Zim artistes need foreign networks: British Council

HARARE - Jill Coates (JC), who had been the director of British Council Zimbabwe, recently left the country for the United Kingdom (UK) after a four-year tour of duty.

Daily News' Entertainment Editor Dakarai Mashava (DM) interviewed the former British Council Zimbabwe head on the state of cultural relations between the UK and Zimbabwe just before she left. Below are excerpts of the interview:

DM: What do you regard as the highlight of your four-year tour of duty in Zimbabwe?

JC: I have been fortunate to work with a wide range of really inspiring Zimbabwean partners at a very vibrant time and so I have a lot of highlights! Perhaps the ones that have made the biggest splash would be the project that we undertook with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and the EU in 2011 which established the first sovereign Zimbabwean pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale.

The show, which included work by Misheck Masamvu, Tapfuma Gutsa, Berry Bickle and Calvin Dondo, was seen by over 300 000 people and critically-acclaimed in the world press.

It really opened doors into the international art world and has been followed up by a series of successful international collaborations.

Our annual work with Hifa is another highlight which allows us to facilitate international collaborations between the brightest upcoming stars from the UK and Zimbabwe. The Noisettes show in 2013 with Hope and this year’s collaborations between Josephine and Tariro really stood out as fantastic events.

DM: How much did the British Council invest in Zimbabwean arts since you came to this country?

JC: As I have said before, the British Council is not a donor agency and we tend to measure our work through impact and audiences rather than through monetary investment. We are fundamentally a partnering organisation and through our EUNIC cluster we have been fortunate enough to win a $500 000 grant from the EU to fund “Creative Zimbabwe” a two-year project which aims to support and develop the creative industries in Zimbabwe, particularly the craft sector. We are working with five weaving communities across the country towards a major exhibition at the National Gallery in October.

DM: Which Zimbabwean arts organisations have you worked with since you assumed office?

JC: We have a very long-standing relationship with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. In fact, Frank Mckewan was the director of the British Council in Paris directly before he moved to Zimbabwe to set up the gallery. We also work with a wide range of festivals including Hifa, Intwasa, Shoko and Chimanimani. This year, we are hoping to partner with ZIFF. We would like to showcase films that we have made with local film makers. On the theatre front, we have done a lot of work with Savanna Trust and our new writers programme which we are running in partnership with a theatre company in London is working with 10 young playwrights from various organisations across the country.

I am also very proud of the Bulawayo Schools

Music Project which is run in partnership with the Music Academy in Bulawayo.

DM: Has your investment in Zimbabwean arts really benefitted ordinary artistes? What do you feel should be done to improve the livelihoods of Zimbabwean artistes?

JC: I would hope so but as Joseph Conrad famously said, “art is long and life is short and success is a long way off.” Investment into the arts is a long-term undertaking. Not only do artistes need to develop their own skills but they must also vitally develop audiences, international networks and access to markets for their work. I think we have definitely seen opportunities opening up for local artistes who have taken up showcasing opportunities overseas. For example, the visual artistes who recently exhibited at Venice like Portia Zvavahera have seen a huge increase in international interest in their work.

DM: The Daily News wishes you the best in your next assignment.

JC: Thank you very much! I am transferring to Turkey but hope to come back to Zimbabwe soon!

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