22 May 2012

Rwanda: Promoting Culture Through Art

LOCATED in Kacyiru, Gasabo District, a few meters from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), is Ishyo Arts Centre.

The centre was opened in 2007 by a group of eight women, who decided to put in place something in support of culture.

"We wanted to create a space where traditional and contemporary artists could meet, exchange, develop and also present artworks to the Rwandan audience," said Carole Umulinga Karemera, Chairperson Ishyo Arts Centre, and Artistic Director.

At that time, there was not any cultural centre in Rwanda, apart from the French cultural centre, which had also closed at the time.

The centre began with a mobile library at first to emphasise literature and reading culture; it comprised of books and training artists who could move to different places and could perform for free especially in several public schools for mainly kids.

"We did this for two years. At first it wasn't easy since they had to handle lots of things which included; training, production and audience development at the same time. We would wonder why Rwandans were not interested in the shows since there was a very low turn up," said Carole, as she is fondly known.

They then decided to do performances in bars since most people could be found there. "We had to look for places where many people were and build a relationship with them and it surely worked out because the audience grew bigger and bigger," added Carole.

Ishyo Arts Centre currently has various productions from within the country and abroad. It co-founded two festivals, organises trainings for professional artists in; music, visual arts, animated films, dance, theatre, and playwriting.

Ishyo also does advocacy for the arts which involves supporting the government to develop cultural policies which are relevant for the artists and for the cultural environment, support artists in developing applications forms to assist them to participate in festivals abroad where they can market their work.

"We have around 6-20 performances every month, which include shows like; 'Spoken Word, 'Comedy kNight' - we also host international well-known writers who meet local writers, students among others. We reach out to the international community to let them know of what's happening in the field of contemporary art in Rwanda," said Carole.

Among the centre's achievements has been the partnership with Germany under which Goethe-Institut - Rwanda was born.

"We're also in partnership with Belgium and several universities in the U.S. and currently a lot of researchers and artists are aware of what is happening as regards to the field of contemporary art in Rwanda through this centre," she noted.

According to Nadia Nkwaya, the centre's Project Manager, art is all about education and "here the youth are mainly our target group."

"In building the audience, we meet students in schools through performances in art competitions where they get to know about a director, an actor, a writer - and the processes involved, why they should watch and like art," said Nkwaya.

"We aim at maintaining quality-we don't give away empty content, we are very selective in partnerships that we do with artists, we believe in works that are professional," added Oriane Ruzibiza, Ishyo's Executive Director.

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