The Herald (Harare)

5 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Art Education and Opportunities

It is rather ironic that at a time when sponsorship for art projects has all dried up, the number of art graduates released by learning institutions continues to rise. Chinhoyi University of Technology's Creative Art and Design department for example, enrolled a mere 12 students in 2003 for their new art degree.

Today, each class is several dozen strong and upon graduation each is expected to either gain employment at reputable companies or do well as entrepreneurs.

Interest in art education in other institutions such as the Harare Polytechnic and Zimbabwe Institute of Visual Arts is also rising. But with a very small pool of start up cash available and with only a few aware of its availability, few creative dreams are being realised.

At best, most ideas can only be adjusted, revised downwards to fit budget limitations. So where is the money for art projects? There was never a lot to begin with, but the cultural sections of foreign missions operating in Zimbabwe used to fund art before the turn of the century.

Just like humanitarian aid and mainly for political reasons, funding of cultural projects by foreign organisations was abruptly cut off and replaced by so-called targeted sanctions. There has also been a significant decline in provision of grants, scholarships and other forms of indirect funding for artists.

Selling art in Zimbabwe is proving to be difficult for most emerging talents. It is more likely that any work sold is paid for by organisations rather than individuals.

Organisations would only buy from "authorised dealers" and the lesser known artists are forced to change their approach if they want to succeed. Multi-corporations for example would only outsource advertising, research and marketing to other big companies.

Budding young artists are faced with only two options -- join the big advertising agencies or any other companies with available art-related vacancies, or go it alone by sourcing for both funding and an audience.

The first option rakes in the much-needed steady income, but with instructions coming from someone higher on the organogram, chances of artists losing their individuality are high.

The biggest problem facing artists in Zimbabwe today is that the most likely openings on the job market exist in "controlled" environments, places where creativity may be blunted by how linear structures work within the organisations. Control affects originality, and by extension style. Not that artists should work as rebels without a cause, but the restrictions make more sense if they are controlled from within. Other opportunities, nicknamed "scraps" exist within the market.

Here, artists establish their own brands, but struggle to attract a broad clientele base.

But because making a living is more important than being original, artists in this sector compromise everything else including style, price and quality in exchange for whatever the client would be willing to pay.

The business cards or wedding cards business downtown, or a company that offers typing services and graphic design at the same time is unlikely to worry too much about elements and principles of design, and quality is often not at the very top of the priorities list.

The one wish for young and emerging artists is to develop a business model that gives them the freedom to express themselves with no other barriers other than legal, ethical and moral considerations.

Yet without the initial financial resources to kick start the venture, options that ensure retention of individuality are all, but non-existent.

Most young artists concede that whatever professional route they take after school is only temporary.

They see both self-employment and formal employment initially as ways to earn a living while waiting for more viable opportunities to come their way.

Some, however, forget about the creative side of the work and end up focusing on "income generating projects" without investing in their most potent weapon -- visual communication skills.

Without funding, art is a lot poorer.

And the near future does not look very bright as the traditional backers of art continue to either stay away or channel their money to other deserving causes.

The lack of funding does not necessarily mean the death of the profession. Artists are naturally creative and if one fails to find a clear way to maintain or increase artwork quality while earning enough to support a lifestyle, chances of doing well even with funding are low.

The art graduates flooding the Zimbabwean market may find it hard to fit in within the local professional circles, but not every idea out there has been fully exploited.

Sure, there is always need for one to earn money to take care of daily needs, but the ultimate goal should include so much more than doing the same thing over and over again.

Every artist must believe in their abilities, and one of those capabilities has to be a knack for coming up with brilliant, creative ideas with the potential to render foreign funding irrelevant.

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