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Improving the Situation of Fine Arts Industry in Botswana: Challenges & Solutions


Publishing Date : 08 May, 2018

Author :

KEITH PHETLHE

In this era of the 21st century, the fine art industry in the developing countries like Botswana continue to face developmental challenges. This situation has compelled researchers to pose some crucial questions as way of showing the growing concern on the development of art industry in Botswana, and perhaps beyond the borders where I believe local talent has the capacity to expand and develop further. Some of the questions I attempt to answer in this article are as follows:


how much do Batswana know about the fine arts? How can the fine arts be supported by the government and private sector? What has been done so far to improve this industry and how can these efforts be supported further? How can we improve the fine arts in local languages as part of marketing the tourism industry? What can the Ministry of Arts and Culture do improve the situation of the fine art industry in Botswana? What is does it mean to perceive the fine arts as an industry, and how can they be perceived as profitable enterprise in Botswana?


My attempt to answer the questions above does emanate from my perspective as a scholar and researcher within the humanities, and it does not in any way suggest that I want speak from a ‘a holier-than-thou’ attitude. My goal is only to examine the situation of the fine arts in Botswana, exclusively, and present an argument that despite their potential to grow or develop the economy of Botswana, the fine arts continue to suffer neglect. This unfortunate situation persists despite the amount to local talent and amount of resources channeled towards financing the study of the Humanities and Arts in the local tertiary institutions.


To understand the arts, we are obliged to define them from the local perspective, from the aesthetic way of conceptualizing and contextualizing; in terms of how the arts are generally perceived by communities in Botswana and their communal function. In addition, we need to learn from countries abroad such as Greece, Italy and perhaps the US, and appreciate how such countries have historically approached the area of the fine arts as an enterprise.


Emphasizing the definition, the fine arts constitute any creative activity, material or immaterial/tangible or intangible that is consumed by the society for their aesthetic appeal or beauty and their communal function. This definition is theory based and therefore complex, but it can be simplified to mean fine arts include any work creative work of art that is produced and consumed in Botswana. Some examples include, poetry, film, folklore, music and dance, sculpture, theater and performance arts e.t.c Already, these works of art can be seen across Botswana in the malls, our clothes and jewellery, villages and arts centers such as the Thapong Visual Arts and the National Museum.


The list is endless and this is because they are a way of life- culture. Other examples include, sculptures and monuments that decorate significant buildings in Botswana, the glaring displays of artifacts at the main-mall or at the entrance of business places like Bull and Bush or Botswana Craft. Oodi College of Fine Arts, Limkokwing University and, the University of Botswana produce abled citizens who graduate with Art degrees from these universities every year.


Many locals produce immense talent mostly seen during the annual president holidays and other cultural activities; for example Oodi Weavers, Dithubaruba, Mbungu wa ka Thimana and Motlhaolosa Poetry Ensemble, to mention but a few cultural groups that exist in Botswana. However, the critical question that remain unanswered is, how can we utilize these artistic skills profitably? Perhaps the answer should be somewhere between where our national priorities lie and our general attitude to the arts. We must have a ‘collective responsibility’ that views art as an enterprise worthy of financial support and constant monitoring and the availing of arts endowments.


Efforts done thus far which come with the package of the money won from the president day competitions should encourage investors to  look further and invest in the art market, especially those who are into the the tourism and hospitality businesses. As a noted poet and culture activist Moroka Moreri has argued elsewhere in an exclusive interview, ‘artists need not to have circular jobs, but they should be given grants and loans to pursue the arts’. I can’t agree more. My own view which corroborates Moroka Moreri’s understanding is that this is the only positive way to promote the growth of the art industry in our country. However, proper, administration, management, and accountability are required to ensure the sustainability of these programs.  


Based on my observations, artists in Botswana continue to be exploited by consumers due to the following reasons: many generally don’t view art as business, and therefore fail to understand when an artist such as a poet or musician expects a payment for the artistic services rendered. Culturally, art across many African societies including Botswana was done for entertainment purposes (and other social functions) and the idea of profiting from it is a new development that proves that our culture is continually adapting.


I have personally performed poetry and rendered my services as the MC during some occasions only to be shocked when I was told that I had volunteered, or when a payment was fully determined by my consumer until I started to rethink ways of making my clients realize that my artistic services should be paid for. There are many other artists who continue to face this challenge, and are swallowed by unemployment despite the talent they possess.


Furthermore, I have also observed that many are times when people who sit as judges or adjudicators for the art competitions are largely unqualified amateurs with a very poor background in the arts. This is a problem and will probably continue to pose as a challenge to the proper development of the arts in Botswana. I think it is fitting to suggest that artistry in Botswana needs a proper administration, which should be handled by the people who are not only passionate about the arts, but also those art administrators who are trained to handle budget and profits reaped from artistic enterprises.  


How then can we improve the fine art industry in Botswana? We first need to ensure quality and appreciate the fact that the arts should occupy a significant role in the domains of our society and our economy. Therefore, our art production should be critical at all times, thus responding and maneuvering themes and topical issues of importance in the society. We also need to have artists who are prepared to produce the arts and a society that is equally prepared to consume and support local art.


This is the first major step to safeguard our ‘cultural economy’ through the use of arts in Botswana. Currently in Botswana, private and government financial institutions like banks, CEDA, National Development banks often given loans or grants to support businesses but despite this, the arts continue to be poorly supported however. Is it too risky to sponsor or make an investment in the arts? Hardly. Arts continue to flourish in the so called developed countries because of the way they are viewed.


Artists who want to build their artistic portfolio should also be supported financially to pave their way to becoming art entrepreneurs. This can be done by private investors and through the government programs. Secondly, we need to change our view towards the arts and think of the arts as a component that can have a commercial value. If we do so, our art industry with see growth both locally and internationally.


In conclusion, what can we learn from other countries where the art industry is flourishing? We can learn that art in any given society has a functional value, hence Botswana is no exception. The importance of the fine arts goes beyond entertainment, the arts are important repositories of our cultures. Through art, members of our societies, including the Minority groups will have their voice in the affairs of their society.


As I have argued elsewhere, during the conference hosted by the Department of English under the theme of The Competing and Complementary Role of English in Africa, I argued that we must incorporate other local languages into the extracurricular activities in our schools as a first step into shaping an inclusive and diversified education. In this article, I have defended the current situation of the fine arts in Botswana by highlighting on the challenges and possible solutions to the outlined challenges.  


KEITH PHETLHE pursues a Ph.D in Comparative African Literature with a minor in Film Studies from Ohio University, College of Fine Arts. He is a member of the African Literature Association. He does research on Postcolonial Theory, Translation, African Languages & Literatures, Language Education & Film. kp406314@ohio.edu

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