20 February 2013

Tanzania: Art Has to Be Their Matter At Heart

TWO main reasons state why Dr Rose Omolo-Ongati of Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya, had to participate in the ongoing fiveday Art For Development (AFD) course at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Being the one, who wrote the first proposal for this exchange programme at the UDSM's Fine and Performing Arts (FPA) Department, is one of these reasons. There is also the desire to further her interest in "Arts for Social Change", especially when related to fusing health messages on this issue.During a conversation with her on Monday afternoon the 'Daily News' learnt that she has had gained a special focus on health issues that affected youth and the AFD.

She had worked in conjunction with an NGO in Kenya called Alpha Plus, which basically runs a programme on behaviour change for youth out of school by use of the arts. To be more specific, she says they used both drama and music when doing this. From this experience, Dr Omolo-Ongati, who heads the Music and Theatre Studies Department at Maseno University, gained a store of knowledge. "So when this course in Dar es Salaam materialised, I felt, hey, let me go and see what the Tanzanians are saying about arts and social change, and what are their challenges and key issues.

I also wanted to know how I could relate these to ours in Kenya, and what interventions we could come-up with," she explained. Dr Omolo-Ongati continued to explain that her vision is to help make it possible for scholars in the field to write enough researched-based material so that there can be a developed resource that can be used for teaching.

Currently, everybody is doing this in their own ways. That is why there is nothing here unifying the arts, to talk about. All-the-same, her vision remained in-tact after this session had started on Monday. Participants had started to identify challenges but had not looked at methods to redress the situation as yet. They had also looked at a few projects and practices that are going around but did not know the suitability of these projects, their loop-holes or whether they had looked at if the projects have actually achieved the purpose for which they were initiated and if not, what followed.

This gap between the academics and the industry helps keep artistes in a situation whereby they are at the mercy of the highest bidder, in African countries, where there is no budgetary allocations for the arts. Therefore, even if something went wrong, she maintains, there is nothing to relate to it, which leaves the artistes without a backing, hence they being left open to much misuse.

Given the situation where artistes do not have any budgetary allocation, means that when someone approaches them, even if they have put a market value on their art, there is still a need for them to negotiate with the bidder. Reality states that no one would agree to stay hungry, after they have seen some small money dangling somewhere, which cannot be got anywhere else. "Artistes then become puppets for the politicians, who are able to give them money.

This is all because art is not seen as a source of employment as such. Therefore, it is put on entertainment and not edutainment, where you educate through art," she maintains. There is also the situation, whereby there is disconnection between the academy and the practitioners in the industry. Each of these has totally different objectives, so there is no bridge between what pertains in the academy and the industry. Therefore, as much as artistes are being trained in the academy very few end up in the industry.

This she says shows the content they are trained with at the academy, does not equip them to fit in the industry. "Until such a time that we are going to bridge this gap between the academy and the industry, so that the curriculum, which is the content, is also made with a representation of the people from the industry, we are still going to have this discrepancy," she concluded.

One of the visiting participants from Centria Universities of Applied Science in Finland, Laura Nuuttila, had something to say related to this. The third year Performing Arts student is one of the five participants, who will stay on campus at the end of the course, as exchange students, so will be here for the next three months. The main reason why she thinks there is a fundamental difference between here and Finland is due to the fact that the government there supports the arts, whereas here they don't.

Added to this in Finland wages are quite high, yet there is still greed, apparently. One can see the same kind of issues in art generally speaking. However, in TFD and education she believes is going in a good direction because it really is for the communities trying to solve their problems. The artistes there get a better wage so can direct their attention more towards helping the community concerned. "I think there is a very interesting question for us to find, which is how we can work together for all cultures.

How can we mix knowledge and then try to find methods," she said. The other visitors on the course come from the University of Zambia in Lusaka, Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya and Seinajoki universities in Finland. Over their five days they together with their counterparts at the FPA Department will share experiences and knowledge of creativity in using the Art for social. Participants were asked beforehand to prepare assignments, in the form of presentations and performances, in their home countries, to make it possible for them to have a rich and intense interaction here during this week.

They were to spend the first three days here in Dar es Salaam and the last two, from tomorrow on the Zanzibar Isles. The five-day intensive course is part of an initiative by an international network, which is being sponsored by a co-operative in Finland, called UMODZI. It is part of a two-year link programme involving these five universities, known as the North, South, South, Network.

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