The global COVID-19 pandemic has a profound impact on the arts, entertainment and cultural heritage sector with rural-based artists being affected the most.
The sector has seen irreparable and radical disruptions likely to haunt the sector and the performing visual artists, service providers and audience alike for a very long time. Rural artists in the Midlands province seem to have been affected the most as they generally operate in the shadow of technology, information, and access to resources from the government, donors and well-wishers.
The Information and Communications Officer for the Midlands-based, Hodzeko Arts & Culture Association, Mr. Dumisani Ndlovu, said that during a tour of Zvombe, artists in the province have been hit the most, particularly rural-based artists who are failing to access any Covid-19 support from donors or from the government.
He said that the rural arts sector has not received any form of support from the government or the donor community compared to their counterparts in the cities.
“The sector lost many writers, weavers, knitters, potters, visual artists, dancers, sculptors, poets, actors and others, who may never come back to the sectors which they now see as hopeless and cannot help them get back into business,” said Ndlovu.
National Arts Council Midlands Manager, Ms. Farai Kupfavira said that Midlands-based artists suffered loss of income, and retrenchments in the sector, ending up leaving their core artistic business to either mining or farming.
She added that there was a marked reduction in sales and tourism receipts due to the pandemic.
“The real reason why the arts sector is not supported by the government is that we have two ministries that are responsible for the arts and the two ministers have interests diverging from the Arts, the government and the corporate sector in Zimbabwe are still to prioritise the arts, entertainment and cultural heritage sector as they tend to focus on the sports sector.”
“Many artists in the Midlands province have left the arts sector as it is not providing anything for them due to Covid-19 restrictions, that have stopped all functions and activities.”, said Mr. Ndlovu.
Some artists have managed to leverage the enabling technologies and maintain massive stakeholder networking and connections to provide high-end arts, entertainment and cultural heritage products and services embracing the online world.
Ms. Kupfavira said that Depending with their artistic engagements and already existing portfolios engaging a team that knows how to market on all platforms do what we can term Gorilla advertising massively.
“Use simple language or lyrics that remind the populace of their youth around a fire listening to folktales, the Diaspora market will be intrigued. A uniquely Zimbabwean sound is what will keep the industry vibrant but also various collaborations will also add the flavour.” said Ms. Kupfavira.
She added that the artist in the cities has adapted fairly well in adopting or resorting to virtual engagements. We have seen testimonials who have kept on thriving through social media e.g JPC did release another album end of August, and recently Midlands based musician Gift Amuli had a ZimDancehall- HipHop collaboration that feature Tatman and LeeFire which has taken social media by storm.
Despite, the physical distancing has given birth to a raft of online and digital solutions and opportunities that the arts, entertainment and cultural heritage sector in Zimbabwe can now leverage on and still maintain massive stakeholder networking and connections to provide high-end arts, entertainment and cultural heritage products and services.
“The National Arts Council has rolled out a “Covid-19 relief fund which administered by the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation to provide some form of cover to affected artists, the department of social welfare through the form of cash transfers, which have been introduced by the government,” said Ms. Kupfavira.
Many artists in the rural areas generally feel that they are being left out by the government and donor support programmes, there is a need for focused training, financial and material support programmes and projects.
“Due to the Covid-19, most if not all of our programmes are being done online but however we have registered groups and associations who work with grassroots practitioners and some are grassroots groups. We have Musasa Arts and Culture Group, Zvapfuka Performing Arts, Hodzeko Arts and Culture Association, Phakama Creative and Cultural Association just to mention a few. Currently, there is the Forbes Mushipe Visual Arts Mentorship Programme, in which the 3-time NAMA Award Winner, Forbes Mushipe is mentoring a number of young artists, through the Culture Fund Grant which was awarded to him,” added Ms Kupfavira.
Artists in the country are gearing for the National Arts and Culture Indaba, Jikinya Dance Festival, Mbende-Jerusarema Festival which will be held at Murewa Culture Centre to celebrate the listing of the dance as a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
“The Creative and Cultural Industries are readying themselves for the upcoming Dubai Expo which will run from the 1st of October to the 31st March. The sector looks at this as a platform in which they will not only put the National Flag on the map but also as an opportunity to network and to bridge gaps which the various genres feel they should be closed on,” she said.
Ms. Kupfavira said that “Most of the rural artists have relied more often on rural-urban integration, due to this lockdown they have since resorted to subsistence farming and small livestock projects for sustainance. Many artists have gone to the extent of offering labour for income. Some have kept their art alive especially those in traditional and herbal medicine practices.”
The arts, entertainment and cultural heritage sector in Zimbabwe need to address the gender dimensions of COVID-19 impacts and explore how women who are greatly vulnerable to social and economic insecurities have been affected by the pandemic in the country.
Maria Mutondo, 48, from Chiundura, a talented potter, who used to sell her wares in neighbouring countries before the Covid-19 restrictions, said that, the art industry does not pay anymore due to the pandemic, and that all support for artists tend to go to the same people who are connected and well known. The artists need to survive, send kids to school and do many things and today, sadly, many dejected artists, are on the streets selling vegetables, foodstuffs, sweets and small wares playing cat and mouse with the local authorities.
She said that for the sector to grow again the government needs to elevate the sector to the same status as mining so that it receives investment and support from several investors who are keen to grow the sector.
Mr. Rodney Bunhiko, the UNESCO Culture Programme Assistant, said, the Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA) in collaboration with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe has had online discussions to examine the government’s interventions and policies in the arts sector and their ability to build resilience in the cultural and creative industries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The discussions delved into possible solutions to common problems that are affecting artists due to the Covid-19 pandemic and possible opportunities for growth and development during and beyond the crisis.
Mr. Bunhiko, said that “Entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector, which often lack the necessary resources to respond to an emergency of this magnitude, are especially vulnerable”
The arts sector needs to continue discussing and capture how the arts, entertainment and cultural heritage sector in Zimbabwe can continue to manage coronavirus-related economic and social impacts and improve a lot of the affected.
For the continued growth and survival of the arts, entertainment and cultural heritage sector, there is a great need to ensure and develop transparent cultural governance systems with appropriate policies and mechanisms to support the artists.
There is also a great need to strengthen the resilience of artists and the arts, entertainment and cultural heritage stakeholders and professionals to surmount the enormous challenges and risks brought about by the current health crisis.# Women in News