|Photos: Jonathan Solomons and Song Night|
It is true there is power in art, whether it is visual, abstract, conceptual or the performing arts. However, many Namibians have simply never been exposed to the arts.
Artists, performers and events organisers often target a specific group of people in a specific area and in doing so, they centralise and urbanise arts and culture.
Namibian Theatre and Film Awards Best Script winner 2017, novelist, screenwriter and actress Jenny Kandenge agrees that events sometimes take place where there is a market for it and unfortunately for many Namibians, that is often in the capital city. But how can this dilemma be rectified?
“Take your shows to them. Simple as that!” Kandenge exclaimed. “Take your work to small communities, host workshops – for free if you can – or have a community show. The people know about you so try and work with them. If they can’t come to you, then go to them,” she said.
This could be beneficial to performers as well, Kandenge said, because their work reaches more people.
“Isn’t that what all artists want? Someone to appreciate your work. For the communities to experience the art culture, they are able to learn about the arts. People could even be inspired to purse a career in the arts,” the young creative explained.
R&B singer and songwriter Micheal Pulse too feels that art spaces are too centralised. He mentioned that taking a look at the entertainment scope of these events, you would notice a trend that most take place in Windhoek.
“With sponsorship, investment and publicity mainly focused on events here, it leaves no room for other arts and culture events to be held or explored in other towns. We are not counting out certain events that do happen across the country but if you put a microscope on it, you will still find most stuff taking place in one place,” he said.
Pulse added that artists should invest more time and money in engaging smaller communities by taking the arts to them. He also mentioned that fear of the audience or the approach could be an obstacle for many in this regard.
“That’s when research plays a vital role and we all know that takes a team. But if we artists wanted to, we could engage those communities.”
Song Night co-ordinator Lize Ehlers has recently taken her show on the road to the coast in January, to expose more people to what she and her artists have to offer.
“I think arts and culture events are too centralised and Windhoek-based artists, even Windhoek CBD-based artists, get more exposure than artists from Khomasdal or Katutura. That is why we have decentralised Song Night and started the year off with a Song Night Goes Costal tour which started at Swakopmund and Walvis Bay in January,” she said.
Ehlers mentioned that artists, performers and organisers can make a change by involving their immediate communities. “I believe if we engage our neighbours and our church or business groups with entertainment that is inclusive and talks about the stories we share, the struggles and triumphs we share, more people would see art in a different way and possibly support artists more,” she noted.
According to the singer, art is a mirror and when you look in the mirror, you see things you can fix.
“You see things you never saw before. You see things that are good and bad, and that is why art is so important. If we look around the world, we see things are becoming closer to home. How can this relate to me? People aren’t a mass movement any more, they are more: ‘Do I like this? Do I see myself in this feeling or message portrayed? Can I relate to this? Can this bring back memories I forgot? Can this change me? Can this make me laugh and forget about my problems? Can this make me shake my head and say I am better than this?’”
Challenges could also arise from decentralising art, most notably in terms of finance.
“I saw with the unfunded Song Night Goes Coastal tour just how much money has to be invested into an initiative like this,” she added, saying that artists should save whatever money they have if they want to take their music, poetry, comedy, dance and theatre to the people.
Art is at the core of the community, Ehlers said. “It is the storytelling of what we are going through and we have the responsibility to take it to the people at very minimum to no cost in order for it to make a change.”
“We realised that we have to go straight into the community and we can only do that with intense communication with stakeholders on the ground. We saw that we have to be even more organic and we saw how much it is needed,” she said.
The veteran in the music business noted: “Art is a reflection of the people and the times we live in. We have to start telling stories of triumph and hope in order to change the stink in the air to the sweet smell of a brighter future”.