Last month I was fortunate to be able to teach arts management in five African countries: Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. (These countries were selected because at least one arts manager from each country participates in the Kennedy Center's DeVos Institute summer training program.) In total, I had about five hundred arts managers, board members, government officials and artists in my classes.
When we concluded our session at the Godown in Nairobi, Kenya, Joy Mboya, the dynamic leader of this vibrant arts center, asked me to share my thoughts on the state of the arts in Africa.
Clearly there are differences between the countries I visited on this trip and on past visits to the continent. And equally clear to me, I am not an expert on African arts. But I have now taught many hundreds of arts managers there and have had the great opportunity to learn from them. This is what I have observed:
1. In every country I visited, there were passionate arts communities with leaders who appreciated the importance of developing a stronger arts ecology.
2. There are artists of astonishing range and capability in every African country I visited. What makes these artists so special is that many of them have received very little formal training.
3. The work of these artists is made so much more difficult because there is so little supporting infrastructure. In the United States, we take the presence of professional theater, dance and music organizations for granted. We know there are people with fundraising, marketing and financial management expertise. We know there are conservatories that teach music, dance and theater and schools of art that teach drawing, painting and sculpture. We know there are concert halls and theaters with the production capabilities we need. These are all missing in much of Africa.
4. While it varies greatly, there is far less government support for the arts than exists in Europe and far less private support than exists in the United States. Arts funding comes from an unstable amalgam of grants from European countries (mostly from Scandinavia) and corporate contributions with a few foreign foundations thrown in. This is neither sustainable (how will European countries justify giving arts grants abroad when they are cutting them substantially at home?) nor conducive to the growth of the arts sector.
5. There is virtually neither arts management training available nor many full-time arts managers. Most artists serve as their own managers, with little training to do so. They have few role models or mentors to learn from; they are almost all on their own.
6. The absence of a strong funding base, substantial arts organizations, and the physical infrastructure means that few African arts organizations can hold a place on the world stage. There are exceptions to be sure. But establishing a global presence is crucial to building sustainable international funding and to creating a stronger case for funding at home.
I am personally committed to seeing this change in the coming years. I hope others will join me.
Level up. Read THIS and be the most interesting person at your dinner party. Learn more