By Raisedon Baya
This year the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust distributed over $1 million dollars to local arts projects under what they call the Culture Impacts Programme. One million dollars is a lot of money in any part of the world. One million dollars in Zimbabwe surely has to have a serious impact not only on local artists’ lives but also on Zimbabwe’s cultural and artistic landscape. And so we wait, with bated breath, to see the impact of the winning projects on our lives and Zimbabwe’s cultural landscape.
According to Culture Fund there were more than 500 applications for the Culture Impacts programme and only forty one projects were successful. Honestly speaking most of the grantees on the list are credible individuals and organizations who have footprints that can be traced for years. It is only the obvious imbalance in terms of regional representation that is cause for concern.
Looking at the list of winning projects it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps the change of focus by Culture Fund towards transformative art could actually be the beginning of the death of art for arts’ sake. For several years now the Culture Fund has been the hope of many artists who saw a career in the arts – artists who are interested in creating art but not necessarily art to change the world. The emphasis now on issues instead of art will result in many artists being thrown out of the wagon and many arts and culture organizations turning themselves into civil society organizations.
To be honest Culture Fund was probably one of the very few, if not the only funding body that seemed to understand the need to support art in all its forms and for all its purposes. With focus on art as a means or “medium for stimulating development” and emphasis on results and impacts it surely means starvation or imminent DEATH particularly for artists and institutions that were more interested in art for art’s sake. In that regard I foresee imminent death for many festivals and other platforms for cultural celebrations. As I write I doubt very much if Shangano Arts Festival in Hwange will take place this year. I see the same fate for Rainbow Arts Festival in Gwanda, Midlands Arts Festival, Hurungwe Arts Festival and others.
Going through the list again one cannot ignore the fact that, like in previous Culture Fund disbursements, Harare ran away with the larger chunk of the purse. Out of a total of 41 successful projects Harare had more than 26 projects. That is almost 65% of the grantees. In terms of money the capital city got more than $700 000 of the $1 million dollars disbursed. Does this high success rate mean Harare people are good at writing winning proposals? Or does it mean Harare is the only province that responded well to the Culture Impacts call for proposals? Successful projects from Bulawayo were five and this translated to about 12% of the grantees. In terms of the money Bulawayo got about $67 000 – almost ten times less than Harare. Other provinces got very little or nothing at all. Without being emotional about it let us just stop to think about how many jobs $700 000 will create in Harare. Let us also think about overall impact of the project on Harare and its communities. Now compare that with other provinces?
It is also unfortunate, not for Harare though, that outside Culture Fund the capital city continues to have this advantage. Harare artists and cultural workers dine and do breakfast meetings with embassies and other funding agencies on daily basis. Harare artists and their organizations on a first name basis with those that make funding decisions. The same Harare artists and cultural workers are much closer to corporate decision makers who consistently fund their projects. Let us not forget that most corporates have their headquarters in the capital city. And so for artists and cultural workers that live and work outside Harare their best hope for funding has been and continues to be The Culture Fund Trust of Zimbabwe because the trust is known more for trying to reach out to those corners of the country that most funding agencies tend to pay lip service.
Raisedon Baya is a local playwright and cultural activist. He writes in his own capacity.