Outlook 2012: Six leading Ugandan arts and culture professionals share their visions
Happy 2012! The previous year went by like a blur and we are now full speed into this one. I am still taking stock of 2011 and I am already expected to plan for the New Year. I took some time to ask some acclaimed artists from various backgrounds to get their experiences of 2011 and what they project for 2012.
By Tebandeke Samuel Anthony Lutaaya
Faisal Kiwewa (FK), Director of Bayimba Cultural Foundation, Adong Judith Lucy (AJ), a renowned playwright, film maker and arts practitioner, John Bosco Kyabaggu (JB), production manager at the Uganda National Cultural Centre, Ronex Ahimbisibwe (RA), a renowned visual artist, Maurice Kirya (MK), musician and brainchild of the Maurice Kirya Experience and Joel Sebunjo (JS), acclaimed Ugandan world music artist all share some thoughts.
In terms of 2011, what were the main challenges you faced as an artist?
AJ: I think 2011 was good for me as a playwright and not as a screenwriter/filmmaker. My biggest challenge was – and is still – writing a play on a topic my countrymen are totally opposed to: LGBTI people and the Ugandan anti-gay bill. Majority of people don’t seem to understand how I can be an African heterosexual and write about this, especially from the angle I wrote my play “Just Me, You and THE SILENCE”. So, I have been and/or am labeled lesbian and/or bi-sexual. But what can I say? Occupational hazard! But I strongly believe that Ugandans should not be limited in their freedom of expression, and I am entitled to express mine.
RA: Art is a luxury which means that people are re-allocating resources to take into account the recent adverse economic constraints. This also meant that the platforms that exist to cater for the arts marginalized visual art in favour of the more popular form, music. Since the most of last year I was working on my project, FasFas, I was literally out of commission, meaning I had to find ways to make ends meet.
JB: Realigning our work processes to match the technical and technological needs in the market today. A lot of our work had been governed by technological aspects that were more than 20 years old. We are now making a conscious effort to close the tech gap and see how best we can utilize it not only to market creative works, but also help to produce them.
FK: The challenges of 2011 mainly came from the fact that we failed to meet our development budget raise, making it difficult to implement some of the planned artistic concepts of the 4th Bayimba International Festival of the Arts.
JS: The main challenge was sponsorship and also the global economic crisis. Unlike the past years, where I produced 2-3 concerts a year, in 2011 I only did 1, simply because of sponsorship hurdles. And also because of global economic crisis I didn’t travel a lot like before.
MK: I think 2011 was a huge success but the challenges I faced were travel oriented. As a live performer I need my physical strength and vocal rest, which is something that was not a guarantee. I had to be in another country every after two days which makes you exhausted, sometime the performance would lack the energy they deserved because of the fatigue, but we did alright.
In terms of capacity building, do you think the arts scene has grown?
AJ: Definitely, but I feel the growth is not reflected so much in production quality, but in the end, other chances come in such as financial challenges to necessitate high quality. So, practitioners resort to old but easy habits. For instance, finances affect acting quality even if the story is good because actors can’t commit 100% to a how not paying them, so they go for kyeyo (adhoc contracts). From my experience in New York’s Broadway and Off-Broadway, everyone attends rehearsal full-time for about one month whether or not your scene is being rehearsed. This is hard in Uganda as one wouldn’t have the finances to maintain full company for 30 days, which affects quality no doubt.
Also, when people get funding and it is too little, they say they would rather take it and do something – even if it is not to their standard – than do nothing.
The other challenge, probably even the biggest of all, is the reluctance of Ugandan artists to collaborate. You find that one person is the screenwriter, director, actor, editor, light designer, costume designer of a film production. Surely there is only so much a person can do and still uphold quality.
And then there is rushing work just because people want to be noticed out there even though they are not yet ready to share it with the audience. TV production managers also undermine the Ugandan audience by assuming that certain stories are too far removed from the audience.
JB: A. There is increased collaboration between major arts players to jointly provide skill-based workshops to target arts groups within Uganda. This has meant that there has been a reduction in duplicating roles and further committing unified funding to activities that have caused a not only a wider spread, but much deeper impact within the arts fraternity in Uganda
B. Level of apprenticeships being formed between local arts institutions and individuals and regional producers as well as international producing houses like Royal Court Theatre and Kennedy Centre.
FK: Not yet, though some efforts can be registered in certain areas of the arts industry. For example, when it comes to contemporary music or visual arts, there has been a good deal of artists making an effort to present themselves, but when it comes to other aspects (like the process of production and presentation, management and intellectual property, etc.) a lot still has to be done.
RA: Truthfully, there are more players in the market. The only problem is that the number of copy cats has grown as well, meaning that you may find yourself looking at the same art works half the time. There is the expectation from the audience that the works are original, yet when one sells a piece, one makes an exact copy of the same. The buyers in this sense get cheated of their experience, which they expected to be unique. What sells is what artists go for. It is a shame but this is the industry we are working in.
What do you think was your biggest failure in 2011?
AJ: Without a doubt, giving up on pursuing funding for “Seekers Unlimited”. Generally, putting my film career on hold to step back and see the way forward. I still don’t see the way forward. (Laughs)
JB: Perhaps that we were not able to communicate the diverse arts programming we offered as both a producing and a hosting institution of the arts. But we have implemented plans on addressing this in 2012.
FK: Private sector fundraising; in this area we have failed for 4 years and we continue to fail, but we are working on a new strategy.
JS: In 2011, I failed to make my major UK festival appearance because of immigration bureaucracy. My Group Visa was delayed in Nairobi.
MK: I did not have enough time with my friends. After all the dust settles, all you have is your friends, and luckily they waited for me to get done with work!
What were the major projects you were able to accomplish in this period?
AJ: I believe I accomplished a lot by taking two of my theatre play scripts to a level ready for production.
JB: We have successfully managed to review all working/operational policies for UNCC. Our hope is that these will realign the institution towards the present and mid-term needs of both individual artists and producing companies. Our clients should now be able to experience smoother operations with us, as well as be able to receive remote access to our activities without having to come to the centre itself.
FK: We have worked with an amazing number of youth (over 241 youngsters) from all over the country. We have trained artists, arts managers and arts journalists. We executed the 5 Bayimba regional Festivals and the international Festival of the arts. We are working on developing Jinja to be a cultural capital for Uganda, among other things.
JS: Diplomats tour 2011 – 2nd edition was a success and one of the few world music concerts that shone on the Uganda music calendar.
MK: I managed to put my country and my album to a certain degree of international recognition; I hope to do better this year with my upcoming album!
Biggest achievement of the year?
AJ: I would say international recognition for my writing skill. Four big achievements in as a far as I am concerned.
First, getting selected for the Sundance Institute Theatre Residency in New York. It made me experience theatre in a way I had never. Also, made me clear that we are blaming theatre slow down in Uganda on film wrongly. I understood how Broadway has survived amidst Hollywood. Theatre in NYC is a total experience that one can never forget! It’s simply and absolutely exciting! True entertainment!
Then, I was selected to the Royal Court Theatre; London’s International Playwrights Residency and was the only African playwright. Best of all, the supportive mentorship environment helped me develop a script am absolutely proud of. I was honoured to meet British Playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, David Hare and Mike Barlett .
And, my play “Just Me, You and THE SILENCE” was selected and participated in the black theatre festival in New York City; the New Black Fest. Again, I was the only black playwright from the African continent amidst the African-American playwrights. The play company was awesome and the audience loved the play. What more can a playwright ask for?
Based on these achievements, I was approached by the British Council Uganda to run a playwright workshop for them in collaboration with Femrite.
JB: As an Arts hosting institution, we have significantly managed to cut back on the turnaround time of responses to our clients’ requests and needs. Similarly, a lot has been done in ensuring that we create clear “seasons of performance” for the centre. Presently, we run a March to July and August to December season with Jan and Feb dedicated to planning and institutional development work like public lectures, and arts workshops.
FK: New board members were brought on board; they are a great team of individuals, so passionate about the arts and aiming at moving Bayimba to another level.
RA: Establishing Fas Fas, which is basically a partnership with other people.
JS: I got signed to new booking agency – second to the left – Denmark.
MK: I think I like the fact that Ugandans can use me as an example to believe in themselves and know that we Ugandans are capable of so much more if we work hard and take pride in who we are!
How would you rate the industry? Were there new entrants on the scene and what is the development thus far?
AJ: I am afraid I was out of the country for the better part of 2011 so I didn’t follow much on the artistic ventures around the country. If I wasn’t abroad then I was locked up in my house trying to complete my 2 hours play “Just Me, You and THE SILENCE”.
But based on my experience of arts in the country in general, with very few exceptions, the developments tend to be more quantity than quality.
FK: That’s a broad question, but to be specific on the arts, it’s gradually growing to what it should be … save the percentages.
JS: I can only rate the industry, 4 out of 10, in regard to world music. For the rest I don’t know, deeply the flow of events. But for world-folk music, there is still a long journey to go. New entrants? I think it’s this band called Janzi. World music is still young here, and I think those who want to venture in it have to take time to learn the craft before they take any step in that direction. Some sights and sounds are so embarrassing; you can’t believe what people claim to be world music.
MK: I think Uganda is one of the most talented countries that I know, the majority is the youth and they use music as a means of communication. Our industry is growing rapidly and a lot of Ugandans are now getting international recognition. With the right vision and the will to survive amidst sudden industry changes, our artistes will do well!
For 2012, what do you project for the New Year on the Ugandan arts scene?
AJ: I must say not much. I don’t believe just one year can make so much of a difference. I know the quantities will still come but am angry for quality. And I know we can honestly do better in that area!
JB: UNCC will be in position to lead in regional collaborative efforts to produce and tour quality arts projects. There will also be a significant movement towards artists realizing and working on collective lobbying for their rights from government and its supporting institutions.
FK: There are more creative ideas and initiatives in pipeline from every direction. Am very happy to say that so many of the ideas coming up are focused on moving the arts to another level, and I hope 2012 will register more success.
RA: The scene is pretty scary for artists. It may get better at the end. Artists need to reposition themselves, to diversify and make the art accessible. I believe that the artists need to create a critical mass to be able to make an impact. Having a large event for everyone to come and appreciate the work is vital. How do we get people to see the work? The contemporary art festival will also be something to look forward to at the end of this year. Hopefully, it will be managed well.
JS: I speculate that this will be a year of nice and fruitful artistic creation and collaborations. Already, we started on the high, with Ismael Lo in Kampala. It could get better.
MK: The competition is going to be high, the audience wants a fresh sound, but it has no idea what that sound is, so they will shuffle through the new artistes and only the talented will survive.
What career development goals do you have for 2012?
AJ: I would like to pursue directing opportunities like I have writing opportunities. This is because I have come to a realization that of all capacity building that has taken root in the arts, directing is not one of them. I saw New York and London directors at work and concluded we have no directors, theatre or film in Uganda. I find myself agreeing when Ellen of Great Lakes Film Production Ltd, who has also shared this with me, but I had never considered it seriously and or had no comparison opportunities.
The Sundance Institute has also come to the realization of this need in some way, and that is why they have introduced the directors’ lab 2012 for East Africans to be held in Ethiopia.
FK: A lot of education programmes. We will start with the Curator workshop, we still have planned training on Youth and Hip Hop around the country, music training programmes for both music teachers and musicians (in partnership with Global Music Academy), we are starting a photography summer school, a creative writers workshop and most importantly the launch of DOADOA, the East African Performing Arts Market scheduled for May 2012.
JS: Finalize the recording and release plan for my new album… I’m already in France to accomplish this. Apart from this album, I’m also making numerous single releases on Ugandan radio.
Projects for the year?
AJ: I want to be able to stage my theatre plays; “Silent Voices” and “Just Me, You and THE SILENCE”. I also hope to do a short film if possible and write a new theatre play – a musical this time – especially inspired by all the musicals I watched from Broadway.
JB: Our focus will be on increasing the quality of live music programming as well as contributing in more concrete terms to the development of quality film production in Uganda. This of course will be done by setting up strategic collaborations with other players in the industry.
RA: I will be celebrating a decade as a visual artist and I want to do something spectacular.
JS: I have already accomplished one; the “Diplomats tour” with Ismael Lo. I have other numerous projects in line both at home and abroad. I will be between Uganda, West Africa and Europe this year.
MK: I hope for my upcoming album to outdo my last one in its success and hope to tour the whole of Uganda and also represent my country internationally, in other words, to be and acclaimed and well established international musician.
How do you think artists should position themselves to enjoy the opportunities that exist on the scene?
AJ: Partner with bazungu (Europeans) even if the muzungu is not an artist. They tend to attract funding I don’t know if it is their skin colour or something. (Laughs) But it is true. You have to find a muzungu to partner with then partner with someone, who knows someone, who knows someone in high places. Seriously, working on Seekers Unlimited, I realized high quality scriptwriting or production alone can’t get you funding. Neither does a great proposal but more who do you know who can help you so the world can see your high quality and fall in love with you and after that the rest is history. Everyone will want to fund any project of yours quality or not. (She laughs again).
JB: Primarily, by making a deliberate effort to reinvest in their trade. It is of no use to anyone of us going on whining about our problems without us first making steps towards trying to solve them, even with the limited resources we may have at our disposal. Reinvestment for instance needs to start right from having some sort of legal basis upon which you exist. Register that company, patent etc. If not, find a trusted legally recognized rep/ company to represent you. Artists also need to move towards collectively lobbying for standardised payment terms for instance. This will go a long way in ensuring sustainability of not only one’s value, but create acceptable minimum wages for the work being done.
FK: By trying to be part of the sector; if they continue to wait for information, it will be hard to deliver it to everyone … they have to know what is happening, what is out there for them to leverage and take a chance …
RA: At the moment, there are artists who are making functional items like Wasswa and the bags made out of canvas paintings. Taking advantage of the festive seasons will also work in our favour. There is also a need for artists to develop concrete ideas that are marketable on an artistic as well as business level. Collaborations are also going to enable artists have greater reach and become more effective since they will be able to leverage other skill sets.
JS: Really it’s not about positioning… it’s about reality. You work hard, you benefit from the opportunities on offer. So artists have to plan, create and disseminate, period.
MK: Album, Tour, The Maurice Kirya Experience festival, and also to contribute to school sectors in terms of assisting and empowering the youth!
Is there still growth potential within the cultural sector in Uganda?
AJ: A LOT! We are really still very behind in the culture and arts. And I wish we would fight complacency and cheap self-satisfaction in order to achieve greatly!
JB: Yes. Uganda has exported skilled labour for years, from traditional forms like doctors, engineers, et al. My belief is that over the next 5 years, the creative industries in Uganda and how we run them will have a great impact in the region. We have one of, if not the largest resource pool of professionally trained artists (those that have ventured into arts education up until university level) which places us in an advantageous position to play a leading role the region. Uganda is going to become an arts hub in the region over the next 5 years, hosting the largest number of international arts festivals/gatherings. I am certain that if the present rate continues, it is only a matter of time before Uganda over takes Nairobi/Kenya.
FK: The cultural sector has for the past 5 years acknowledged the need to be recognized and appreciated … am glad to see and be part of the blooming initiatives in the country now to realize this mission. Therefore, the potential to grow is there and becoming a reality.
MK: They just need to be prepared at all times in case an opportunity arises, you do not want to get into a panic attack at that moment, so artistes have to get their craft and identity together!
Any other thoughts?
AJ: I really believe what we need badly is a competitive national arts fund based on quality not corruption. And that local TVs need to start commissioning local production. We need competitive local production and to get away from the belief that the Ugandan audience is looking for stand-up comedy all the time in that they even try to import such stand-up comedy stunts into other types of productions. We love stand-up in its own genre. But they must also realize that they is a section of the Ugandan audience that is left out in local productions—the ones that subscribe to DSTV not because they don’t like local productions but because the local productions taken on are not challenging enough to their mind.
JB: Seek to be alive and relevant this year. Keep creating and always remember to reinvest in the business!
RA: Everyone wants acceptance so if an idea is rejected, it might mean that the idea needs more work. To achieve this, artists need to package their work to suit their clients.
MK: I think I am going to fix myself an oat meal…
Samuel Lutaaya is a freelance writer with a varying range of interests namely; dance, film, theatre, music, photography, fashion.
3 thoughts on “Outlook 2012: Six leading Ugandan arts and culture professionals share their visions”
Always send me up dates of culture
I agree with you Lule when it comes to management systems.. I believe the greatest challenge we face right now is that there are few individuals with strategic visions for their organisations. This means that, as long as we work independently, we need to think of the long term and not l8r short term gains.
Sharing with the Honored Artist respondents above, I believe the words, Sustainability and leverage need to be adopted in all that they do. This translates well if Management systems in the Arts are stream lined. by this we shall market the “Art” product to this diverse and dynamic market.
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