Making Art Serious Business
A few years ago one member of the boat expressed his concern regarding how artists conducted their business, especially the lack of desire by some Zimbabwean artist when it came to perfecting their talent. At the end of the discussion those of us on who are less artistic, were left with a bleak impression of the state of affairs as far as the arts were concerned. If truth be told, certain painful facts have to be faced straight in the eye.
Do Zimbabweans have artistic talent? certainly, there is lots of it. No community is void of artistic expression.However Like all potential there is not much that can be done about it, if the value is not shaped and formed correctly.In order for music, dance, visual, and written arts to be successful in Zimbabwe, it must be approached as seriously as one would approach a business.
One of the boat members was part of a team that spent months planning for a week long entrepreneurial seminar. This event is somewhat of a big deal, well at least were it was held.. just to give you the magnitude think Hifa Agri show, and Trade fair all at once.The basic idea of this event is to support new businesses . What was most interesting about this event, was that amoung all the companies that particiated, were artists of different artistic expressions of different ages and backgrounds.These artists would attend business seminars and workshops and would sit side by side with people running other types business. Simple because art can be a viable business.
In our part of Africa art is still considered a hobby a pasttime… things that the unemployed do. Arists have limited political and economic paticipation in their communities. Usually artists who attend business events are only there to provide entertainment for delegates and those attending the business fair.If invited its for token reasons with little or no time to address issues about their industry. For a long time some African artists have been comfortable with this limited categorization, some are almost apologetic about their trade when being compared to other industries.
However in other parts of the world all forms of artistic expression is considered seriously, just as other forms of business and artists are respected and given genuine support by government and the business community who either commission them provide financing or engage them for projects not from a sympathetic point of view but as equal partners.
This approach seems to create synergies that add value to all involved and turns art into serious business. Imagine Macheso at the Trade Fair not just as a performer but also having a display stand with representatives marketing him. When we say a stand we mean something serious with representatives trying to engage serious business and not just selling Cds from under the table.
To some extent Haifa has tried to do this, but more work needs to be done and as long as artists continue to separate themself, then integration will always be an issue.( please note, we are not saying special interest events are not good, we have to make this clear, some idiotic person is definitely going to misconstrue that last statement, all we are saying is it must not be a seperate dialectic from the main topics regarding developmental issues)
As for the Zimbabwean artists they need to start looking at their work seriously as far as contributing to the economy is concerned. For instance new artists in other countries, constantly showcase their work whenever they can, initially for free in order to get the publicity they need. Zimbabweans need to realise that the arts industry is very much in its developmental stage,and investments need to be made to constantly learn more about their craft from those that have achieved sucess on the world stage.Other professionals such as marketing sales and advertising experts can also help the arts industry develop.
The facts on the Zimbabwean ground seems to suggest that some are more concerned with being compared to certain standards of the west. Rather than real artistic development. It only takes one artist to feature in some acclaimed movie, play or song for some people to start thinking we have arrived. We think this is a simple case of one rubbing their own ego.
For instance when our own big name musicians vist other countries they can only pull a handfull of crowd unless they were invited to a music festival with many artist. Infact for the most part Zimbabwean artists are seving the handful of a bunch of diasporan Zimbo faithfuls, they are not exactly breaking new markets here folks lets not get it twisted…..rather just playing to the same crowds they used to play for in Chitungwiza, Who now happen to be in Dallas, or luton or sum such Zimbo Infested place.
Its time people pulled minds and resources to provide artists with a platform where people who can assist them in developing their talent. Those involved should include includes not just artists but bankers, agents, lawyers, talent managers etc. This should start from an early age until they have matured as an artist. This has to be done not just from a micro level but from a big picture perspective, after all those that survive in any industry are marketable the world over. Here on the boat, when we read the local papers, we are always shocked at the growing list of all these western based artists trickling into Zimbabwe,why they are now so keen in selling to the Zimbabwean market especially when most of them have ceased to make meaning contributions in their home markets, is simply because they can.
Zimbabweans can learn from foreign artists who sell their products where and when they like. We too can export art just like we do cotton or tobacco. However we should really start moving away from the talk shop mentality that we so used to, and start focusing on creating artistic brands…..
Most will say its being commercial. The reality is that even those artists who say they are not commercial in essence understand that there is a market of viewers listener who are fascinated by the notion of non commercialism (which is an ideology in itself anyway..).as for believing in the cause what ever it is, thats debatable, the reality is money makes the world go round, without it whatever right or wrong notions or ideologies a person has , they will only be known by a micro group if they dont have money to preach their gospel around the world. But thats for another day ….
As for artists who would not want to be bothered in learning the business of art themselves or those who are totally clueless, may be go0d to consider working with a team or teams of professionals to help them grow. As far as identifying and nurturing this too is done seriously not just as an act of benevolence but as activity that can yield benefits for the whole community. Thankfully a few people in Zimbabwe are begining to get it. Broadway, New York, may seem to echo the proverbial million steps away adge, yet with the right approach it is very much attainable. As for us in the boat we will continue rowing.
PLEASE NOTE images below is not meant to suggest anything, it is just a picture of one of the youngest performers that 3Mob encountered at one event.