3 February 2013

Rwanda: Can the Arts Become a Productive Industry?

In the effort to diversify off-farm jobs to build a sustainable economy, special attention is drawn to the potential opportunities that arts industry can bring in. The education ministry in collaboration with Workforce Development Authority (WDA) last week committed itself to invest more in the industry in order to make it economically viable.

"Our wish is to see our artists getting wealth out of their talent," said Mathias Harebamungu, the State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education. "We also want our arts industry to be a source of job opportunities for those who have vocational and technical skills."

The State Minister expressed the government's will to turn around an industry that has been lagging behind for a long time. Talented Rwandans have been there, Harebamungu noted, but very few could turn their art into professional occupations.

"Even those who became famous would make their artistic works after finishing their daily occupations because they found it not economically viable," he observe, adding that other talented people could leave their talents unexploited since they could not get any income out of it.

However, experience from other countries shows that the industry has potential to make the private sector more vibrant. For instance, the movie and music industries in the USA have had a significant impact on the socio-economic development not only for the artists, but also for those in related occupations. Festivals in Burkina Faso have been doing the same.

"Different studies show that a dynamic arts industry based on culture can significantly contribute to national economic growth, job creation and reduce poverty," pointed out Michel Saba, an expert working with culture and tourism ministry in Burkina Faso.

In that country, the arts have been greatly contributing to socio-economic development, he said, with festivals in Burkina Faso attracting more than 200 creators and about 25,000 spectators each, and this in turn attracts many tourists.

According to Saba, such cultural events do not only generate a lot of money for artists, but also for the government through taxes. In addition, other business owners such restaurants, hairdressers, public transport operators and hotels make money during the festivals. Tourists can also extend their stay after the festivals, he noted.

"It's a real potential opportunity for doing business and promoting and diversifying entrepreneurship," Saba observed. "The culture sector is vital when its actors feel confident in their practices."

That of course can't happen all of a sudden, but requires investments. After realizing the potential, Burkina Faso in 2011 adopted a strategy of accelerating its national sustainable socio-economic growth where they took culture as one of the priority areas at the same level as agriculture, mining among others.

Art schools

In Rwanda, neither the public nor the private sector have made a big effort to make the arts economically viable. The president of Rwanda Arts Initiative (RAI), Dorcy Rugamba, a son of the late famous musician Cyprien Rugamba, said the lack of a vibrant industry was due to several factors including lack of schools to guide and train talented Rwandans. Currently, Rwanda counts a single arts school, Ecole d'Arts de Nyundo, in Rubavu.

The school, which was founded in 1952 by Catholic Church Brothers, has now 235 students in graphic arts and sculpture & ceramics.

On the other side, Rugamba noted that lack of infrastructure meeting all standards to showcase art has been another challenge. So far, Rwanda counts a single hall - Grand Auditorium at NUR - meeting all requirements such as necessary lighting for various types of performances.

In an effort to boost the industry, the State Minister Harebamungu said that they are preparing curricula for primary and secondary students so that they can discover their talents in childhood. In addition, Jerome Gasana, the director general of WDA, said that activities to expand Nyundo School are under way while the ultimate target is to have at least one arts school in each province.

Didier Munezero, director of partnership at WDA, told The Rwanda Focus that the symposium recommended that the existing arts school of Nyundo be upgraded with other courses of filming and music as well as capacity to make locally required equipment like guitars which are imported.

He added that the French have expressed their interest to partner in some artistic genres.

In the meantime, the symposium recommended setting up a taskforce within two weeks in order to study what is needed in each sector depending on opportunities available on the market. Artists were also urged to form federations through which they can discuss their specific concerns such as protection of intellectual property for further development.

If these measures are implemented, according to experts, the arts industry in Rwanda stands a good chance to flourish. "Artists here are very talented, but they have a complex because they think that they are not able to compete with other countries," noted Florence Boivin-Roumestan, a Canadian based in Rwanda. "I have seen them for a long time and it's extremely good."

She also noted that Rwandan artists could make a lot of money if they asserted themselves. "Rwanda is a very secure country and thus ideal to organize any kind of festival. This would bring in a lot of money because tourists will come with no worries."

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