Archive för Kenya

Future plans for Slum Drummers

Two of the participants in the latest Creative Entrepreneurship Program run by the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi come from Slum-Drummers, a community-based organization that wants to share musical talent to engage and encourage young people in the slum areas.

Many of the ten members of Slum-Drummers are themselves former street children and have been trained in music by an Italian artist since 2005.

They perform and work specifically with activities for street children, the drums they use are designed and produced by the group from recycled materials which are also sold for income; plastic containers, cans of air refreshener, cooking pots, broom sticks, plastic pipes and other things become drums, drum sticks, kalimbas.

The organization has been partly supported by the Italian organization Gruppo per le Relazioni Transculturali (GRT) and now they are phasing out the funding. It is part of their strategy, a representative from GRT tells us, to work away from dependency. From January 1 2015 they are supposed to be standing on their own two feet, generate their own income – an enormous challenge for the group.

Slum-Drummers have identified areas where they need more knowledge to be able to sustain themselves: finance literacy, marketing and communication, entrepreneurship, and group identity as the main training needs.

The GRT says it’s necessary to move away from dependency, and either the group make it or not.

The situation is both complex and difficult.

Firstly, the whole question of the situation for street children is multidimensional and difficult. No efforts have, I am told, been done to try to grasp the full situation: the structural level as well as the individual, the community level and the families.

Slum-Drummers and other such projects take the initiative and do make a difference. In a dance-project some years ago, run by dancer and choreographer Isaac Karanj where they encouraged street kids to join dance classes instead of hanging around the dangers of the street, some of the now grown-up former street kids are performing dancers. In the meeting with Slum-Drummers several of the members point out that the music and the group have saved their lives.

The value generated should be unquestionable. It could be counted as public value, social value, and cultural value. It is definitely a value for  the individual. Or if you will, economic value: the children that get the chance to get off the street and sustain a living are a less economic burden for society.

Secondly, The Kenya government shows low, if any, interest in putting sustainable programs and incentives in place. Corruption is still a problem. Where the state doesn’t take responsibility, civil society and international organizations will.

Thirdly, project money are short-term, and the international community is tied with political decisions in their home countries who follow a sort of ”trend”-budgeting. A project can’t go on forever and GRT in this case is quite conscious and responsible about this and phasing out slowly, giving tools, support, and capacity-building.

Forthly, international organizations do struggle with the dependency-situation. At some point the dependency need to be challenged and cut. At least this is the argument.

But it can also appear cynical. Resources are not distributed equally in this world. Having resources also mean having power: power of economic resources as well as decision-making. Structures and possibilities are different.

An Italian NGO in Kenya will survive. A local organization where the international funding stops have very few other alternatives.

2 september, 2014

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Contemporary Art Nairobi

Roads are wet as we drive out of Nairobi towards Red Hill Art Gallery in Limuru between Banana Hill and Ngecha Village. Rain is hanging in the air and we see the dark skies of thunder threatening in the distance over the green hills and farmlands.

Visual artist Peterson Kamwathi is driving the car, and dancer, choreographer James Mweu, sit in the back and try to fill me in to the development of the Nairobi art scene.

Some years ago the most prominent art gallery, Ramoma, closed down and at the time it seemed like the exhibition possibilities for contemporary artists were becoming very few. But things are changing. The number of visual artists are growing, and there is a confidence in the art scene which is new. There is also quite a few interesting art spaces around Nairobi.

Red Hill Art Gallery is a fairly new space for exhibiting art and started around two years ago by Hellmuth and Erica Rossler-Musch, two former ”healthworkers” as they described themselves, with a great interest in art. During their twenty-five years in different countries in Africa they have collected art work from the most important artists in that region. A dream has been to start a gallery to show their collection, but also to support up-coming artists, and give a possibility to exhibit.

We get a tour among art works from artists such as Jak Katarikawe, Joel Oswago, Kivuthi Mbuno, Rosemary Karuga, Annabelle Wanjiku, and many more.

After the tour we have a cup of tea in the lush green garden, the rain has started to poor around us making a smattering sound as it hits the parasoll, and the conversation is about contemporary art in Nairobi, the scene, the possibilities, the challenges.

In the car back to town heading towards the next gallery, One Off Gallerythe discussion continues.

Art work in the photo by Richard Kimathi. More galleries are Circle Art Agency, Kuona Trust, Banana Hill Gallery, and of course The GoDown Arts Centre.

23 augusti, 2014

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Capacity building from the grassroots

Is there a need for a joint Capacity Building program within Art and Entrepreneurship on the regional level in East Africa, driven and run by the cultural field? If so, what could a program look like?

Those have been questions discussed on the second meeting with representatives from cultural organizations as well as artists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. The meeting in Kampala on March 6–9, included several large questions.

What kind of competence building is needed among artists and cultural organizations? Is the perspective of livelihood a useful one? What are points of similarities in the context and cultural scene in the different countries, and what are the differences?

Three intense conference-days, with visits of cultural organizations in Kampala, ended in the conclusion that this process, discussion, and concrete ideas need to continue.

Three concrete points already happening is:

1) the GoDown Arts Centre start a term 1 course in Creative Entrepreneurship in May.

2) it might be possible to hold a facilitators’ course and training-for-trainers with regional partners sometime between May and August,

3) another meeting on the East Africa level will be held, probably in August, this time hosted by either Tanzania or Rwanda and with local artists invited.

On the meeting in Uganda artists within performing arts, writing, and visual art was participating, as well as representatives from Bayimba CulturaFoundation (Uganda), Femrite (Uganda), 32°East (Uganda), Autumn Ventures Africa (Uganda), MUDA (Tanzania), Ishyo Arts Centre (Rwanda).

The meeting is part of the project ”East Africa Capacity Building Program for Creative Entrepreneurs and Artists” funded mainly by the Swedish Institute and is a cooperation between GoDown Arts Centre (Kenya) and Nätverkstan (Sweden).

10 mars, 2014

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Open your minds • GoDown 10 years

When Judy Ogana takes the floor to welcome us all, the warmth and pride shines in her face. In the audience are friends, colleagues and partners from East Africa and abroad gathered to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi together with her, Joy Mboya, and the rest of the staff.

The story of the Godown is impressive, and as Joy Mboya takes us through the vision, steps, ideas, persistence, you realize that this is what running a cultural organization is about: the awareness of the context and society you are part of and your role in it; the dedication for building a strong, vivid, interesting cultural scene; empowerment with capacity-building on the grass-root level; participation, sharing, and networking.

Joy Mboya lifts a few aspects that has been especially important in the GoDown success, which she describes as ”some steps of victory and some steps of challenges”:

1. Getting a space; a multidisciplinary center for the local art and cultural scene in the local community

2. The regional linkages with colleagues in East Africa

3. The strategic plan 2005-2007 as a tool which also set the aim to create a public, innovative, dynamic, and vibrant space

4. Training and development, mobility, exchange, and exposure

5. A strong community orientation

6. Being a mirror of society. The post-election violence in 2007 was a starting-point where the exhibition Kenya Burnings was important. The need for artists to look back and reflect on what’s happening in society.

7. Sustainability and capacity-building focus on artist livelihood

8. Discourse and research

9. The role of cultural spaces in urban living

10. The Creative Entrepreneurship Programme

After the celebrations and the outline of the GoDown Arts Centre’s history and important steps, the East Africa Arts Summit continued discussions with focus on how networking, sharing knowledge, and building a strong art and cultural scene on a regional level could be enhanced.

Artists shown in the photos: Visual artist Mary Ogembo, visual artist Michael Soi, visual artist Patrick Mukabi, the xyz puppetry satire show, musician Makadem, singer Neema.

Nätverkstan and the GoDown Arts Center have been cooperating on capacity-building since 2009, support has been mainly from the Swedish Institute Creative Force programme.

23 november, 2013

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Developing step 2 in Nairobi programme

In Nairobi, Kenya, meeting with the people from the GoDown Art Centre and now developing step two of the educational programme ”Reaping the value out of your artistic creativity”.

GoDown Art Centre and Nätverkstan have cooperated since 2009 on workshops and developing ideas of how to build a capacity-building programme for artists and cultural entrepreneurs in East Africa. Professional artists from different art forms, university professors, directors, managers, and others from the cultural scene have been involved in building the content of the programme so that it will fill the needs found by the sector in the context of East Africa.

In the developing process Sian Prime at Goldsmiths University has been involved, also Kenya Polytechnic University in Nairobi, British Council, and Swedish Institute.

The result has been tested in two pilot programmes of 10 weeks that were run in 2012, each with around

30 emerging and professional artists in each group. And now we are gathering again to continue the journey of developing step 2 of the programme.

And I can’t help but think of the article in the new issue of the Art journal Paletten in Sweden about a week before leaving for Kenya. The article is arguing that all talk of entrepreneurship within the art is a sign of instrumentalization and the economization of the art, a result of this are courses on art and entrepreneurship at the university.

It’s necessary to always argue for the role of art and culture in society, and rightly being critical to some processes and initiatives. But to wipe away all efforts on trying to find useful ways to tackle artist’s reality as freelancers and how to deal with their livelihood as neo-liberalism is a little far-fetched. It can only be said by someone who doesn’t have to worry about money.

The reality in Kenya (and Sweden) is that you have to try to find ways to balance your artistic practice with income so bills can be paid and food put on the table. Some do this by trying to live on their art, some do this by finding bread jobs and pursuing the artistic practice and career on their free time. Solutions are many.

It’s not about becoming just like any other business, instead it’s the opposite. It’s about putting efforts into finding ways forward that works within the artistic field and for your artistic practice.

Reading the evaluations from the two pilots, participants seem to agree.

27 juni, 2013

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Reaping the value out of your creative work

The second pilot course Creative Entrepreneurship – Reaping the value out of your creative work has just finished its ten weeks program. Around 25 musicians, illustrators, visual artists, sculptors, storytellers, poets and more participated to review their ideas, reflect on their lifecycle, look ahead and finish with an eighteen months plan.

During the course they have had lectures of well-known artists in different art forms telling their lifecycle and sharing their experiences, and courses such as marketing, IP Rights, pricing, and others. On examination day well-known musician Makadem told his story, telling the group that challenges don’t stop. Every level has it’s own challenges, and it never stops.

The pilot program is run by GoDown Arts Centre. Nätverkstan has been one of the partners in building content and preparing for the start of the program with funding from Swedish Institute. The cooperation started in 2009.


28 december, 2012

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Kwani? Litfest 2012 • Nairobi

Ghanian writer Kojo Laing talks softly but with emphasis. Every word comes from the heart and touches the heart of the audience. It’s the most generous and honest presentation I have heard in many years.

It’s like a curse, he says about writing. He can’t stop. He has tried to stop, but he just can’t.

Coming from a Christian family in Ghana, his father was a priest, and with all his five siblings working within the church, he is the only one being a writer and also in pressing doubt in faith, something that is also topics in many of his books. He leans forward in his chair, looks over the audience, hitting his chest with his hand and asks, insisting on the honesty of this question: Am I a fool? Am I crazy having this doubt? Can anyone in the room say that they are anywhere near the doubt I have?

His writing is anything but a simple process, he tells us. One of the books took eight years to write. He wanted to write Ghanian and English, not for the sake of it, but because he wanted to squeeze out the English from the Ghanian languages. With his hands he shows us the guesture of thoroughly and hard squeezing water from wet laundry. And that took time. He picks up the book, shows it, and looks at it, exhausted. And goes quiet.

He answers each question posed by Kwani Trust Chairman Tom Maliti sometimes with a big smile of a question that he founds on the spot, then continues with a story and sometimes ends abruptly. The room gets quiet a short second before a new line of thought is unfolded.

Kojo Laing is like a ghost in his own country, he describes his situation. His books are mainly published outside of Ghana. But on the question if he would rather write something else, if he got the chance to re-do things, something less controversial that sold many, many copies of his books and made him more famous, his answer is distinct and clear. He couldn’t write anything else. This is what he writes.

A young woman raises her hand and asks what he suggests a young writer should think about pursuing a career as a writer?

Be yourself, is his first answer. Read as much as your brain can contain. The more you read, the more complex you become. And it applies to experience as well. Paradoxical experience. Encourage many identities. It will be needed as the world goes smaller.

And he adds and laughs: And when you get advices you reject them.

Kwani? Litfest 2012 is a yearly literature festival run by Kwani Trust in Nairobi. This year the theme is Conversations with the Horn. Writers, artists in exchange.

12 december, 2012

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Ghetto Classics

Christmas carols are on the schedule this afternoon and on stage of the outdoor assembly hall in the township Kogorocho in Nairobi, the young musicians are in deep concentration practicing for a show later on this week. And a small taste of the concert is given in an open session for whomever who would like to listen. Kids fill up the rows, together with a few others and us guests.

”Making music can make a difference” says Elisabeth Njoroge, Head of the Art of Music Foundation, the Foundation behind the project. Getting the chance to play an instrument, learning music, can actually change peoples lives, she says, and tells us examples of children from the slums who get a chance to play and how that has opened new possibilities and hope for a future.

Ghetto Classics, the project was named by the children, started in 2009 and has become an important contribution in the township. The foundation also runs the National Youth Orchestra in Kenya with the same ambition and conviction:

Music can make a difference in the lives of young Kenyans.

Nätverkstan, together with Ole Lützow-Holm, Assistant Professor at Academy of Music and Drama, University of Gothenburg, are in Kenya to work together with GoDown Arts Centre on the education Creative Entrepreneurship. Read more of Nätverkstan’s cooperation in Kenya here.

10 december, 2012

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Facilitators workshop • Nairobi 2012

GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi started in 2009 workshops in art and entrepreneurship for the art community in Kenya and East Africa. The workshops has now evolved to build a Capacity-building Program for Creative Entrepreneurs and Artists in East Africa that is long-term and this Summer a pilot will start, a 10 weeks Summer-course in art and entrepreneurship.

Nätverkstan has been a part in this cooperation since the start, holding workshops, arranged study visit, facilitators workshops, and discussing content and educational planning. Last week (26–28th of March) a facilitators workshop took place in Nairobi, held by GoDown Art Centre, Sian Prime at Goldsmiths University and Nätverkstan.

With such a commitment and talent as found in the arts community and among institutions in Nairobi, this Summer-course is not far from coming true.

Read more of the cooperation with GoDown Arts Centre, Nätverkstan, and Sian Prime at Goldsmiths University here.

31 mars, 2012

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Cut off my tongue

The main worry in everyday life of many Kenyans is the election this year. It brings back horrifying memories of the post election violence in 2007, something that is still unresolved.

Many put their hopes to the International Criminal Court in Hague, where four Kenyan leaders are put to trial with charges of crimes against humanity and for their active role in organizing the mass violence that took place.

”Something just must be done! They have to be charged. Everything else is inhuman and wrong” someone tells me.

In Breaburn Theatre in Nairobi poet Sitawa Namwalie addresses the consequences, fear, and worry in a very warm, partly humours, and self-critical way in her poetry-read and performance together with Alice Karunditu and Shan Bartley on Saturday evening.

”Can you trust your neighbour?” she asks, looks around the audience with her sharp eyes and authority. And she opens the read of Cut off my tongue. 

The photographic exhibition Kenya Burning will be put up again at the GoDown Arts Centre as a reminder and reflection of what can not happen again.

26 mars, 2012

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Hubs in London

”When you write creativity, what do you mean? Break it down. Unpack it.”

Adrian de la Court and Sian Prime, MA Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths University of London, hovers around the class, enthusiastically supporting the discussions and work that is being developed in the groups. And then the difficult questions to challenge the students to go deeper in their understanding, reveal a bit more, go to the bottom of all those words so easily used.

We, eight people from the GoDown Arts Center in Nairobi together with myself, have joined one of the classes in Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths. The task is to map each individual’s strengths and assets, and come to a conclusion of the group assets. Find the deficit. Map the geographical area you are in. What assets are there around you? What possibilities does it reveal?

The work is done with paper, colored pens, lego-pieces, straws, rubberbands – anything that can help you illustrate your ideas. Envision them. The energy in the room is on top.

Later the same day we meet John Newbigin, Chair of Creative England, and of many things from his background the Political Advisor designing the work on creative industries in UK.

A few lessons from his experience was the following:

1) It’s all about sharing, and it’s amazing what you can achieve if you are not interested in taking credit for it.

2) There are moments in leadership where new ideas are put forward that no-one knows what they will lead to. To get people on board you might have to ”bullshit” a little. Do it with brilliance. Everyone knows how it works. If you are wrong, you can work that out later.

3) Don’t underestimate the formal meetings even in an informal setting. We sometimes assume people we work with know more than they actually do. Be careful. It’s better to say things twice than not say it at all. It shows openness.

4) Chairing meetings is an important task. Create an opportunity for people to speak their mind. Listen even if you are loosing the argument. Shared knowledge gives better results.

The meeting was held at the Hub Westminister, in itself an interesting place for developing ideas around social entrepreneurship.


20 oktober, 2011

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Building an East Africa capacity-building programme

According to data creative industries in Kenya hold five percent of GDP, Joy Mboya at GoDown Arts Centre tells us. Which is more than fishing, for example, which traditionally has been one of the important income streams in Kenya.

The GoDown Arts Centre took an initiative in 2009 to start a discussion on creative economy and creative industries in East Africa and has arranged conferences on the theme and initiated workshops for artists on cultural entrepreneurship in cooperation with Sian Prime at Goldsmiths University in UK and Nätverkstan.

To build a strong and sustainable cultural scene in Kenya and East Africa, there is a need to expand the amount of well-educated and in the cultural field established people that can run organizations, take initiatives, catalyze new ideas and develop opportunities.

Two needs have been identified by the GoDown: 1) Short-term capacity-building programmes for cultural entrepreneurs should be available on a consistent basis and 2) A one- or two-year capacity-building program for East Africa for upcoming and younger people getting into the field but with the need of getting more knowledge on project management, entrepreneurial skills and so forth.

This called for an invitation to gather educators and teachers from University and Polytechnics as well as artists and cultural practitioners to gather and together look at how this could be drawn up.

The two and half days workshop ended with a well thought through outline of content, time, assessment, pedagogical approaches, who the students will be and competencies for teachers and facilitators. But it also raised interesting (and challenging) questions.

How do you build relevant assessment in an education like this?

The program should be both addressing cultural practitioners and entrepreneurs within all art forms as well as young people with ambitions to work in the field – what challenges will that mean for the education?

What are the specific competencies needed of teachers and facilitators for a program like this?

It should be possible for multi-entry and multi-exit in the programme – how do you create a programme with high flexibility and openness and yet with accredited courses and of high quality and content recognized by the educational system?

The workshop was funded by the Swedish Institute. Read more about Kenya here.


20 juni, 2011

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Capacity Building Programme East Africa

The GoDown Arts Centre is an interesting place with an interesting story behind it. Everytime I come to Nairobi, I realize how true this is.

The art centre is placed in the Industrial Area in Nairobi, an area as the name tells mainly used for industry and car workshop complexes. The initiators found this U-shaped area around a warehouse in the middle, a godown, with a total area of around 6000 square metres. Today you find this space being turned into studios for visual artists, home for music companies, dance companies, meeting place for artists, Nairobits, all in a combination of art, culture and social activities. Many of the artists pursue both their own career, and build training and development for non-privileged children.

The GoDown Arts Centre wanted to become a presenting house, but realized soon that the artists themselves did this. They ran their own organization and presented their work, it was not necessary for the GoDown as a centre to do this. So they became more and more producers, providing training and possibilities. In 2009 they started the work on creative economy and what this could mean for cultural entrepreneurs.

When they first started around 2003 they visited other cultural houses to get ideas. They got advice along the way such as:

”Don’t over-renovate. Keep the space simple and flexible”

”Do not fall into the trap of running a building”

A main question they are working with is how do you give capacity to the art field?  They also found a lack of data and research in this field, there were no reliable data of the cultural field. They have come to work with a wide variety of projects and workshops and have also shaped capacity-building for entrepreneurs.

This led to another question: How could they have a one- or two-year program, an accredited program for cultural entrepreneurs, producers and others in the field? How do you begin to build such a program.

A starting work has been done together with Nätverkstan and Sian Prime from ICCE at the Goldsmiths University. During two days we are now working with a group of trainers, educators, practitioners in Nairobi to come closer to a Capacity-Building Programme for East Africa.


See more posts on The GoDown Arts Centre and Nätverkstan’s work in Kenya here.

16 juni, 2011

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Visual art in Nairobi

Witout RaMoMa, the Museum of Modern Art and exhibition hall for contemporary visual art in Nairobi, visual artists are loosing one of the more recognized art spaces in the city.

RaMoMa is a privately owned space that has struggled for some time with bad economy and organizational issues and finally (as it seems) decided to close down. There is really no other space with the recognition needed to take its place.

So it  seems like Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city with more than three million citizens, is without a contemporary, well-established and recognized art exhibition hall. There is basically no art critic in the media and there is a lack of institutional structure to validate art. Informal structures are always important to find your ways within the art scene, but should not be the only one.

img_3679Kuona Trust, with it’s artist-in-residence programmes, studios, training opportunities. and small shows, seems all the more important. Here the contemporary, critical, satirical art can grow and develop.

In lack of institutional structures and in the margins of the art discussions in the world, ”You are not exactly in the crossroads of information in Africa” as visual artist Peterson Kamwhati puts it and one of the well-established artists with a studio at Kuona.

Peterson Kamwhati has for quite some time experiemented with line-ups; people standing in line, waiting, body-language and expression.

Another very strong line-up he did, was in the  exhibition ”Sitting Allowance” at Goethe-institute in Nairobi on 23rd June 2009, a direct reaction of the environment before and after the election in 2007. In a text of the exhibition he described his work:

” The composition of these drawings is inspired by formal photos. The formal posture is meant to depict the rigidity and conformity that at many times is prevalent within institutions. Institutions are champions of formality and while there is nothing wrong with that, at times formality can be at the expense of humanity”.

Read more under Kenya.


13 december, 2010

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Cultural practioners in Nairobi

All the paintings that were carried outside just a few minutes before, have to be taken inside again as the weather quickly changed from sun to rain.

img_3667Visual artist Tabitha Wa Thuku‘s home is not just a home for the family, it’s also an exhibition hall, a studio, and a storage space for many years of art works.

She rents the house, have been moving 18 times and now lives an hour from Nairobi in Banana Hills. Her drive  and capability of restart is impressive. She is an established and well-known visual artist in Kenya.

For two days we have together with GoDown Arts Center been tossing and turning the idea of a longer educational idea with in art and entrepreneurship and management. How can can an education be built, specifically designed for and meeting thechallenges in Kenyan and East African cultural field?

Nätverkstan is together with Academy of Music and Drama, University of Gothenburg, discussing a masterprogram on art and entrepreneurship and how this can be formed. This together with the experience of Sian Prime from Goldsmiths University in London and also starting the Creative Pioneer Program does become an interesting mix of possibilities.

The project is a cooperation between Nätverkstan and GoDown Arts Center in partnership with Sian Prime (UK), during 2010 funded by Swedish Inistute. Look under Kenya for more.


8 december, 2010

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Money&Meaning • Nairobi • Day 2

img_3637For two days visual artists, dancers, film-makers, and producers have gathered to together with Sian Prime and ourselves find ways to pursue the artistic career and meet challenges.

Things from finding who you need to talk to, what is the next step, who is the customer, audience or client has been discussed; as well as how do you make best use of your time, killing the worst ”truths” about marketing and adjust the marketing plans for the situation for the artistic practice; and things like budget, pricing and costing.

It is nothing like sharing experiences, asking challenging questions to each other, and create a room for structured reflection and ideas. The Indian notion of ”fearless listening” fits very well to describe the sharing which can make all the difference.

The project is a cooperation between Nätverkstan and GoDown Arts Center in partnership with Sian Prime (UK), during 2010 funded by Swedish Inistute. Look under Kenya for more.


4 december, 2010

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Money&Meaning • Nairobi • Step 2

The workshop ”Money&Meaning” (or ”The Art of living on Art” as we also call it) in Nairobi is a continuation of workshops done in Nairobi and Mombasa during 2009 and 2010.

The idea is also to build further educational possibilities for artists in East Africa. The project is a cooperation between Nätverkstan and GoDown Arts Center in partnership with Sian Prime (UK), during 2010 funded by Swedish Inistute.


3 december, 2010

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Little Theatre Club and Creative Industries in Mombasa

The white plastic chairs are put in nice rows in the theatre hall, the stage is ready, and the lighting checked. All is ready for tonight’s performance of Independent Woman, written by Ibrahim Chitayi at the Little Theatre Club in centre of Mombasa, Kenya.

We are shown around the one-leveled building, built sometime around middle of 1800s in what were at that time the outer parts of Mombasa. Today the theatre lies in the middle of residential buildings of apartments and small houses. We ask if that means that the local inhabitants also come to the theatre shows, but it seems like the audience is not found around the corner, but rather appeal to people from other parts of town.

The building is a cultural heritage bungalow. The outside of the building cannot be changed or rebuilt due to this. Despite the cultural heritage mark, the authorities have not been interested in restoring it and it’s very run down, we are told. A lot of renovation has been started inside by the organization running the theatre, a slow process relying on short-term project money. The visions are high and the leading team are hoping for a well-equipped hall for dancers and theatre auditorium, dressing rooms, costume storage, and hopefully in the future guest rooms for visitors.

A staircase takes us up to the lighting room, close to the ceiling. We step into a room that takes us back in time. A small opening where you can peek into the auditorium to see that the lighting works is the only opening in the otherwise dark room.  The theatre’s right hand and person responsible for lights shows us how it works, how he handles the control sticks of the fifty-year-old lighting system manually each night for each performance.

We go down the stairs after the demonstration to the next pride of the theatre: The costumes. Money has been put into purchasing a wide range of costumes, characteristic for the time they represent. It is a pride for any theatre to be able to have such storage of costumes. Real treasures are found in the pile of coats, dresses, shirts, skirts, shoes, and three time-characteristic military coats are pulled out. A cloud of dust fills the air as they are dashed on the table on the outside.

We have the days before the visit been part of the conference The Economy of Creativity, gathering around a hundred well-known artists, civil servants, politicians, business people, and representatives of cultural organisations, discussing the potential of the cultural and creative industries in East Africa. The conference was the second arranged by GoDown Arts Centre in cooperation with Mimeta and Swedish Institute.

The interest, willingness to engage, and interesting discussions are all in place among participants and speakers. Many memorable inputs are there, not the least on the talk shows where established artists are asked about obstacles and ways forward in their careers. But when it comes to the question of money, how the field of culture is to be funded, it’s quiet. And the main suggestion put forward by authorities is: Engage the corporate world.

There is no lack of creativity at the Little Theatre Club. Nor is there a lack of drive and resolution. There is one major shortage and that is resources, economic resources. To only rely on the corporate world as the solution of how to sustain an interesting artistic and cultural life and to promote cultural industries is naive.

Read more from the conference Economy of Creativity 2009 here.


5 oktober, 2010

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Art living on Art • Mombasa, Kenya

Fourteen artists within music, visual art, dance, theatre, sculptor, and cultural organizations from East African countries gathered in Mombasa the past two days for the workshop Money–Meaning (or The Art of living on Art), arranged by the GoDown Arts Centre.

In what during the night was transformed to the hotel nightclub, we during the day used as the room for reflection on how to be able to live on your art and what changes that need to be performed to reach your goals and visions. Lively discussions were mixed with small groups and time for your own reflection. The question of how you balance between money and meaning (the artistic work or integrity) in your daily life led to intense discussions on where the fine borderline is where you feel you loose your artistic quality.

We started of with questions and expectations of the workshop. Things like: More knowledge of how to manage one-self, a sceptical attitude towards the money and meaning concept and a curiosity to know more. Also: Understanding of how to run an organization, how you can survive as an artist, and how to be more business-like within the artfield. Not everything was answered, but getting time to in a structured way reflect on your situation and how to be able to live on what you do, is useful. Two wonderful, energetic, and interesting working days.

Read more of the workshop under category The Art of living on Art on this page.


30 september, 2010

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Art in Nairobi

We get to see a beautiful piece by choreographer Matthew Ondiege and his four dancers, a dance shifting in pace from fast to slow, from harmony to stress and internal conflicts. He is also working with the group Uwezo Mix Dance Theatre that bring together disabled dancers with other dancers to form contemporary dance pieces.

Visual Artist Mary Ogembo tells us an amazing story of how Art can be sold. A chinese person came across her paintings over Internet, I think it was, and contacted Mary to see if she could buy some. But since Mary is in Kenya, and the buyer was across oceans and countries, this was a bit difficult. And how should Mary verify that she was Mary? So she contacted different trustworthy people running organizations, Art exhibition halls and so forth so that the buyer could get references. An embassy official came to visit her in her studio to see if she existed. And after this process the buyer bought eight paintings, Mary got the money and rolled the eight paintings in packages and sent them across the sea.

Visual Artist Salah Ammar was one of the Artists part of the newly opened exhibition at the Ramoma, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Nairobi. Salah Ammar shows his work, pieces showing that his Artistic career has gone through many different styles. He shows his work with soft and careful hands, and with lots of respect for his viewer. When speaking of his Art his eyes get a spark, you can see that he loves it. He has so much inside, so many colors and ideas that still wants come out, he tells me.

Visual Artist Caro Mbirua shares studio with Salah Ammar and shows a different style of work. She carefully brings out painting after painting with motives hidden in mist, a sort of secrecy surrounding the women in her work. When she describes them, she says ”I do beautiful Art”, and we say ”you need to be more specific”. But it is really a good word for her work. Beautiful.

And on my bedside table, I have writer Doreen Baingana‘s book ”Tropical Fish”. An Ugandan writer, twice nominated for the Caine Prize in African Writing now living in Kenya. She wants to start a literary group with writers that can meet on regular basis, discuss literature and support each other in finding new possibilities to live on their writing.

These are just a few of the very talented Kenyan Artists taking part in the workshop ”The Art of living on Art” in Nairobi on Sept 7-8, 2009.


16 september, 2009

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Lotta Lekvall
Director of Nätverkstan, a Cultural Organisation in Sweden. Nätverkstan provides services …

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