Arts summit soars

The Namibian Arts Council hosted the first southern African arts summit, exploring local, creative possibilities.

31 August 2018 | Art and Entertainment

Namibia recently hosted the first-ever Arts Summit of Southern Africa (ASSA) at Nipam in Windhoek. The summit saw people from as far as West Africa attend and who took the opportunity to learn from each other and to develop strategies for arts in southern Africa. The summit, under the banner 'Human creativity is a vital economic, social and cultural resource, hosted approximately 150 delegates from across SADC.

Most of the delegates were drawn from government institutions, national arts councils, cultural agencies and professional associations, while some of them were arts practitioners in their own right.

Educators from the creative industry and other sectors that have cross-cutting interests also joined the summit. At the gala dinner, local delegates, including artists told tjil of their expectations. A musician from Zimbabwe, SlickArtie, said that southern African art is taking over and that artists in the SADC region should work together more.

Ann Singer said: “I'm really excited to see what I can take from the summit in terms of networking and finding new possibilities.

“I actually think it's a good initiative and it has been launched at the right time to take art as a form of transformation to our economy, and to promote arts programmes that are happening, because we all speak about it, but nothing happens,” said Tapz Munya, a Zimbabwean musician based in Namibia.

Founder of the popular Free Your Mind comedy show, Ndemufayo 'Chicken' Kaxuxuena, added his sentiments saying that talk is cheap but doing something is a different ball game altogether. “It is a good beginning. I think talk is cheap and we can have all these nice things. But if we do not recognise pioneers in the industry then we do not recognise arts,” he said.

The chairperson of the National Arts Council of Namibia (NACN) Patrick Sam told tjil this past week that the creative industry is vital to the sustainable development of Namibia and other SADC countries. “There is a perceived lack of understanding and doubts about the opportunities and benefits of investing in this sector, and the growth it can bring to the region,” Sam said.

He added that everybody in attendance knew why they were at the summit, not only in terms of what the delegates did at the summit but what they can do after the summit.

“A lot of time people criticise the government and say that many summits are just shop talk. But the problem with the creative economy is because it has been on the periphery for so long. We are not using the right language. A lot of times we do not do a good job of capturing and documenting our success stories. That's why it seems like there is nothing happening. The summit is going to ignite the human spirit,” concluded Patrick.

In 2008, the United Nations published their influential Creative Economy Report. It lists the policy fields that the creative economy impacts upon and includes economic development, urban planning, trade, investment, art and culture, tourism, technology, and, of course, education.

According to the permanent secretary of education Sanet Steenkamp, her ministry is keenly aware of the creative economy report and seeks to promote the creative industry at every opportunity.

“We are actively and eagerly involved in the government's plan to have 2% of the Namibian working population employed within the arts and cultural sector by 2022. We also recognise the importance that the development of creative skills can have on other industries. Wherever there are problems to be solved or innovations to be made, creativity is crucial,” she said.

She added that by hosting the summit, Namibia is signalling colleagues within SADC and the wider world, that Namibia is committed to integrating the creative industry into all facets of our economy.

“I look forward to working with counterparts in other SADC ministries of arts to deliver our vision of a creative economy which benefits our nations and our region. By working together to achieve this, we will be demonstrating the exceptional power of SADC and highlighting how our region is strengthened by our bonds,” she said.

She added that one key challenge facing the creative economy is the way it has been perceived, both by citizens and governments.

“Often, creative industries have operated through informal channels. They have not leveraged their intellectual property rights or been organised in a way that denotes the value of what they are doing. This is partly due to a lack of strategic thinking and, certainly, investment in the creative economy marks a departure from the traditional economic strategies that many of our regional governments are familiar with,” Steenkamp said.

Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba said that the film industries of the USA, Europe, and China, as well as the culture of fast foods, are essentially reflections of the total sum of artistic and creative talents in those localities.

“These industry and auxiliary arts and culture, based sub-economic sectors, produce billions of dollars every year, just because they have been commercialised in ways from which their societies can derive material benefits. The same can be said of Nigeria's Nollywood and India's Bollywood.

“Therefore, it came as a big shock to me the other evening as I was watching our NBC television to hear the producers of the locally made popular TV drama series the Third Will, decrying the lack of interest and sponsorship from the private and the public sectors, and how they are soldiering on for the love of arts,” he said.

Mbumba added that not only is the arts and culture sector that is able to unlock the hidden talents in individuals and communities for self-actualisation, but it can also serve as an export product earning millions of foreign currency for southern Africa, in the struggle against poverty, and for economic emancipation.

“Our governments' roles are to create conducive environments in which individuals and communities are able to pursue their artistic talents and cultural expressions unhindered. The negative attitudes and practices of our colonial past, which I believe still lingers on in southern Africa, where artists and their crafts are viewed as nuisance and literally chased away from city centres to the outskirts, should immediately come to an end,” Mbumba said.

The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) representative Rosemary Mangope, as one of the speakers, congratulated Namibia on the success of the arts summit.

She further said IFACCA members collectively recognise that human creativity is a vital economic, social and cultural resource that needs to be protected, promoted and developed, and as such, the IFACCA members endorse the principals that were discussed at the summit.

“Creative professionals are pivotal to shape the growth, development and sustainability of any society, and make a positive contribution to culture and the economy. Leadership determines the ability of the creative economy to thrive and is a shared responsibility for people across all levels of government, enterprise and society. Arts education, including indigenous and traditional knowledge, is foundational to the creative economy,” Mangope said.


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