Liberia: À Dyà Zù-Zù Aims to Help Develop Liberia's Creative Industries

From rights, Liberia Assistant Culture Minister Margaret Cooper Frank, American Country singer JP Harris, Courtney Renken in the center in black and flaked by leader of Liberia Music Union and staff in the office of the Assistant Culture Minister.

Over the last decade and a half, the creative industries in Liberia have experienced stagnated growth and development, a situation which has made it difficult for filmmakers, musicians, and other artists to make money from their craft.

In a move to tackle the situation, a group of Liberian artists and cultural leaders in collaboration with American country singer JP Harris and Courtney Renken have launched an organization, "À Dyà Zù-Zù", which focuses on developing the entire creative and cultural industries.

"À Dyà Zù-Zù is here to address some of the fundamental challenges as to why the creative industries have been unable to benefit Liberian artists financially," Ms. Renken explained. "The overall focus of our work to use culture to give Liberians the opportunity to rewrite their own history and to heal from past national traumas.

À Dyà Zù-Zù, which means "We Bring the Heat," is a registered 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization in the United States and Liberia, whose aim is to develop the creative industries through strategic programs that will economically and socially impact the lives of everyday Liberians, not just artists and cultural leaders.

Ms. Renken said that Liberia has too many talented people who could easily compete at the world stage with their counterparts from Africa, but that cannot happen if some obstacles are not tackled to create opportunities for growth.

"One of the fundamental challenges facing the creative industries is the issue of intellectual property protection for artists and creators. We intend to tackle these issues by working with relevant bodies to ensure the protection of intellectual property rights in addition to educating policy-makers on the importance of addressing piracy as well as the economic opportunity that exists within the Liberian economy when the public and private sector work together to support the creative industry.

"Right now, we are developing a music curriculum for Liberian musicians, producers, engineers, managers, and other industry players to enhance their knowledge about music production, music business and the art of touring and promotion before addressing curriculums for the other creative industries.

"Also, we have begun contacting and negotiating with three major US publishing rights organizations through our U.S. based program manager, JP Harris: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC to set up operations in Liberia to collect royalties on behalf of Liberian musicians internationally," Ms. Renken added.

Once royalties start to flow, she said, artists will become more informed of industry standards and their individual intellectual property, which will compel artists to protect and promote their own work both locally and internationally.

The À Dyà Zù-Zù co-founder also said no matter the situation, the organization will do everything possible to expose the culture within Liberia, even if the infrastructure does not exist.

Renken also narrated that while the organization will be working with the relevant stakeholders and government agencies to build the infrastructure including cultural centers, theatres, craft markets, recording and film studios, publishing facilities, they will at the same time initiate creative programs to keep the arts and culture of the country alive.

"In order to do so, we feel it is absolutely essential to engage and respect the unique and diverse cultures of the Liberian people, which is why we emphasize culturally appropriate development approaches.

"At À Dyà Zù-Zù, one of our major goals is to work with communities across Liberia to develop cultural villages as a means for economic opportunity," Ms. Renken said. "With the right strategy, support, marketing, and education, these pilot cultural villages could establish an indigenous-led tourism attraction, and therefore, establish an economy within the community, and possibly the region. A cultural village is also a means for cultural preservation."

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