Lashes and Praise for Arts

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Heavy criticism against and praise for Namibian artists, the first for their alleged ignorance about the government’s perception of prioritizing the national budget for the promotion of arts formed the nucleus of a speech delivered on Wednesday by the responsible minister for arts and culture. John Mutorwa, Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, was officially opening a one-day consultative workshop of the Art Council of Namibia. Some twenty invited artists and art stakeholders attended the workshop in the capital at which the Arts Council of Namibia’s official logo was launched, too. “The absence of a number of invited arts and culture bodies and organizations from this ideal workshop is a worrying factor to my ministry. In my opinion, those absent are normally the ones always criticizing the most honest and pragmatic arts and culture promotion efforts by the government. It may be a small thing, but it remains a big problem,” John Mutorwa lashed out in an off-the-cuff remark. According to him, the board members have already been castigated and dubbed as being sellouts and useless yes-men and women for being unable to outright finance art and culture projects. “This is untrue, unfair and insulting to the board that has accomplished a lot in a short time. By the way, these disgruntled ones can shout critique at the top of their voices till kingdom come, but without enough funding secured by the very same people they criticize, nothing will happen. I see a great future for the National Arts Council with the present leadership at the helm,” he said defensively of the council. The minister went on to express his personal and ministry’s profound gratitude to the National Arts Council’s efforts in the formulation of funding criteria since its inception late last year. “I am proud to say that in a very short period of time the National Arts Council has achieved much more than any of the other statutory boards within the government structures. Most others are established and they basically disappear in thin air, never to be heard of again. I am glad that the council had diligently worked out a proper funding criteria structure, which will form the basis and policy foundation that will guide its operations,” Mutorwa said. He further stated that he is painfully aware of the fact that the promotion of arts and culture demands a lot of funding. “Though everything revolves around money, it is nowhere ever enough. In terms of the government’s priorities, in terms of funding, arts and culture do not feature prominently, not that it is not important. They are important and will remain important. However, if you don’t have enough money, the National Arts Council will not be in a position and able to fulfill the growing arts and cultural needs of the nation. We have to work hard and as creatively as possible to achieve our set goals,” Mutorwa said, also announcing that the National Arts Council’s 2006/7 budget had been raised by N$100 000 to N$323 000. He then drifted into a long explanation on how the state shares its resources as a priority and how the National Arts Council in the latest national budget received yet another basically beyond the breadline budget for its operations. “Money is never enough because the government has certain priorities such as education, health and agriculture. Therefore, the budgets of bodies such as the National Arts Council should not solely and one hundred percent depend on government funding. It should go out there and find the money. There are many people and businesses interested and keen to assist financially to promote arts and culture in the country. They must just be found,” he said suggestively. Mutorwa assured the National Arts Council and those present that the government will continue to financially support its activities and will not renege on it. He subtly also warned the National Arts Council to be consistent and steadfast in the allocation of funding to projects. “Don’t look at the person’s face or his background, but the value and national importance of the product such a person is financially applying for,” he advised. In welcoming the workshop participants, Vincent Mwemba, chairperson of the National Arts Council warned that his council has a big task at hand to promote arts and culture on a national scale. “We must all work together to make the National Arts Council work properly. Hence this workshop and others to follow. We want to make sure we don’t fail the Namibian artists, who have for time immemorial suffered and sacrificed enough already. The National Arts Council will do its best to improve the situation of artists as part of a long journey into the future, basically without real money in the kitty,” Mwemba assured the workshop participants. Arts and culture bodies such as the NTN, the Namibia National Arts Gallery, VAN, Nascam, the Oruuano Artists Union, Committed Artists of Namibia, the music industry and Homebrewed Productions were represented at the workshop. At the same occasion the winner of the National Arts Council’s official logo competition was announced. A Kavango-based graphic artist, Christian Maketo, walked away with the best entry prize of N$2 000 from a great number of entries.