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Aligning the Ugandan Arts Economy for Sustainability.

By Trevor Mukholi.


Kuonyesha Art Fund the arts and culture arm of CivSource Africa convened a symposium to discuss the sustainability of the Ugandan arts economy, the symposium panel had on it Teesa Bahana Director at Uganda Arts Trust, Tshaka Mayanja a celebrated icon in the Music Industry, and Prof. Anthony Kakooza a lawyer whose work focuses on intellectual property, Kuonyesha Art Fund also at the symposium unveiled the recipients of its 2021 grant, the Fund organized the symposium to engage arts stake holders in dialogue that seeks to find solutions that lead to a more economically sustainable local arts economy.

The view by Tshaka Mayanja which was that the most pertinent solution to the sustainability of the local arts economy was not more funding, his perspective was that the agendas and desires of funders and sponsors affects the quality of artistic production, a manufactured lucrativeness through funding and sponsorship attracts numbers in search of the money there in. But a sector where participation is through creativity, ingenuity and persistence sieves through all who are not up to the task of creating beauty. Mayanja gave the example of the Ugandan music industry which he said through the years has garnered funding through the sponsorships and funding opportunities, but he said that this did not increase the quality of music it did however increase the quantity of music being produced which in turn adversely affected the quality of music, Tshaka also advised on artists overly relying on funding as that will cause them to be dependent on the funder, which will stilt their production away from originality and into propaganda for whatever cause the sponsor will have.

There is truth in Tshaka’s submission, but the arts economy can not be seen in extremities, there must be middle ground, artists on their own can work through strife and create work but they shouldn’t have to. A collaborative funding approach is possible, and therefore I am very excited for Kuonyesha Art Fund. The fund boosts the artists production on the terms of the artist, this is a very crucial distinction. The fund exists only as far as to assist the artists’ production.

The other point of debate was on intellectual property and how culture can be owned and sold for a profit, Professor Kakooza talked about the current discourse around collective and individual intellectual property and how legislation is being developed to curtail the unauthorized use of collective intellectual property for example a folk tale or a song, and the argument was just as individuals enjoy protection over their intellectual property, that same privilege should be extended to collectives and communities. My only draw back from this submission and I communicated this with the professor was the move to commodify every facet of cultural expression, more and more the tools are being made available to package and sell cultural expression, but the ability to sell comes with controlling access. Any cultural regulation should not in its imperative strive to cordon off what “belongs to it”, that is injurious to organic growth. The process of through which a culture grows is not clear and straightforward and cannot be explicitly delineated by law, and while laws should protect a people from exploitation after their creative labor has been produced, these laws should not deny “outsiders” access to collaborate on cultural experiences due to the desire for commodification.

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