Lost in between; The state of the Arts in Kenya.
Look at Kenya or look back at your own country for perspective. Now, take out the music, the theatres, the media, the literature, the books, the newspapers, the paintings, the pictures, the shows. Seriously, take a minute and play that out. Now that you have taken out every aspect of art, what do you think is left?
Impossible to imagine, right? In all honesty, there won’t even be a national anthem. That goes to show the place of the Culture and Creatives Industry (CCI). It is intrinsically woven into every aspect of our lives. To take that out would be to create a very sterile rigid, and unimaginable society. Despite the fantastic potential of the CCI to impact our lives and speak to our emotions, among other things, the industry is still in the loop in Kenya. The CCI is trying to grow but facing numerous challenges. Today we will look at those areas of growth and pinpoint where we expect improvement.
We need to recognize the economic value of the CCI. To some extent, the way we view minerals and crops is the same way we should look at the arts; as a resource. This is what artpreneurs do. They fuse art and business principles to create art businesses. A good example would be the comparison that Roberts makes between the 1970 South Korea and the 1970 Kenya. While South Korea was facing political instability and Kenya had just gained its independence a few years back, what they did with their arts industry sets them apart. All over, we see the rise of Korean art in K-drama and K-pop forms, among others. According to Worldometer, in 2017, South Korea ranked 12th while Kenya ranked 67th in countries with the highest GDPs. This is while UNESCO reported that the CCI could impact a country’s GDP (Roberts, 2019).
If there is a Cross-section between arts and politics, then it must be in artivism. The term artivism was coined by a professor named Ricardo Dominguez. It is derived from the words art and activism and refers to when artists use art to show their discontent about policies. In the recent past, we have seen the rise of organizations such as Pawa254 in Kenya, which foster art and digital media in social and political activism. These have helped to reiterate the essentiality of the industry in impacting change and promoting development in Kenya. If anything, it also improves the Culture and Creatives Industry (CCI) status at most. The downside, however, is that it carries along with the negative connotations of activism in Kenya. According to Gathigi, art has become the reference point for topics that were considered taboo to discuss in public (2018). Through art, conversations have been sparked, and people have gradually opened up to giving it a try.
Role of art in the society
In summary, the role of art in society is changing. However, these are the basics of what art aims to do;
Entertain: Art has been used as an entertainment tool for as long as it has existed, which is very important as people need to enjoy life.
Educate: In the recent past, art has morphed into more than entertainment. From the olden times, we find this aspect in folk songs’ use to teach the histories of communities and talk about their economic activities. Today art is slowly returning to those bases, where artists are taking their art form to pass knowledge to their audience. One example of this would be in the film Ni Sisi. Ni Sisi is a film in Kenya that told the story of the post-election violence in Kenya and taught what it costs us if we divide ourselves regarding our tribes. It emphasized the value of living together as one people.
Advocate for change: As seen with artivism, we can also use art to advocate for change. Be it change in the political, social, or religious arena. Art gives a voice to those without one.
State of the arts
Now that we have established that art is vital through its value in social life, economics, and politics and given an outline of its roles, perhaps it is time to think of how we can help artists. One of the significant problems that artists face is the lack of economic gain from their craft. Which has, in turn, led to ideas about art and the economy. One example is the analogy of the ‘struggling artist.’ This has forced many people who are interested in art to seek other income-generating activities instead. These concerns have also been addressed in the 1980 UNESCO recommendation for the creative industry, which calls for implementing policies that will foster training artists and improve their social security(UNESCO, 2018). They also call for better tax conditions and freedom of expression for artists, among other things. It is a pity that we are still trying to implement a 1980 recommendation more than four decades later. At this rate, the CCI in Kenya may not reach its full economic and social potential by 2030, which is the year of realizing visions in Kenya.
What I am doing
For these reasons, I aim to provide a guide and create a community for artists. To start with, I will work with photographers, filmmakers, and handicraft artists based in Nairobi. The idea is to provide them with the skills necessary to create and run a successful business or venture from their craft. The gifts will range from entrepreneurial skills to business and financial modeling skills and knowledge of intellectual property rights. I will offer this in the form of a creative business play book which will contain information that can be replicated by anyone intending to start a business in these fields.
You’d think that because arts connect people so well, it would also join the artists. Well, that is not the case, no matter how much we would want it to be. This lack of cohesion has resulted in artists’ inability to advocate for themselves. They always appear to be fighting against each other for the clout, maybe. And yes, they get the attention, but they would achieve more if artists were to come together and aim for the same thing. In the same way that teachers, doctors, nurses, and even public transport drivers have a body to represent them, so should the CCI.
Therefore I hope to take concrete steps towards forming a committee or body that represents upcoming artists in my selected areas. The first step would be to create a community where the artists interact and openly discuss challenges or opportunities they can all take advantage of. From there, a representative body that will put the artists’ interests first and advocate for them to the public and policymakers will be born.
What you can do
We may not all be interested in providing a business guide to artists and starting communities. However, there is something we can all do to promote the industry and raise its status. Pay for that ticket. Buy a painting or get a photographer to document your beautiful moments. If you run a company, incorporate artists in the different departments and see how wonderful life can be. And please don’t make your artist friends do things for you for free. ‘Oh, you make mats? Nice. Could you make one for me and my uncle and grandmother?’ What? No! But if you are paying, Yes, Yes! Let us all work to unlock the Culture and Creatives Industry’s potential by actively participating in and purchasing art.
Here is a list that will come in handy in your new quest to improve the CCI status.
- Consume African content. It will help. You could start by going on Netflix and checking out this and other incredible Kenyan films;
2. You could also go for the real deal and get yourself on showmax and watch this cool series;
3. Or make life easier and get on here Smart Art and buy your lovely mother a painting for Easter.
4. Most importantly check out the extraordinary Wanji on instagram: @wanji_k_arts
Here is some of her other work;
Doing the aforementioned and checking out Wanji and buy her pieces are among the 1000 ways you could support the CCI. And yes it is as easy as it sounds.
Here is a summary of everything we have covered today;
List of references
Amorose, V. (2021). #ARTivism. Art-Write. Retrieved 24 March 2021, from http://artwritebook.com/2016/11/20/artivism/#:~:text=’Artivism’%20is%20a%20term%20coined,and%20UCSD%20Professor%20Ricardo%20Dominguez.
Gathigi, G. (2018). How artistic expression is being stifled in East Africa. The Conversation. Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://theconversation.com/how-artistic-expression-is-being-stifled-in-east-africa-96028.
GDP by Country – Worldometer. Worldometers.info. (2017). Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://www.worldometers.info/gdp/gdp-by-country/.
Kenya: supporting the rights of artists. Diversity of Cultural Expressions. (2018). Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://en.unesco.org/creativity/news/kenya-supporting-rights-artists.
Manyala, K. (2016). Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk. Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5c76a3cd40f0b603d78528b6/BERF-Creative-Economy-Report_March-2017_Final_no-cover-page.pdf.
Roberts, A. (2019). Always Behind: Kenya’s Languishing Creative Industry. The Elephant. Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://www.theelephant.info/features/2019/01/10/always-behind-kenyas-languishing-creative-industry/.