Although the presence of cultural activities in Africa could be perceived to be widespread as experienced in local set ups like music, dance, poetry, word play among others, the development of the art and culture sector is rarely treated as an economic venture.
Africa needs to package and promote its arts and culture as they would any other business venture.
International Labor Office (ILO) in a report, refers this packaging and selling of art and culture to ‘cultural entrepreneurship’ which the organization argues is majorly practiced in developed countries and could work for the African region as well.
Furthermore, governments and other organizations that promote arts and culture should embark on documenting the true scale and dimension of local cultural activities.
In the recent past and on the realization of the importance of art in the continent, different organizations and individuals have sprung up with an intention to propel the art industry for the benefits of the artists as well as preserve the African culture. Governments and like-minded institutions are putting efforts to support the industry.
This has not been without challenges, however.
Financial constraints and lack of systems & infrastructure
According to Edgar R. Batte, a journalist in Uganda, inadequate or lack of funding has continued to slow down the development of Africa’s art industry. Additionally, he argues that “lack of systems and structures that should organize the different genres of the arts also undermines its growth.”
Financial constraints have forced artists to engage in other forms of work to make ends meet as they cannot solely rely on their talent and passion.
“Due to lack of funding for the arts most artists ply their trade elsewhere, in full-time jobs, instead of following their passion”, said Kumseela Naidoo of Durban’s Dingalings Productions.
Governments tend to allocate minimal budgets to the arts hence projects and artists are not able to benefit from their productions.
According to a report by Ms Annabell Lebethe, the development and practice of the performing arts within the SADC region are more often than not rooted in traditional ceremonies and communal festivities, which incorporate music, dance, storytelling, and puppets.
The report notes that throughout the world, the performing arts have become heavily dependents on government, corporate and donor sponsorship or individual benefactors. “In the SADC region, the status of performing arts is that of a struggling and fragmented industry desperately seeking financial support, recognition and a greater degree of involvement from the Government.”
Some international donor agencies and NGOs like UNESCO, DANIDA, CIDA, SIDA, Hivos and foreign embassies have been offering resources to support the industry. Due to external pressures that are affecting the donor community, resources to support the industry are dwindling as in other sectors.
Through ministries set aside to focus on arts and culture, governments and other stakeholders should give a financial boost to artists either through the establishment of organizations that can provide specific support or fund artists directly.
A report by the ministry of gender, labor and social development in Uganda outlines that statutory bodies like ministries, local governments, educational institutions and semi-autonomous bodies such as the National Library of Uganda and the Uganda National Cultural Centre have a role to play in growing the industry.
Although, these organizations are charged with the responsibility of promoting culture, the report notes that the performance of these institutions in relation to culture is hampered by the inadequate capacity to manage the function, financing and poor coordination.
Protection of intellectual property rights and Piracy
Inadequate or lack of effective protection of the intellectual property rights of local artists is another critical issue in the sector. Some local practicing artists are not aware of the implications raised by their mastery of specific skill and use of traditional practices and designs. Artists should protect their work by engaging the copyright bodies in their localities.
Piracy has crippled the art industry. Many artists spend millions of money to produce their artwork only for it to be pirated and sold without their knowledge. This curtails their development as they do not earn from their work.
A quick walk into major cities across Africa will confirm how artists are losing billions of money through such syndicates.
Speaking at the launch of an anti-piracy campaign in the Free State, in 2011, trade and industry minister Rob Davies urged South Africans not to buy pirated music arguing that the consequences of piracy are that it affects the income and jobs of the artists.
UNESCO says that the consequences of piracy not only affect the artists (creators of art) but also people working in the art industry, and the state. Since the pirates work partially on the margins of the established system, they do not remit their taxes which could have been re-invested into the art industry.
According to UNESCO, Piracy is not a victimless crime. Often, it is a profitable venture for serious and well-organized international crime groups. UNESCO points that the large profits often fund other serious crimes, including human and gun smuggling, drug trafficking, credit card fraud and money laundering.
By looking at the counterfeit traders like small scale operators or street vendors, one would not tell the organization behind the screens. Such vendors are only the front end of much wider and more sophisticated networks, the UN organization adds.
With piracy continuing to eat into the pockets of the artists, musicians have adopted another way of making money from their work- live performances. Live Music is enjoying an unprecedented boom in the recent past.
A book titled ‘The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud,’ by Patrik Wikström reveals that licensing and live music performances are now the major sources of revenue for musicians, not recorded music sales.
It is not just music that is pirated, movies and films are too and the consequences are the same or even graver.
It is the work of every government to establish legal structures and enforce these rights. This could be done, by enacting and effectively implementing legislation protecting intellectual property rights, in this case, of artists, ILO suggests.
The role of the media
Many artists do not know how to utilize the media well. Even with the random growth of social media, some artists are not represented in these platforms either.
Although Batte feels that the media is not exposing the talent of the African artists, he points that some artists are also naïve when it comes to the media. “Some of the key players in the industry are either not media-friendly or do not know how to handle the media when it approaches them,” he says adding that some artists think they have to pay media people in order to get exposure.
Others avoid the media like a plague because they fear that being in the spotlight will draw attention to them hence attracting taxes from the concerned authorities.
The role of the media in spearheading the art industry cannot be underestimated. Artists should take the challenge heads on to produce quality content (music, film, literature, among others) so as to not only attract the media but also other people to their works of art.
In the social media era, artists need to engage their supporters and followers directly without relying so much on the mainstream media. Some artists have been discovered through social media and promoted by the mainstream media.
Case in point is that of Kenya’s queen of afro-pop Dela who recently sung a Swahili version of the global hit song ‘Hello’ by British singer Adele. When her cover song was posted online, she attracted so many followers and among them was the media. Soon after, she was trending in Kenya and some other parts of the world.
Artists have all the power in their hands to promote their work worldwide through social media. All they need is to be creative and produce quality work.
As much as there are many challenges in the art industry, artists need to know how to navigate the bottlenecks by adopting new technologies to protect, promote and sell their work.
Editor’s note: In the next series we will look at how the education system, art organizations and festivals, collaborations can grow the art industry.
Image credit: eagle.co.ug