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Investing in arts, investing in the future

To say that the current pandemic and lockdown have been devastating to the global economy is an understatement.

Makomborero Muzenda

The movement of goods and people, manufacturing and productivity were all negatively affected by the necessary social distancing regulations and closed borders.

Although the end is not quite in sight (several African countries, including Zimbabwe, are dealing with a third wave of the virus), governments, research institutes and leading thinkers are already planning and strategising for a post-Covid-19 world.

Much of post-Covid-19 recovery has focused on navigating a recession, job creation and managing inflation and debt.

There have also been calls to seize the moment for a green recovery and steer the global economy towards more sustainable, environmentally sound practices and systems.

Technology has also come into focus, with digital platforms, robotics and automation being increasingly explored as both solutions for economic recovery and avenues to catapult societal, economic and environmental advancements.

Even before the pandemic hit in 2020, science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) were seen as the future to African development and industrialisation. The African Union’s Science and Technology Division mission is to “contribute towards revitalised, quality, relevant, harmonised education systems responsive to the needs of Africa.”

This mission includes programmes and organisations such as the African Research Grant, the Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Awards Programme, the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA) and the African Scientific Research and Innovation Council (ASRIC). In Zimbabwe, organisations such as Zimbabwe Flying Labs (a subsidiary of a global organisation), the Zimbabwe Young Academy of Sciences and the Zimbabwe Science Fair put STEM at the heart of their research, collaboration and showcases.

The National University of Science and Technology’s (NUST) Innovation Hub and Research and Innovation Expo aim to invest in and support entrepreneurs, innovation and industrialisation. The message is clear: the future of African — and specifically Zimbabwean — strategies for development and planning for the future lie in the field of science and technology.

Scientific education and technological advancements are key for economic growth and recovery, even more so for post-Covid-19 recovery. But what about creative industries?

Music, art and design, literature and fashion industries all come under the umbrella of creative industries.

Not only do these industries provide us with entertainment, they also contribute to a country’s cultural visibility and economy.

Cultural Times, a publication from UNESCO, estimates that creative industries account for 30 million jobs worldwide and create an estimated $250 billion annually.

This sector can also contribute to regional and international relations and engagements through soft power. This is particularly true of the entertainment industry, where music, film and television are exports that can encourage cultural sharing and cooperation. Zimbabwe’s National Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy (NACHP)’s definition of culture industries is “services and goods that combine the creation, production and commercialisation of products that are intangible and cultural in nature and are typically protected by copyright”.

It acknowledges the role that these industries play in national pride and identity, tradition and economic production.

Creative industries have also been a source of much needed relief during the current pandemic. The work produced by artists in different fields has been a source of comfort, relief and joy in a time of uncertainty, fear and loss.

This makes it doubly tragic that these industries, with all their societal, cultural and economic benefits, have struggled as a result of global lockdowns.

A Unesco report on the impact of Covid-19 on creative and cultural industries show that venue-based cultural activities such as concerts, museums and galleries have been the worst affected.

An estimated 10 million people globally lost their jobs, and the industries’ contraction cost an estimated $750 million in 2020. In Zimbabwe, the arts sector has been badly affected by the lockdown.

Cinemas, bars and performance venues have closed due to lockdown regulations, especially as cases have increased. Live performances, which had just begun to get underway again in June, have been banned, leading artists and performers who were already struggling with few-to-no options to earn an income.

The Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation established a relief fund for artists in 2020, but it’s not a full substitute for lost earnings.

While Zimbabwe is a signatory to several charters and frameworks such as the 2005 African Charter for Cultural Renaissance, the Sadc Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport and the Cultural and Creative Industries in Africa.

However, the aims of these documents — the advancement and protection of and investment in a range of artistic productions — have not been fully acted on, in terms of government policies and laws. This gap in implementation becomes sharper and more serious in a time of crisis such as a pandemic.

The National Cultural and Creative Industries Strategy, compiled by the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, the National Arts Council and the National Arts Gallery, outlines a 10-year plan to grow and improve the country’s cultural and creative industries, which is an important step in recognising the need to invest in this sector.

However, it may be necessary to revise this programme in light of the specific needs of the businesses and workers most affected by the pandemic.

These revisions should include making cultural and creative industries resilient to shocks such as the lockdown and improving access to and use of digital technologies.

The latter is especially useful, given how programmes such as The Closure DNA Show reached a wider audience and became viral hits during the lockdown. Improving resilience and investing in digital production, consumption and distribution would help unlock creative potential, create new kinds of cultural products, make an artistic career a viable and sustainable option, and be a boost to Zimbabwe’s economic production.

The arts are a multi-billion dollar global industry.

From music and literature, film and television to art and fashion, investing in the arts is also a key component to economic development and growth.

2021 is the African Union’s Year of the Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.”

One of Agenda 2063’s seven aspirations is “an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics.” Investing and prioritising in the arts will not only be an economic benefit to Zimbabwe, it will be our country’s contribution to the continent’s cultural development, unity and pride.

However, creative and cultural industries can be sidelined in favour of other sectors, especially with tight national budgets, austerity cuts and relief packages.

In short, when it is time for us to plan for  Zimbabwe after the end of the pandemic, the arts sector should not be overlooked. It is not enough to create recovery schemes and initiatives for the arts: it is time to dream big and explore how to make these industries grow and evolve into cultural and economic forces.

The people working in different artistic industries have much to contribute to the country’s economy and society.

Muzenda is a writer and analyst. These weekly New Horizon articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, independent consultant and past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and also the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe.   —  kadenge.zes@gmail.com and mobile: +263 772 382 852.


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