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Why are Local Arts Ventures Failing?

Artists and arts organisations that have relied on funding have quickly gone under as soon as funding dries up. Image by Unsplash

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @thabanih | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JULY 29, 2022

Artistes from Matabeleland are finding it hard to monetize their products and rely on donations to stay afloat.

MATABELELAND (The Citizen Bulletin) — The cultural sector depends significantly on philanthropic funds. This makes it look like the sector is inefficient or its products are not in commercial demand. But this is far from the truth; the arts are in demand. The arts have public value. Most of the artists and arts organisations are finding it difficult to keep afloat.

They live from hand to mouth.

The arts organisations that come to mind are Sadalala Amajekete, Lothu Lothu, Blue Virgins, TASA, AmaAfrika Aqotho and many others. These groups were vibrant. Today they are non-existent. So why is it that most artists and these arts organisations have failed in their business ventures?

Matabeleland’s cultural sector is largely fragmented and operating in an informal manner. Most of the arts institutions around don’t have proper structures that can make them run professionally. Most of the funding currently comes from embassies accredited to Zimbabwe and United Nations (UN) agencies. These funds are availed to the sector on the funder’s preferred thrust.

Given the geographical location of most embassies, it is always a challenge for most artists and arts organisations in the region to access the funding. Funded art models do not work according to the artist’s vision and needs but to what the funder wants. This approach has added to the perception that the arts are not businesses that can benefit the community but are there merely for entertainment.

Most artists in Matabeleland are always looking for information on how to access available funding. It is this mentality that has seen Zimbabwe produce artists that are dependent on funding. One has to ask themselves what happens when these embassies and other organisations disappear with their funds.

Most individuals and organisations that have relied on funding have quickly gone under as soon as funding dries up.

By now artists and arts organisations must have realised that external funding is reactive and sporadic, rather than proactive and strategic. A more strategic and effective approach to creating relevant products, spending and programming is needed.

I have noted that most artists still operate from the cooperative model. This model dictates that when an arts group has a gig and raises money this money should be shared equally at the end of the gig. This approach will not build the arts but will see groups or arts organisations coming up.

It is time artists and arts organisations came up with business models that are sustainable. It is time that artists and arts organisations started running profitable projects. It is time that artists learn more about how to grow business. It is time that artists became disciplined and invested their little emoluments into their arts businesses with the view of getting profits.

Most of the arts groups disappear soon after the founder of the group leader dies. This goes on to show that these groups lack structures. Once the founder dies the project goes under. It is time that artists from the region came up with organisations that have trusted structures by the business community, organisations that are able to sustain artists and grow the cultural economy of Matabeleland.

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It is time that artists came up with viable business models that will attract the corporate world. It is time that artists get proper training in business and come up with start-ups that are relevant to the Matabeleland business environment.