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Bulawayo Arts Festival: A Good Idea Gone Wrong?

Artists and festival team members of the Bulawayo Arts Festival are yet to get their dues, a year after the 2021 edition.

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @thabanih | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAY 6, 2022

Months in the planning, the event had hung in the balance during the COVID-19 lockdown, until the government permitted outdoor attractions—but to a limited audience and under strict regulations.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Bulawayo Arts Festival (BAF) is in its third year. Its birth in 2020 was greeted by aplomb and ululation, and put Bulawayo’s arts and culture on the map and national calendar.

It was a major attraction, and managed to get a buy-in from the central government.

People who witnessed the official opening of the festival went home convinced that this marked the beginning of better days to come. Credit for that achievement goes to the brains behind the Festival, City Fathers and The Festival Team.

A lot goes to festival management. Festivals are born out of ideas and those ideas find expression through a team of people that I will refer to as the festival team. They are the inner core of people responsible for the success or the flop of the festival.

Talk of the content, visuals, aesthetics, sound and the ambiance — anything that happens in a festival is because of this team. The team has sleepless nights for months planning the festival.

But as the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold, and this aptly captures BAF.

Not everything about BAF is as awesome as its images. BAF is a good example of a good festival gone bad because of poor management. BAF is a good example of how you can use and abuse artists. BAF management has no respect for its festival team and artists.

BAF got funding from the central government and other institutions including well-wishers such as local companies. Despite the funding from the central government and other institutions with the arts and culture at heart, some artists and the festival team members are yet to get their dues, a year after the 2021 edition.

This is a good example of how some arts institutions can use and abuse artists and their teams. It is a paradox. To date when some artists and members of the festival team ask about their dues which were due in the third week of June 2021, as per their contracts, they are told the money is due in two weeks.

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Two weeks became two, four, six months and now it’s almost a year. BAF has disrespected Bulawayo artists and the Bulawayo community. When the festival was launched, Bulawayo artists celebrated because they anticipated harvesting low hanging fruits from the festival.

BAF also disappointed young visual artists from different schools in Bulawayo after failing to hold a visual arts festival for primary and secondary schools. Their works were expected to be showcased at the Bulawayo Arts Gallery. President Emmerson Mnangagwa was also expected to see their works.

Lessons learnt from BAF are that those who manage arts festivals and arts institutions must respect artists and related contractual obligations.

Artists must not be abused. BAF has to respect its funders and the Bulawayo community at large.