Kiwewa’yimba: Ugandan art is booming! But where is the market?

If the heads of the National Planning Authority, the Uganda Investment Authority, the Revenue Authority, or the Treasury read this headline, they would immediately circle the word “booming”. Then channel their efforts to develop strategies and policies to increase tax collection from art events all over the country.

Proudly, they would have identified a new source of income for the country.

By Kiwewa Faisal

Self-acclaimed promoters and sponsors of the Ugandan mainstream music scene might as well start petting their shoulders and celebrate with their peers for a booming job well done. Then start planning to fly in more Western artists and give some prominent Ugandan musicians the honor to support their prerecorded gigs.

Surely R.Kelly, Shaggy and Sean Kingston, amongst others, have entertained their Ugandan fans with pride and enthusiasm, attracted record audiences and enriched those involved in promoting and tax collection.

Locals sweating blood

But they turn a blind eye to the fact that truly professional and representative Ugandan artists – of the likes of Xenson Ssenkaba, Suzan Kerunen, Milege band, Tshila – are sweating blood to attract sufficient numbers of patrons to their events. Barely able to meet their expenses.

At the back of their mind, they might figure on what if only a quarter of the investment pumped into the booking and promotion of Western artists was given to local support. It would have allowed them to spend time and energy on realizing their artistic visions and creativity. Instead the artists must keep on wasting invaluable time chasing individuals who ritually would look into the artists’ eyes and more than often demand forty per cent share of the sponsorship package offered.

Apparently, the record-breaking audiences have become a standard for measuring success in today’s arts sector. But it seriously questions where the “booming” of the arts in Uganda lies, and for whom it is “booming”. After all, the applied standard for success has created a huge gap between the various art forms – most notably the mainstream music scene and the rest – while Ugandan arts and artists have barely been given a chance, or even benefitted from it.

Where is the love for Uganda, for belonging to, appreciating and patronizing Ugandan arts? In all its diversity and variety?

The real potential

To define the richness and creativity of Ugandan arts, I would not want to hinge on the number of sold out commercial status quo events. I would rather focus on the creative minds and art disciplines that hold the pillars of the creative industry; visual arts, dance, drama, literature and design. They all have a huge potential to successfully reach out to a local market and even – if developed well – export beyond our Ugandan borders.

But, with no efforts made to develop local markets and invest in lasting structures, most art disciplines will remain dormant. Therefore, the “booming” Ugandan arts stands worthless mentioning for as long as investments continue to be biased towards the popular entertainment industry and short-sighted visions. And as long as individual quick-wins prevail over overcoming bottlenecks that hinder the development and growth of the arts in Uganda.

A vision for the sum of all parts

Creating markets for our arts would need a determined and realistic strategic vision. Further it needs a comprehensive strategy for the creative arts industry as a whole. It should be based on the acknowledgement that different audiences like different arts, thus resulting in a wider variety. A variation which would reflect our Ugandan cultural richness.

Events would not necessarily be organized to make quick profits, but also to provide platforms to showcase our variety of talents. And at the same time inviting and bringing on board those who might be interested in making use of our skilled talents. Bringing together demand and supply, that is to say.

Some key questions

If the growth of our mainstream music market during the last decade could signal potential success for other art forms, would dance and drama industries be able to develop sustainable audiences that would create and sustain a market?

Would the local film industry and visual arts be able to penetrate market segments?

Would the mainstream music industry be willing to collaborate with others to understand the need for a balanced growth within the arts industry?

And whose responsibility is it to initiate such comprehensive strategies and avail support to develop such markets?

Is our arts sector mounted with so many untouchable challenges which are hinder the realization of its full potential to substantially contribute to social and economic development, and not the least, our national pride?

Is it necessary to point a finger at individuals, government bodies, private sector or civil society for this paradigm shift to happen?

The questions remain many as long as we do not put ourselves to task and start seriously treasuring and nurturing our creative arts industry.

Step out of the comfort zones

I recognize and pay respect to those initiatives that have effortlessly valued and enthusiastically supported the arts and brought hope and inspiration to many creative minds.

But they remain few, too few to make a real difference.

To stand out and become significantly successful, we need to step out of our comfort zones and question how much effort we are really making to help the creative arts industry boom. We all share the goal of developing the industry into one that truly represents Ugandan talent and makes everyone proud.

Faisal Kiwewa is the Founder and Director of Bayimba Cultural Foundation and current Chairperson of the organizing committee of the Uganda Annual Conference on Arts and Culture.

Now, would like to hear the readers’ opinions about the questions Faisal Kiwewa is addressing.

2 thoughts on “Kiwewa’yimba: Ugandan art is booming! But where is the market?

  1. I think there is a way for the art to be marketable. The only challenge is that for now we have to look at it as a niche market. Given the lack of government support and lack of an independent ministry or regulatory body, artists will continue to suffer from these challenges.

    Naturally the arts are patronised by foreigners and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Let us think niche market and start to focus on growing this market. We can also consider developing capacity for more consumers by among the citizens.

  2. I hope it is not as improbable as i think that the government would make arts and culture important priority.

    Is it possible to grow ‘within’ borders with the hope of spreading outwards?


    Should all the effort that would be confined within the rather questionable boundaries be put to sounding a cry of triumph within the global circle?

    Does the issue of life stance,original thinking and depth of aim raise its unkind head at this point?

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