By Frederick Philander
Due to many misconceptions and misunderstandings, Namibian artists have been unnecessarily subjected to many hardships such as under-funding over many years.
This was the view expressed last Friday by the chairperson of the National Arts Council (NAC), Vincent Mwemba, at the first art and culture stakeholders meeting that was held at the College of the Arts.
Some fifty artists and other stakeholders attended the meeting and actively took part in discussions on a variety of topics in the art world of the country.
“Though people do not tend to understand the role of artists in society and their works, some countries have realized the power of art. For that reason some national and international government policies have been specifically adapted and ratified,” Mwemba claimed.
He further charged that the art sector in Namibia had been neglected for far too long.
“Artists had no backing to showcase their talents, whether it was visual arts, performing arts or media arts. Artists primarily depended on the private sector for support and assistance or they had individually struggled to market and exhibit their works to any willing audience,” he said.
According to Mwemba, the primary function by the National Arts Council is to promote, improve and encourage arts in the country.
“This is to be done by funding projects such as exhibitions, performances to award bursaries, script-writing, sponsorships to attend national and international arts festivals and performances. In this regard, I am very happy that artists from a wide range of disciplines are attending the meeting for better cooperation among all artists,” the chairman, also the Secretary General of the Oruuano Artists Union, said.
He warned those present that the meeting was not a platform where stones should be thrown at each other.
“This meeting should be seen as the beginning of hard work and dedication towards the realization of Vision 2030. Therefore, the focus needs to be on the finalization of the criteria for funding. The documents need to capture the necessary procedures to enable our lawmakers to properly understand the needs of Namibian artists and the importance of the art industry to the country,” he said.
In Mwemba’s view, the National Arts Council of Namibia (NACN) should be seen as a foundation for artists to be able to realize their dreams and become self-sustainable through job-creation.
Playwright and filmmaker, Vickson Hangula, one of those artists who attended the meeting, expressed hope for the future of the National Arts Council.
“However, my suggestion is that the board be more transparent in its dealings with Namibian artists on this level. Some members appeared to be more defensive and hostile towards participants instead of cooperative. At the present moment, I think the NACN’s budget is far too small to accommodate all the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Namibian artists,” Hangula said.
He also suggested that instead of only one funding cycle, the NACN should have an ongoing format of funding art projects in the country.
“I am looking forward to seeing what and how the suggestions and proposals of the artists will be accommodated and incorporated in the final draft documents,” Hangula, the first Golden Pen Award winner for playwriting, said.
Visual artist, Imke Rust, who also attended the meeting, considers the NACN’s initiative a plausible one.
“It is good that they gave artists an opportunity to voice their needs and concerns and I think the meeting was very fruitful, and I am sure this will be a very successful initiative, helping Namibian artists and, through that, the nation. Although also, in future I hope to see more artists starting to ask themselves “What can I, as an artist, do for my nation, my city, my community, the NACN or my fellow artists, etc.?” instead of ??????’??