Tuesday, 20 March 2012

African creative industries: Artists as the ultimate wheels

African creative industries: Artists as the ultimate wheels

By Peter Musa
In the last decade a lot of attention has been placed on developing the African creative industries. National ministries responsible for the arts and culture, pan-African organizations such as; the African Union, the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA) and the Arterial Network have been involved in this drive. International organizations such as the European Union through its African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) cultures program, AECID (La Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo) and UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) have all contributed to the development of the African creative economies so as numerous other donor organizations such as HIVOS and AFRICALIA; actively involved in supporting the creative sector in Africa. To build the African creative industries is a welcome initiative and artists in Africa feel happy that attention is being paid to their sector. Is this all?

In December 2011 a huge gathering on this topic was held in Nairobi, Kenya organized by the Arterial Network and the British Council. The pan-African conference on Africa's Creative Economy attracted delegates from across the continent. Much has been said about developing the creative industries in Africa, policy makers have their own agendas, donors have the priorities but the development of the creative sector in Africa largely lies in the hands of the artists themselves. Artists in Africa must take the lead to develop the sector.

To succeed African artists need to learn to work with each other. They must learn to build partnerships, share information and collaborate for the interest of the growth of the sector. Artists in Africa should learn to work in unity and avoid conflicts that may lead to the destruction of the sector. National artists networks are being formed or existing ones are being strengthened. The Arterial Network is putting in tremendous effort in this direction. Unless artists in Africa take the lead in developing the creative sector in Africa, it may not be as easy as it may look.

There may be good policies in place to develop the African creative industries in some countries. Policy makers however are not the ones who will run the industries. The artists are in-charge. Though at times the wrong people - none artists may be appointed by Government ministers responsible for the arts and culture to head projects or organizations in the sector. This may lead to a conflict of interest between politicians and the artists. As a result the desired objectives may never be realized.

Artists lead initiatives are the best way to move forward. Unions and copyright organizations may be there to protect, guide and ensure that there are no infringements on the rights of the artists and their works. Individual artists are the ones who can effect a rapid development of the sector. Grouping into national artists networks is a welcome development but will change little if individual artists do not take their responsibilities. Miracles will not happen. Together growth is imminent in an environment where each artist is respected, information is not reserved for particular persons, no bias in selecting leadership and a culture of mutual respect built. Once all these are in place, a collaborative spirit will definitely bring the artists under focus which will be healthy for the growth of the sector in a particular community, region or country.

Artists in Africa must become more professional. This means they must understand that their survival depends on what they can do. Good artists will excel, sell their creations and make a living for themselves and their families or dependents. Poor artists will not. This is where the difference is.

As I said in my introductory paragraph a lot of talking on building the African creative industries has been on the agenda of many organizations over the last decade. Workshops, seminars and conferences have been organized throughout the continent and beyond in building the creative economy in Africa. During these sessions African artists are taken into dreamworlds. Afterwards nothing happens. Aspirations dashed. However a few projects have been identified and funded to encourage growth but the impact is yet to be felt. 

Miracles will not happen to change things for African artists. The secret is if you are a performing or visual artist just perfect yourself and strive to do your best. You will make it. It is a great idea to belong to networks with like-minded individuals and to collaborate with other artists. But do not run out of focus. As an African artist that wants to make it, be yourself and continuously work hard in developing your talents. 

African theater houses, spectacle spaces, art galleries and museums, music, book, film industries have a future in the hands of artists. African artists are the ones to promote these industries. It is their sector and they must take control of what belongs to them. Unless African artists are able to stand-up and do things without waiting for miracles the creative sector in Africa will not immediately develop as some lazy artists on the continent may think. Look around you there is much potential, see what other fellow artists are doing. This is the change that can completely impact a lasting difference on Africa's creative economy.

Unless African artists learn to work together for the interest of the common-good of the creative sector in Africa the way may still be long. Together our cinematography, photography, publishing, and allied industries may continue to be largely underdeveloped. Artists in Africa need to know they are the owners of these industries and it is their duty individually and collectively to ensure its success today and for posterity.


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