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Creativity is not mediocre

The ogre of mediocrity in African society must be annihilated. Last week’s instalment ruffled some feathers…but absence without leave from work is mediocrity. Treating arts and culture like the poor cousin of all other economic sectors is indeed mediocrity (given the facts). But this week we have to look elsewhere.

State of the Art with Admire Kudita

Learn from others

There are many reasons why certain countries thrive economically and culturally. One of the reasons is a respect for a sector, whose raison d’etre is to encapsulate all that is grand and inspired in their societies. But not only is it the political elites that are miseducated about the place of arts and culture in society. The money men and women of Africa (barring a few countries) are badly in need of enlightenment about the role of the arts in society.

Mzansi-Naija double act

Are there African examples of countries that have seen the light in terms of embracing the responsibility to cultivate the creative sector? Nigeria and South Africa.

Their investments are paying a dividend and the manner in which these two countries’ creatives are dominating awards nominations internationally is ample evidence. As regards the reasons for the ascendancy of South Africa and Nigeria in the economic and cultural spheres on the African terrain, the population argument is not sufficient.

Yes indeed, the current population of Nigeria is 191 million, while South Africa has a population of about 55 million as of May 21, 2017, based on the latest United Nations estimates. Nigeria’s GDP stands at US$481 billion and South Africa’s is currently US$312 billion.

Let us consider the following which are the most recent developments in the global creative sector:

The Caine Prize 2017 shortlist

l Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) for Who Will Greet You At Home, published in The New Yorker (US, 2015);

l Chikodili Emelumadu (Nigeria) for Bush Baby, published in African Monsters, eds, Margarét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas (Fox Spirit Books, US, 2015);

l Bushra al-Fadil (Sudan) for The Story of the Girl whose Birds Flew Away, translated by Max Shmookler, published in The Book of Khartoum — A City in Short Fiction, eds, Raph Cormack and Max Shmookler (Comma Press, UK, 2016);

l Arinze Ifeakandu (Nigeria) for God’s Children Are Little Broken Things, published in A Public Space 24, (A Public Space Literary Projects Inc., US, 2016); and

l Magogodi oaMphela Makhene (South Africa) for The Virus, published in The Harvard Review 49, (Houghton Library Harvard University, US, 2016).

Three of the writers on the list are Nigerians, one is Sudanese and the other South African. The winner will collect a £10 000 (US$12 985) prize at an awards ceremony slated for Senate House Library, London, in partnership with SOAS, on July 3.

The BET awards

This Black Entertainment Television (BET)award is an increasingly much-coveted entertainment award for creatives of African origin. The award is an American award initially set-up to celebrate black achievement in creative sector categories from music right through to film. The following is a list of nominees in the Best International African Act category:

l Wizkid (Nigeria), Tekno (Nigeria), Davido (Nigeria), Mr Eazi (Nigeria), Stonebwoy (Ghana), AKA (South Africa), Nasty C (South Africa) and Babes Wodumo (South Africa).

Business of creativity

South Africa is a young nation, but has leap-frogged Zimbabwe in many ways. Zimbabweans, on the other hand, seem to thrive or wallow in the silos of their ignorance.

South Africa did produce a creative industry growth strategy document (CIGS) in 2001. The document brought was produced through a coming together of some of South Africa’s brightest minds, from accountants, marketers, social scientists and creatives to name but a few of the professionals. The document carries thorough and empirical data on a sector by sector basis i.e from publishing, fashion, architecture, music, film, theatre, crafts and dance. The strategy document maps the path for the creative sector going forward.

Blueprint for success

Little wonder then, that South Africa has a blueprint for the sector because a strategy document gives you the pragmatic, the proverbial nuts and bolts of monetising the nation’s cultural product. Policy documents such as the ones we have been producing tend to be wish lists, to be brutally frank. Anyone can formulate them with the assistance of Google!

Business and arts in SA
More pertinently, South Africa has an organisation called Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) which is about creating an interface between the arts and the business sector.
Skills transfer is integral to this relationship and banks and organisations such as Hollard Insurance, Old Mutual and Standard Bank are heavily involved in supporting the arts.

Business as present day Medicis
As per the South African example, it is not enough for local corporates to disdain the arts and deplore the lack of professionalism among artists. The patronage of the arts and sciences is best exemplified by the famous Medici merchant family of Florence, whose efforts, over a 300 year period, helped fuel the Renaissance through the works of the likes of Michaelangelo, Galileo and Da Vinci. The lesson here is simply that those with means should contemplate our submission.

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