AGAINST all odds, Intwasa Arts Festival is in the 14th year of its existence, unfailingly showcasing, year after year, the best of the performing arts under difficult socio-economic and political conditions.
Originally slated to take four days, the festival is now stretching to five days. The current edition began on September 25 under the theme “Realities and Experiences” and ends tomorrow.
Globally, festivals and, more specifically music festivals, account for a large proportion of the US$20 billion global concert industry. Attendance figures for festivals in America have about 32 million people attending at least one festival, according to Statista. In the United States, there are over 800 annual music festivals and counting, with Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival being the highest grossing. It had about 500 000 attendees in 2015, grossing over US$84 million.
The lifeblood of festivals is corporate sponsorship. Locally, festivals such as the Harare International Festival of the Arts have generated more attention than others such as Intwasa. Over the years, the consistent partners of Intwasa have been the likes of the British Council, Plan International, Bulawayo City Council, Osisa, Hivos, Delta Beverages (which has petered out of late), Africalia and Culture Fund, to name but a few.
International best practice
Across the Limpopo, banks such as Standard Bank are powering festivals such as Joy of Jazz (currently taking place) with the country’s ministry of Arts chipping in to help fund the famous Cape Town Jazz Festival. I wonder why corporate entities such as Standard Bank and others do not find it part of their corporate social responsibility to partner initiatives such as Intwasa.
A reported 27% of music festivals in America emanate from partnerships with Coca-Cola alone. Locally, we have popular cordials which we drink every day, but the bottlers are yet to see the correlation between funding arts and culture initiatives and a cultivation of a peaceful business environment. Perhaps they actually do have strong corporate social investment projects. I am yet to be aware of them.
I strongly recommend that they consider doing something in Zimbabwe’s cultural and entertainment capital, Bulawayo. If they are giving to one community in Harare, then they must surely give something to other cities too. Are they not trading in Bulawayo as well?
An entertainment epicentre
We are envisaging a kind of Paris or Los Angeles for Bulawayo. Everyone will benefit in the end if a nation can develop according to its strengths.
The indisputable fact of this region is that its artistes are the most widely toured and therefore in-demand artistes. With deliberate investment and affirmative action, the city can rise as a tourism, leisure and entertainment hub. Government cannot go it alone and it is folly for corporates to fold their arms crying for policies to enhance their businesses without ploughing back the same profits back.
It is time we started calling out businesses that operate within the region for not doing enough in partnering creative sector initiatives. If not, let them leave the region for they do not care about the people’s wellbeing. Yes, it needs to be said. Actually, a time should come when corporates must be called to account for corporate social responsibility projects. Capitalism ought to have a human face! Otherwise, they are mere leeches or vampires draining the blood out of society.
Culture is queen
Culture is critical for its humanising ethos and its potential for enhancing social cohesion. The ideal is for festivals to attract and showcase the most sublime of our artistic creations and performances.
Intwasa tries its best but ultimately must grapple with the economic realities on the ground. On one hand artistes who might want to be part of it wonder why they are not paid the amounts they crave by a festival that receives “massive” donor grants.
On another hand, the festival team has to absorb the shock of attacks from folks who should “know better” as regards the festival’s actual purse. .
The role of promoters
With a calendar event such as Intwasa Arts Festival, savvy promoters could come forward with business proposals to help mobilise support for the festival for a fee deducted as a percentage of funds raised, for example. Promoters are however more likely prepared to make noise for music shows rather than whole festivals.
In America, Live Nation and AEG Live are the two pre-eminent promoters in the industry. They have a near-monopoly on the most successful festivals globally. Live Nation is a publicly traded live music company. In 2015, it posted US$7,2 billion in revenue and AEG Live is a private company valued at US$10 billion. Of course, the comparison with Zimbabwe is far-fetched but it does serve to give an idea of the scale and commitment levels which are required to lift the Zimbabwean situation to realise its fullest potential.