Funding arts critical

HARARE - Zimbabwe arts industry has been hailed by many commentators as having a lot of talent.

When one considers the situation in which most arts and culture promoters and practitioners operate, one can appreciate why it is generally accepted that the country has immense talent.

While there are many things that have been identified as absent to get this talent in the public domain, one of these is funding.

What exactly is the funding that the arts and culture sector require and what is the best funding model that will ensure success for the sector?

We currently have Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust supported by SIDA giving out grants in excess of $1 million each year since 2006.

Over and above that are a number of agencies like Hivos, British Council, Alliance Francaise, Zimbabwe German Society, American Public Affairs, European Union and many other Embassies accredited to Zimbabwe that support arts and culture.

Delta Corporation has been funding the Neshamwari Dance Festival, Road to Fame music talent identification programme and Jikinya Dance Festival to name but a few of them.

Other corporates that have funded the arts have tended to just support specific events like HIFA and not anything else.

These funders need appreciation for their commitment to the development and promotion of Zimbabwean arts and culture.

So with all this funding to the sector, how come artists, administrators, promoters, and connoisseurs continue to complain of lack of funding?

How much money is enough to solve the funding needs of the Zimbabwean arts?

How should the funds be disbursed to the sector and in what form?

Does the sector need grants or loans? Who should be the target for each type of funds among artists, arts administrators and promoters?

The above questions may not be answered but I suggest a funding model that may try to answer some the sector’s concerns.

The first funding need and model for the sector is that from the State for construction and maintenance of facilities like rehearsal and performance halls and theatres, galleries, libraries, studios (recording and visual arts) and other such facilities.

Even when private sector come in play, it can only do so in partnership with the State if those facilities are to be agencies for development.

Otherwise without State involvement, the facilities could be exclusive and therefore fail to have wider impact.

A case in point is the Old Mutual funding of construction of theatre space at Alliance Francaise; very few artists know how to access the facility that is built supposedly for Zimbabwean artists.

Involvement of the State would ensure wider access and impact for the much needed space.

Government should also create a fund that would underwrite cost of creations and productions that have a national perspective and benefit.

Festivals in the six arts disciplines could be supported in those aspects where they address national and identity issues.

The fact that the State has supported the visual artists to attend the 54th and 55th Venice Biennale shows how important it is for State support for all art forms that has national good.

The government could consider tax rebates for the investors who support the arts to certain thresholds.

A good example is that the State should provide government departments with budget to buy art for display in offices and public buildings.

The arts sector cannot grow by getting money under the social responsibility budgets of banks and other financial institutions only.

Yes, there is and will always be a place for the social responsibility funding of the arts but real growth of the sector comes from creating funding windows like what has happened with other economic sectors like agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.

We need banks to create products for loaning bankable projects from the arts and culture.

However, it is true that the arts cannot grow through handouts and benevolence of the financial sector.

The other funding stream is the one that comes from the bi-lateral and multi-lateral partners who should support arts projects that have mutual benefit.

The support from accredited bodies should normally be given through government agencies since they were accredited by government.

It is abnormal that such funding should be privately disbursed and then publicly announced in order for government to acknowledge its importance.

However, accredited bodies could disburse funds through registered Non-Government Organisations (NGO) and Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) for projects that benefit Zimbabwe and give them the good will of their hosts.

The other critical funding group is the individuals and philanthropic group.

While there have been few in Zimbabwe, the group is nevertheless critical as it usually has potential to lead to directed significant community impact.

The group has also the potential of influencing audience building efforts as well as ensuring support for arts for marginalised members of the community.

The above discussion shows the power of funding and how it could influence the form, content, quantity and quality of arts in Zimbabwe.

There is therefore the need for all parties to play their part responsibly if the sector is to grow and contribute positively to the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.

*Mari is the Director of National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and feedback and comments can be send to elvasmari50@gmail.com

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