is to blame for the lack of opportunities in the arts sector? Image by Mgcini Nyoni

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JUN 25, 2021

Is the growth in a sector the responsibility of the pioneers of the same? Shall individuals be propped up or become sacrificial lambs when things go wrong? Here's why strong cultural institutions are needed as of yesterday, writes Thabani H. Moyo.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — A new phenomenon is developing among young artists in the region and any gathering of creatives would not be complete without the following being mentioned or noticed: Angry. Boxed. Confused. Desperate. Distressed. Frustrated. Hopeless.

Most of them spew ugly words about the world of the arts they find themselves in.

“Senzenjani baphathi bethu? Sifone ngaphi ukuze sikhule? Kumbe sithule” cried one desperate young artist on his Facebook page.

In most cases, these desperate voices are targeted at individuals who have been given all sorts of names.

These individuals have been named arts elders, arts doyens, arts mafia, arts Godfathers, gatekeepers and arts hyenas.

Sometimes prominent names such as Raisedon Baya, Simon Mambazo Phiri, Nkululeko Nkala, Nkululeko Dube and William Nyandoro have been thrown into the ring purported to be the cause of their desperation.

These arts gurus have been perceived as powerful individuals who sit in some imagined Arts Council that is responsible for shaping and sharing the regional cake.

Maybe it is because these individuals have worked hard to build their names and some are mentioned by virtue of holding leadership positions in some arts institutions and they become easy targets for venting out.   

In this installation, we seek to explore who is to blame for the lack of opportunities in the arts sector? Is it appropriate to blame a handful of individuals for failing the creative sector in Matabeleland but at the same time pride ourselves on being called the country's cultural melting pot?

Are these individuals really stifling the regional arts sector as some young artists would like to believe? If not, dear reader, where is the problem? In the past, the region has witnessed few personal initiatives that were aimed at grooming young talent.

Most of these initiatives have been largely informal.

They have been carried out on borrowed or negotiated spaces like schools, council halls and even in open spaces. Most of these initiatives have been funded from personal pockets with no institutional support at all.

Young artists who have joined them have done so voluntarily. Good examples of such initiatives are Bambatha Academy and Centre For Talent Development in Bulawayo.

These are projects that were run through passion if there is anything like that. It is undeniable that such initiatives fizzle out when the initiators get burn out. Unfortunately, these are the same individuals who have dedicated their resources and time to uplifting the sector only to be later labelled as arts 'chokers'.

Other organisations that have worked in the area of grooming young talent are Nhimbe Trust and Intwasa Arts Festival through their different initiatives.

However, these programs are seasonal and depend on the availability of resources. So, there is a serious gap when it comes to formal training and projects designed for young artists in the region. What young artists should know is the so-called arts doyens are frustrated too. Resources are not there for everyone alike, young and old.

Everyone seems not to get the nexus. The arts elders who are expected to help also need help themselves. They are shot of resources too. They can only do much with what they have. The biggest challenge is that everyone has been focussing on individuals instead of public institutions.

There is this obsession with building powerful individuals instead of strong public institutions. Without strong public institutions, there won’t be proper and formal processes for empowering young artists. Young and old artists will continue to survive on other hustles which are hardly sustainable. It is time that public institutions are challenged to account for their activities in the arts fraternity

Local authorities have arts desks and those are redundant in most areas. There are structures within councils that are meant to support arts and cultures but these are defunct. What is surprising though is that the offices are occupied and some people are paid for the job yet there is nothing meaningful happening on the ground.

It is time that artists both young and old demanded active desks from these councils. Councils have turned structures meant to be for arts and culture into white elephants. This must be addressed.

However, the biggest culprit, some say is the central government. The central government is good at crafting brilliant policies that are only read in hotels during high powered conferences but are barely implemented.

The latest document in that light is National Development strategy 1. When it comes to empowering the artists and the arts sector, it is a brilliant document. The document acknowledges that the youths are a valuable resource and only need an enabling environment that will build and strengthen them.

The document acknowledges the role of arts and culture in promoting sustainable social and economic development. Some of the government strategies are to enhance investment in local cultural resources, develop sustainable creative economies, develop infrastructure for arts and culture and heritage.

In light of the above, the government must take responsibility to make sure that young artists are empowered equally across provinces. Young artists should make it a habit to constantly approach their regional offices in charge of arts and demand that government delivers on its mandate. By doing such, they will contribute to the enforcement of accountability in the sector.

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Public institutions like the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe must be empowered so that in turn they empower the artists. The Arts and Culture development fund that the government put in black and white as one of its strategies must come to life and young artists from the region must be beneficiaries too.

If the central government plays its role, then our young artists won’t feel boxed and desperate.

We implore young talented artists to scale down on the blame game and channel the abundant energy towards finding lasting solutions that would uplift their craft.

In Raisedon Baya’s words, “We all must fight, all must push, all must find each other somehow”.

Bulawayo, Matabeleland young artists, Arts sector, Lack of opportunities, Arts gurus

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