Monday, 16 July 2012

Guest post: "Bayimba: a catalyst in a heavily challenged arts sector", by Faisal Kiwewa (Uganda)

Faisal Kiwewa is a quiet man full of energy and determination. He has been working arduously to put the arts and culture on the map of his home country, Uganda, but has expanded his contribution and impact on the whole of East Africa and the rest of the african continent. His mind is constantly working, planning the next step to take the cause further and further. In this post he tells us the story, in the form of a fairy tale, of his Bayimba Cultural Foundation. But the Bayimba team is working to make the fairy tale become and remain true. mv

Bayimba International Festival of the Arts (Photo: Bayimba Cultural Foundation)

Once upon a time …

… I picked on the interest to study and observe the state of arts and culture in my country Uganda. It was not difficult to note that there was a lack of relevant and good (informal) training opportunities and institutions, a lack of creativity and essential artistic and professional skills amongst artists, arts organizations and other stakeholders, a lack of adequate production and performance facilities and a lack of platforms for exposure and interaction. When digging deeper I came to realize that this was caused by three main root causes: first, a lack of awareness and appreciation for the role of arts and culture in shaping society; second, a lack of investment in arts and culture, and third, a lack of interaction and collaboration between stakeholders that make up the arts and culture sector.

As is the case in many developing countries, culture is not a priority for the government. It is seen as a subsidiary issue in tackling poverty. Financial support to the sector is therefore minimal, and cultural policies and strategies take a rather static approach to culture instead of looking at it as a dynamic, innovative and creative force in shaping society. Support from the private sector has also been limited and necessarily selective. Private investors have focused on subsectors where market risk is manageable and profits can be maximized. At the same time stakeholders in the sector have not properly organized themselves to bring about change in this status quo while most projects and activities are often implemented in isolation and without a long-term vision, leave alone a vision for the arts and culture sector as a whole. 

I came to the conclusion that the potential of arts and culture as powerful contributors to social and economic development was highly neglected and under-utilized. It was time to cause some change! Bayimba Cultural Foundation was thereupon founded with the aim of becoming the catalyst for that change!

… Bayimba started its journey …

Being faced with these multiple challenges and the enormous tabula rasa – at all levels all actions basically still had to be undertaken – Bayimba, as inexperienced as it was, started developing its first programme. Despite many hiccups, the first Bayimba International Festival of the Arts was organized in combination with three training workshops for artists to enhance skills and stimulate artistic collaborations. This was back in 2008 and we sew the first seeds. The following years, Bayimba grew and managed to develop a comprehensive and ambitious programme aimed at addressing many of the identified challenges. 

To raise the profile and the position of the arts and the cultural sector as a whole, Bayimba decided to engage in advocacy and lobby activities alongside training activities and a platform to expose artistic talents. Back in 2009, Bayimba initiated the first debates on the role of arts and culture in society and woke up the sector. A year later, the first Uganda Conference on Arts and Culture was held as a platform for joint discussion and action. Up till today, Bayimba is instrumental in bringing stakeholders together and organizing the arts and culture sector, all with a view to join hands to bring about change.

To provide further platforms for exposure of artistic talents, to ensure that a wider audience can enjoy a variety of cultural expressions, and to enable a country-wide development of the arts and culture sector, one-day festivals were added to the programme in 2010, together with a range of training activities to develop local talent and an artist exchange programme between these regions. As of yet, Bayimba’s festivals are held in five regions, providing a platform for local artists and touring opportunities for already established artists, that culminate in the Bayimba International Festival of the Arts that is set to celebrate is 5th edition this September.

All along, Bayimba also continued to invest in developing artistic talent. Training workshops were held to introduce new art disciplines to Uganda, such as photography, street theatre, installation art, or poetry performances. Some of its programmes, such as music training, are gradually developing into a more structured training programme and are designed to last. At the same time, Bayimba realised there is also a need to train other sector stakeholders than artists and started offering training to arts managers and arts journalists in 2011, as they are equally important actors for the sector to grow and flourish.

Due to its growing relevance and reputation in Uganda, Bayimba also became an important catalyst in the East African region and on the African continent. It has become a well-respected member of a number of regional and continental networks. Most recently, in May 2011, Bayimba also took the lead to launch DOADOA as an initiative that provides a platform for professional networking and joint learning, brings together stakeholders and links people, organizations, businesses, knowledge and technology with a view to create demand and develop a market for the performing arts and unlock the potential of the East African creative industry.

Arts Management Training Programme for arts managers from all over Africa (Photo: Bayimba Cultural Foundation)

To have a lasting impact on the sector, Bayimba has also sought to develop and establish lasting systems and structures. The institutionalisation of the music training programme, as mentioned, is just one example. To increase access to finance for artists and increase investment in the sector, Bayimba is also setting up a tailor-made and innovative crowdfunding platform for artistic projects in East Africa and a small loan scheme for artists in Uganda. All along, Bayimba has also been planning for the establishment of a multi-functional arts infrastructure in Uganda that would be a significant hub for the arts in Uganda, East Africa and on the continent. This would be the crowning of all what has been achieved so far.

… and gradually changed the landscape …

I dare to say that Bayimba’s interventions during the past 5 years have resulted in a gradual development of the sector. Through its exceptional combination of programmes and activities, Bayimba has managed to address various challenges and encouraged other to do the same. It has done so by leading by example, with a young, energetic and ambitious team that has not avoided taking risks to initiate equally ambitious projects and programmes; by working through partnerships and developing an extensive network of partners; by ensuring grass-root involvement; and by developing Bayimba into a locally owned brand. An interesting workforce of creative entrepreneurs in the arts, more especially in music, dance, film and theatre, has emerged ever since, putting great effort into developing and promoting the arts. And Bayimba is proud that it has contributed to this new era of creative entrepreneurship in Uganda. We will continue to do serve our artists, the arts and our audiences, each in their own right, to ensure creativity at the edge. As such, we will not only serve the arts and culture sector, but the community, society and the world at large ...

… for the arts and culture in Uganda to happily live ever after.

Faisal Kiwewa
is the Founding Director of Bayimba Cultural Foundation and is currently chairing the organizing committee of the Uganda Annual Conference on Arts and Culture (UACAC).

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