I am not about to pour scorn on the Mahama led Government or attempt to get it to change its policy on the Creative Arts Industry but from where I sit, I am rather saddened by the talk and lack of action on the part of government to deliver on its promises to the Creative Arts.
For many of us, the reconfigured Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Creative Arts was a welcome departure from the norm where the Creative Arts Industry was not even included in Government portfolios. Even though I believe that the addition of the Creative Arts portfolio to Tourism and Culture was misplaced and ill advised, I believe that it was a good start in recognizing the Industry for its contribution to National Development.
The challenge for many of us in the industry however, is the rather slothful progression of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts to get the Creative Arts wheel turning. Ghana is not all about tourism and culture. I dare say that culture is simply our way of life and so all Ministries embody our culture. The focus on tourism by the Ministry on Tourism is also in my opinion misplaced; in the wake of the appalling conditions at tourism centres around the country. (If our leaders have balls of steel, they will entirely scrap the Ministry of Tourism and strengthen the Ghana Tourist Authority to oversee Tourism and Culture in the Country). Now back to my subject matter!
Ghana’s Creative Arts Industry is perhaps the oldest industry we have. From the days of our forefathers, we danced, had theatre, played music, made amazing crafts and artifacts and created fine garments. The Creative Arts industry is not only dance, music and drama though. It involves a vast number of other disciplines. Fashion design, textile making, accessories design, even architecture and landscaping are all elements of the creative arts. It beats my imagination when a government promises and pays an organization huge sums of money, (MUSIGA on my mind) to promote its activities. Or am I right to say that the money pledged was not meant for one organization?
The number of people involved in the Creative Arts Industry is counted in the thousands and rising. From the smock weaving, xylophone and calabash making centres in the North of Ghana to the kente weavers of Bonwire and Agbozome; from wood carving at Ahwia and Aburi to the bead makers at Ada and Somanya, every corner of this country is labelled with someone from the Creative Arts Industry. Our priorities are certainly warped as a nation. Imagine California, USA without Hollywood or imagine London without the West End or New York without Broadway. Imagine Mumbai without Bollywood or Lagos without Nollywood. Imagine a world where the Creative Arts Industry is non-existent.
Ghana has the capacity and the skills to be at the forefront of an African cultural and arts renaissance, yet we sit unconcerned as others around the world strengthen their Creative Industry. What happened to our greats of old? Our legendary artistes, sculptors and famed artists? What happened to the skilled craftsmen and the once revered makers of pottery?
It is sad to note that with the exception of the Centre for National Culture in Kumasi, most of the other Centres are all but dead and almost buried. I cannot fathom our appetite for the things that so destroy our heritage and identity. First of all, we throw out our history and our culture from our schools and replace them with shadows of some resemblance. We look down on our music and crave for something else.
Then a window of opportunity comes! Young men and women find their voices, they find their pens, and they find their dancing feet.
A revival began about 15 years ago. New Ghanaian films were produced, a new genre of music was born, dance routines took a global picture and some even became worldwide phenomenon. All this while, no support came, none whatsoever.
So it was indeed welcome when President Mahama decided it was time to recognize the Creative Arts industry. A new buzz filled the country. Meetings were held, seminars attended and workshops organized, but that’s where it ends. The many promises to help the industry shattered; Government Lied! They promised a lot and delivered little! They created a portfolio without the necessary attachments to make it work. Daily I hear people in the Arts speak about their challenges and their difficulties, yet many are scared to speak out because some have aligned themselves to the one who has the golden chicken so are comfortable that once a while, they are passed a golden egg.
The Film Industry is all but dying except for some brave ones holding the fort. Authentic Ghanaian music, is almost gone. The new wave of Ghanaian Musicians stand tall in what they do without support. The National Theatre is reduced to beauty pageants and wedding receptions. Only one or two people make the effort to revive theatre. The School of Performing Arts and NAFTI produce students who end up in the Banks and as teachers. The once well-known Abibigromma and the Ghana Dance Ensemble are in hibernation or even in a permanent slumber for lack of funding. Our top fashion designers and craftsmen limp along hoping that soon they will get to the promise land. A theatre project started at the School of Performing Arts some ten years ago under GET-FUND lies almost in perpetual decay.
In a country where we attach little importance to the Creative Arts, (we sold off Ghana Film Company Ltd.) we are drawing closer to becoming a zombie nation. For when the music stops and the laughter ceases: when the looms are silent and the potter’s wheel is hushed, we will draw the curtain on what gives us our identity and our heritage. That day fast approaches if we don’t get the wheels spinning again. Posterity will judge us. We have to act now.
From: JOT Agyeman
President, Institute of Media Practice Accra
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