Festivals: The business of creativity

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Indeed, festivals are a time for a community to coalesce around a grand and transcendent idea. The aura of the city transforms into one of lightness. Camaraderie begins to froth to the surface as the human race momentarily celebrates the human spirit through art-music, theatre, dance, film, literature and carnival. Faith rises. The bad karma is chased away by the positive energy of what the French call joie de vivre. Festivals are about inspiration and aspiration, the past and the future. The unwritten message is that we can start afresh and build a new world. Thus it is, that with this kind of common awareness and embrace, a community must throng to its festivals for what it offers and for the strength to go on living. They must also be sustainable.

State of the Art Admire Kudita

Intwasa: Zim’s second biggest?

I remember it so clearly. There was Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) boss Karikoga Kaseke in front of media hacks announcing their partnership with Intwasa Arts Festival a few months ago, which for a long time has been referred to as Zimbabwe’s second largest festival after Harare International Festival of the Arts.

The occasion was at the Bulawayo Rainbow and ZTA was also announcing the dates for Sanganayi/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo. “The intersection of tourism and entertainment makes a lot of sense to me. We want the Intwasa Arts Festival to be the biggest festival in Zimbabwe,” Kaseke said at the time.

How big is big?

But the measure of a festival’s size is subjective. Some will say it is the funding and therefore the profile of the acts that feature on its platform. Some will say it is the audience that attends the festival. The recently ended Intwasa coincided with the tourism expo.

I attended the festival and quite enjoyed the book launch at the National Gallery in Bulawayo, in particular. It was a multi-cultural audience that for me typified what festivals ought to do: bring people together. There were several other events. I also watched Ihloka theatre piece by Umkhathi Theatre Works and written by Thabani Moyo. I found it disturbing, but maybe because it carried someone else’s disturbing “truth”. The general feeling at the festival this time around was underwhelming notwithstanding.

Around the world
The city of Durban has in the last two years partnered with Essence, a black United States media company with magazine titles and entertainment properties to host the Essence Festival Durban. The festival combines business conferences and music drawn from some of the US and South Africa’s most happening acts.

Five hundred thousand attendees from the world converge on New Orleans and generates US$200 million for the community. This year it ran under the theme: Firing Africa with Inspiration. Over 60 000 visitors attended the inaugural festival and contributed R230 million (US$16 990 627) to the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “We are thrilled to once again bring this exchange of cultural experience to our shores and ensure that there are sustained employment opportunities,” eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede said.

Cape Town Jazz Festival

The Cape Town Jazz Festival is to date an established entertainment property. Let us look at the statistics: In 2010 the festival contributed R740 million

(US$54 695 333) to the GDP of South Africa. In 2015 it brought R500 million (US$36 956 497) to Western Cape’s GDP, created 2 743 jobs, of which 321 were direct and 2 402 indirect, during festival time.
It has catalysed the growth of small and medium enterprises’ economic and professional growth according to media reports. The festival began in the year 2000 with
6 000 attendees and their line-up boasts of 50% local and 50% international artists.

The company EspAfrika is quoted by IndependentOnline as stating that they advertise in the top five magazines in the US, UK and Europe, such as Jazz Times and Downbeat magazine. Clearly this festival has a desire to live up to its “Africa’s grandest gathering” tag line. According to the South African government news agency, the department of arts and culture supported 22 national and regional flagship events, such as National Arts Festival and is one of the two major sponsors of the Cape Town Jazz Festival alongside Independent Media Group for the 2018 edition.

It takes a village

Local festivals such as Intwasa and Shoko will not survive without a concerted multi-sectoral effort. Government needs to lay the foundation with seed money and for once, this year they have in partnering Intwasa. The impact of such activities needs to be weighed properly by experts. There is need for research to be conducted on an ongoing basis. The data gathered will guide policy-makers and would-be investors. Figures are simply required for this creative sector. Where are the auditors and researchers?

In South Africa, research on the Cape Town Jazz Festival has been conducted by the Institute for Tourism and Leisure Studies at the North Western University and Tswane University of Technology.

Where are our academic institutions? Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo must shake these academics up. They seem to be operating in silos.

Parting shot: Lead the way comrades

South Africa’s creative economy has contributed R90,5 billion (US$664,3 million) directly to the country’s GDP in the 2013/14 financial year. This was driven by the design and creative services, cultural and natural heritage, book publishing, to name a few, according to South Africa’s Arts and Culture ministry headed by Nathi Mthethwa, speaking at the World Economic Forum. South Africa is a younger nation than Zimbabwe, but they have long wisened up to the creative sector’s potential. I am betting on the newly-minted arts and culture minister, youthful Makhosini Hlongwane, to change current trajectory.

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