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Austerity and art in Zimbabwe — a commentary




FOR a nation that has for long been world-renowned for its artistic production, the drastic austerity measures announced by Zimbabwe’s minister of Finance in October 2018, containing fiscal reforms intended to regulate the nation’s finances, dampened the little artistic production that was beginning to blossom under the country’s New Dispensation.

As a result of these measures, the traditional consumers of art in Zimbabwe ceased to be interested in both performing, and the visual arts in general, with attendances for both exhibitions and performances decreasing substantially.

Funding the arts can be a contentious and a socially controversial political issue. However, the arts must be seen to express our culture, our human nature and our harmonious social co-existence.

Economic austerity falls particularly hard on the creative industries, especially areas of visual art and other cultural professions which, more often than not, are perceived and treated as non-essential to the overall socio-economic development of a nation.

Always considered an easy target in times of austerity, art and culture should instead be seen as the standard bearer for Zimbabwe’s efforts to re-engage in cultural diplomacy, to develop

soft power, and to compete as a nation, in both international trade and investment.

In the past decades, international trade in the creative industries on world markets has shown sustained growth. The global market for traded creative goods and services continued to increase exponentially in both, interest and sales since the early 2000s.

Europe is the largest exporter of creative goods among developed countries. Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium are considered the top five exporters of creative goods. Their exports of creative goods has risen in tandem with the value of imports . No other industry, not even agriculture and mining, can boast such growth.

Exports of creative goods from developing economies also grew during the period, with a considerable rise export earnings. Consequently the creative industries in developing countries are playing an increasingly important role in international trade. A case for Zimbabwe to note, where the creative industries are struggling to regain their lost ground.

In Britain the arts and culture are neither kept out of the government sphere, nor totally embraced within it. Instead the arts are placed into governmental policy as another way of boosting economic growth.

Led by the vigour of government-funded cultural quarters, this strategy has led to programmes that have spurred regeneration and growth in several struggling regions and cities that would have otherwise found it difficult to attract private patronage, since the majority of philanthropic arts funding is generally channelled to the city of London.

A study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that arts and culture in Britain, made up 0.4% of Britain’s GDP, a strong return on less than 0.1% of government spending. The cultural sector was also seen to have increased its contribution to the U.K’s GDP, even as the wider economy contracted over a period.

The report’s findings also highlighted the important role of the arts sector in supporting the commercial creative industries, which made up 10% of Britain’s GDP.

The report concluded that “proximity to arts and culture can translate to higher productivity and wages”.

To cite another example, the Brookings Institute in the United States held a symposium in 2012 to investigate the economic benefits of innovation and ideas, and the part that the arts have to play in this economic matrix. Their findings cited the impacts the creative industries have in boosting growth in cities, and “the stimulating effect of arts and crafts participation on entrepreneurship in science and engineering”.

However, cultural bodies in the United States have not focused on these economic returns in making their case for funding.

In the US, the National Endowment for the Arts (with whom this writer attended workshops on governance and creative capital), is one of three organisations responsible for cultural grants, that currently receive millions of dollars in federal funding. The French, by comparison, spend billions of dollars in their arts and cultural sections.

Given that economic emphasis worldwide has shifted to a drive for sustainable growth, there will be more and more organisations, businesses and communities assigning greater value to the arts and human creativity, which by nature regenerates and expands over the years if afforded the appropriate incentives and fiscal support.

Given adequate government funding, corporate sponsorship, goodwill, and media visibility and promotion, the economic returns on investment in art and culture

in Zimbabwe are boundless Whilst art is an important generator of wealth, boosting the economy through innovation, enterprise and job creation, the envisaged dividends from the artistic industry and the hope to realise financial security for the sector cannot be achieved without physical access to the arts in Zimbabwe, which remains elusive to many communities, especially rural communities that lack the infrastructure to capacitate artistic production as well as house and administer the arts.

The creative industries are vibrant sectors of the global economy, increasing engagement demographics, better access to ICTs and dynamic shifts to new lifestyles associated with creative products and services, as well as trade in these sectors, make a promising avenue for future growth and potential employment creation for Zimbabwe.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), export earnings from the creative industries cover the value of exports of all creative industry products, comprising tangible goods and intangible services in each creative sector; again illustrating the potential for Zimbabwe to export its cultural products. Here, again with the “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” mantra, the arts should be encouraged and promoted with every Zimbabwean trade interaction.

The potential of the creative economy in Zimbabwe has not yet been fully harnessed; it should be alive, dynamic and vibrant – waiting to be engaged.

The arts and creative industries must be supported, promoted and valued, even more so during times of austerity because they are our heart, our soul, our essence. They define us as Zimbabweans.

The result of the austerity measures was the disastrous, severe erosion of our national visual memory and an erasure of our art, history, culture, identity and irreplaceable heritage which young Zimbabweans deserve to know, understand and inherit, and which the world is ready to receive and appreciate.

About the writer: Dr. Tony Monda holds a PhD in art theory and philosophy and a Doctor of Business Administration in post-colonial heritage studies. For comments, e-mail:[email protected]

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