The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe has a mixed bag of fans and naysayers. Once I was more of the former than the latter till I had landed onto the bare ground African Creatives are expected to ‘thrive’ and ‘grow’ on. Now imagine the muddled up feeling of hearing that the long time leader of Zimbabwe’s all encopassing body for the Arts has taken a step back and said “deuces!”
Our first question was, what’s the big deal? What did Elvas Mari do that was so spectacular anyway? It’s hard to look past the tarnished existence of the National Arts Merit Awards, inaccessible to non-existent funding (un)available for local Artisans juxtaposed with exhobatant Promoters fees plus endless workshops.
But first, a bit of history for fairness. Mr. Mari did not ‘always’ hold the reins. In an emailed statement the National Arts Council confirmed that he’s been with them since 2002 then was appointed as the Deputy Director in March 2005 and eventually elevated to the position of Director in November 2009 till now, well till the 16th of March 2018, to be exact.
I imagine it must have been difficult to hold the responsibility of Zimbabwe’s Arts scene for a whooping two decades shy of four years but alas here we are. We made an inspired list of what we thought were bewildering statements that the NACZ referred to as ‘progress’ in their presser.
You get a Festival, you get a Festival, we all get Festivals!
In 2004 NACZ introduced a policy to encourage and support the holding of festivals in all the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe. The first provincial arts festival created as a result of this policy was Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo in 2004. To date there are over 35 arts festivals in Zimbabwe, you’re probably thinking, that’s great, unfortunately the only problem is a large number of these festival such as Kumakomoyo Youth Festival, Chimanimani Arts Fest and tonnes more have seized due to financial constraints and low uptake. Bummer!
Ever heard of the Z.C.C.I?
Well neither had we until we read it out loud from a press statement. Now, although our having heard of something is not the best way to measure its effectiveness we looked up to our good ol’ friend Google who led us to a very quiet Facebook Page. Apparently the Zimbabwe Chamber of Creative Industries was established in 2013 for the purpose of professionalizing and industrializing the sector which reads like a great idea. WHat the ZCCI has done for Arts in Zimbabwe to date regarding the ‘Professionalization’ and ‘Industrializing’ of the creative movement is still utterly beyond us!
Things the NACZ did right…
Like most things, it’s a lot easier to throw rotten tomatoes from the outside. So we thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be dope to draw up a second list so we could feel good (better) inside about the last two decades?!
Run for Cover?
We’ve heard the stories of Artists who were legendary in their own rights and more, now deceased without a penny of savings for their families to lay them to rest with an inkling of dignity. Good naturedly we could only assume, the NACZ in 2010 partnered with Cell Funeral Assurance Company to establish a Cell-ebrity Funeral Cover which would provide affordable funeral cover and services for Zimbabwean Artistes. Sadly the cover is no longer available as it was suspended at least four years ago. Nice thought though.
Award this, Award that!
Mr. Mari is why they exist, well sort off…the establishment of programmes such as the National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA), Jikinya Dance Festival and Culture Week were set up during his tenure. While we have been unapologetic about our criticism of the National Arts Merit Awards we accept that there’s a need to have a body that acknowledges Zimbabwean Creative efforts, just not at the cost of integrity.
Did you know that in 2003 the NACZ successfully got the Government to gazette a law that allows artists to import musical, broadcasting and recording equipment, as well as PA systems, duty free? Well, after a brief chat with over the phone with a representative from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, we confirmed that the Statutory Instrument 136 of 2003 was not as well understood in actual fact they weren’t quite sure whether it was still in effect.
*insert a heavy sigh here*
Saving the best for last…
The NACZ Participated in the compilation of nomination, and successful proclamation, of Jerusarema/Mbende Traditional Dance as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005. The same dance that was vilified years ago by then Missionaries and settlers due to its sexual connotations, well, Mbende is a fertility dance after all! Subsequently, NACZ established an annual Jerusarema Mbende Dance Festival that is hosted at Murewa Culture Centre which has helped surrounding communities immensely economically. And they say Art doesn’t pay, phooey!
According to Wikipedia;
An arts council is a government or private non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the arts; mainly by funding local artists, awarding prizes, and organizing arts events. They often operate at arms-length from the government to prevent political interference in their decisions.
Sadly, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe has fallen all too short in its core business. It took the resignation of their leading officer for them to highlight their outdated and quite frankly embarrassingly ill-managed ‘merits’. Although we acknowledge the uphill journey that is Arts Administration and support, heck, we could even throw in Zimbabwe’s torrid economic history into the broth in their defence BUT the reality is this. Artists have been questioned about Art for Art’s sake, today we challenge the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe to desist from Progress for Progress sake but to shift towards making meaningful, measurable and long-term impacts in our Creative Sphere. We dare the new leadership of the National Arts Council to steer the Arts to a new competitive space and to communicate their hopes, ambitions with the creatives that are actually affected by such decisions.
Surely, this couldn’t be too much to ask.