Hifa's new artistic director speaks out

HARARE - The Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) recently announced the appointment of its new artistic director described as an artist, educationist and administrator Gavin Peter to replace Hifa founder Emmanuel Bagorro who held the position since the festival’s inception.

Early this year Bagorro announced that he would be stepping down from his Hifa artistic director duties. The festival has been hugely successful and most people wondered who would replace him.

Speculation was rife fuelled by the delay of Hifa administration to announce the new directr originally set for less than two weeks after the festival held from May 1 to 6 this year.

Responding to the Daily News questions in July this year, Tafadzwa Simba, head of media and communications for Hifa said “the process of selecting of the artistic director, just like all of Hifa’s endeavours, was always planned to be executed in a conscientious and thorough manner commensurate with the ethos of high standards in modus operandi that the Festival espouses; that process is still ongoing.

The Hifa board of trustees will announce the new artistic director in due course.”

At that time the Daily News reported that the delay had given rise to speculation on possible candidates for the job and how they were to be selected.  

A Zimbabwean woman based in the Diaspora who was a director of Perth festival in Australia was among those who were named as possible candidates to the artistic director post.

Simba told the Daily News that the process was delaying “because Hifa is looking for a highly qualified Zimbabwean in the area of arts. He said the process will involve headhunting and those that will apply. He said those willing to take up the post could express their interest with Hifa management.

However, Hifa announced the coming in of Peter as the new Hifa artistic director quelling wild speculations on who was to take over. In a bid to understand the new man at Hifa Daily News sought information on his background and aspirations.

Tafadzwa Simba (TS) of Hifa conducted the interview with Gavin Peter (GP) and provided excerpts below.

TS:  Where were you born?

GP: Kitwe, Zambia. My family moved to Zambia from here when (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) UDI was declared. Due to the segregatory paradigm at that time, one of the consequences of UDI was that my father was unfairly denied progress at work owing to his not being white. He couldn’t stand for that and decided to take his young family to Zambia.

TS: Where did you grow up?

GP: Here in Harare. My family moved back here, soon after I was born, when the war was intensifying. My father felt there was a brighter future for the country and that there was work to be done to guarantee that success of the free nation that was going to emerge.

TS: Where were you educated?

GP: At Belvedere Primary and then at Prince Edward School in Harare. I then did my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree at the University of Zimbabwe in modern languages followed by a Diploma in Translation and Interpretation, again at the University of Zimbabwe.

TS: How was your interest in the arts sparked?

GP: I started performing in high school and loved the connection with the audience and the way that Arts make you use a different side of your brain and personality compared to my other love which is maths.

TS: So you are quite an academic....

GP: (Laughs) Well that’s only true in so far as I have a passion for education and believe in its power to shape individuals and nations. That was my guiding principle in my academic postings at such institutions as Prince Edward School and the Harare International School. But since I have only published one book Mangeons, a French text book for ages 13+, Prince Edward Press, 2001), I am not quite Nobel Prize material yet!

TS: You are also an artist, an actor specifically, with a prominent connection with Over the Edge Theatre group. Can you give details on that?

GP: Over the Edge started in Avondale Car Park — busking for money to buy ourselves doughnuts at the then Italian Bakery. We were friends who had the same passion to perform. We were serendipitous with Zimbabwe and I guess the world as we gathered a great supportive audience.

Happiest memories include selling out the 7 Arts Theatre which had not been done for so long that the 7 Arts staff struggled to find the sold-out sign!

Also, travelling to the Edinburgh Festival for five years where we had to live off toast and the smell of brewing beer.

Later making a television pilot, having the joy of performing in all the country’s great theatres, and touring the world on a shoe string. It was a critical lesson for us: that life as a touring artist takes hard work and nothing is handed to you on a silver platter.

Those artists who have made it out there in the ultra competitive international circuit have done so because they have taken this to heart.

TS: What other artistic exploits can you tell us about?

GP: I was fortunate enough to have been the Zimbabwean representative to the World Theatre Sport Championships in Germany in June 2006.

I was placed in ninth out of 40 countries which was quite an honour.

I am grateful for the fact that I am also the performer, director, producer and creator of my own shows such as: Gavin Drives the Bus, Gavin’s Show and Tell and Gavin’s Bingo, which some may remember have had stints at Hifa.

TS:  What are your hobbies?

GP: Watching art — theatre, concerts, films. My other hobby, cooking, is also a form of art....which I get to consume!

TS: Please detail endeavours in which you played a significant administrative role?

GP: Besides the administration work that inevitably comes with being a show producer, I am festival director of the National Institute of Allied Arts Speech and Drama Festival — showcasing over 10 000 school children over two weeks.

I was the director of student life at a high school in Johannesburg for four years — administering all their non-academic life and support structures.

I ran the National Public Speaking Competition in Zimbabwe for teens coordinating all the provinces towards a national event.

TS: Before being appointed Hifa artistic director, what was your last posting?

GP: Director of Student and Residential Life at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. www.africanleadershipacademy.org

TS: How do you feel about your new appointment?

GP: I am excited and truly humbled because of this opportunity that has been afforded me to serve my fellow artists in the extremely resilient Zimbabwean arts sector.

Having worked with and in Hifa in various ways since 2000, I have done my bit for the arts in Zimbabwe through that association but this opportunity will only serve to have a multiplier effect on my contributions so far.

TS: What is your vision for Hifa?

GP: To continue to put on the excellent, world-class showcase of Zimbabwean, regional and international arts that we have all become so proud of.

TS:  What is your vision for the arts in Zimbabwe in general?

GP: I want the world to keep seeing the amazing and unique talent we have in our country, offering our Zimbabwean artists opportunities for collaboration and exposure so that their art continues to grow.
TS: Are there any special projects you have lined up?

GP: We will launch the application process calling for artists who wish to be part of Hifa 2013 to apply now.

Then we will be offering workshops to build our local artists’ skills with the business side of the arts, in an initiative called Hifa Access, using our knowledge and that of our network to pass to our local artists from all genres.

Of course, there are many excellent Hifa projects that have always been happening and will continue happening but which members of the public might not know much about and we will be spreading information on these a whole lot more.

This is so that members of the public will also gain an appreciation of the depth and potential within the Zimbabwean arts sector of which Hifa is aware and wants to share.

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