By Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja
Why are Namibian artists, educators and cultural workers kept in the dark about the status arts and culture policy in the making?
Is it finally done? Why is there sudden silence regarding this significant national document that concerns the future of artistic praxis and cultural heritage of this country? How is it that the making of a single national document has taken 18 years for it to be created and finalized? What does this mean for its implementation, when we eventually get to that stage? Is there something that the Directorates of Arts and Culture, the government at large and other involved stakeholders are hiding from us?
Do we realize what harm this tedious and tardy process is causing to the well-being and development of cultural and creative sectors? These are just some of the many questions that come up during some of the difficult dialogues that we have amongst ourselves as cultural workers during moments of self-care in our fight for dignity and rightful place in a fragmented and displaced sector.
But where is the policy? Last year, while working at John Muafangejo Art Centre, I posed this question and I was told that it is back to Cabinet. What does this mean? What is happening now?
While I am not a policy expert, I write this critique as an artist and educator with genuine interests of seeing a transformation in the local arts sector. We haven’t heard anything about the policy in a while, at least nothing thorough in the public sphere.
My questions come from my activist instinct to respond to our overdue and much needed holistic development in the arts and culture sectors. While I am an advocate of artists being the owners and agents of their own transformation instead of relying on the government, it is no doubt that we are still passengers of a sinking ship because of this one politicized and strange national document that is supposed ‘to guide us to our destination’. Our hands are tied and our legs are in chains. It is the arts and culture administrators that have these particular keys to this paper.
Now we can also pose the questions, what was the purpose of that 2015 conference? Who did it serve? Do we realize that it was unsuccessful in principle because the enthusiasm, ideas and hope that was generated there eventually disappeared into thin air?
What happened to Honourable Katrina Hanse-Himarwa’s words “The days of the 500 dollar artist are over”? Does she know that young and graduating artists are still falling into the dysfunctional, corrupt and unstructured industry in which many of them do not manage to sustain their professional practices? Artists in the regions remain least supported and excluded by this elitist-patriarchal system, of which our government is the main architect. The struggling artist continues their walk.
It is often said that Namibia is lucky to have mostly government-funded art institutions across the board compared to many African countries. But what is the point of having rigid and stagnant bodies that have no commitment to genuine transformation?
What is the point of having these government-funded institutions of learning and culture that only out here to spread Swapo propaganda? Again we ask, where is that neo-liberal policy without a plan of action that we were once promised? We cannot expect radical transformation when artistic and cultural praxis is thoroughly left out of important national documents such as the recent National Development and the Harambee Prosperity Plans.
All cultural workers must demand transparency and accountability in this moment of uncertainty and isolation. Bureaucracy and maladministration are man-made, they can be disrupted. Cultural workers must go to the arts and culture offices in your region and ask for the policy and when those plans will be implemented. Tell them it is urgent. Ask for the plan of action. Organize other artists and go there regularly, you deserve to be here.
(Image by Vilho Nuumbala)