Although arts as a subject is considered eccentric, over the top and downwardly weird by the general common public who usually do not understand the craft, there is more to it.
When friends and family members discover you are going into the direction of pursuing arts as a field of study, they assume you are taking the easy way out of the education system.
They go as far as saying you are going to school to “play”, not being mindful that arts is a science and needs professional practice just as other disciplines do.
After a long day at work, you crawl up with a good book as they say to “unwind” and debrief from all the negativity the day had to offer. Sometimes you binge-watch a whole 22-episode newly released season of a show to de-stress and “feel better”. On your way to work, you listen to music, poetry, podcasts or other things that inspire you to get through the day. And on a free weekend, you go to a dance recital, a theatre production or to the gallery to appreciate art. In a small city like ours, jazz and wine on a Thursday night with friends is a welcome distraction to our reality.
There are still parents out there who discourage their children from pursuing the arts. ‘No child of mine will waste my money on a music degree. If you are going to university you will study something that will give you a job after school.’
Lazy, weird and odd are some adjectives loosely thrown about to describe artists. Because of their appearance, which is most of the time free and flamboyant, artists are considered to be peculiar beings who are mostly alcohol and substance abusers, a stereotype we need to do away with. The craft itself is considered as not being “real work”, is looked down on, shunned and thus not respected as a career path.
We however cannot blame society for acting the way they do, given their level of understanding. The truth is, the government has not made it easy for the arts throughout the years; the arts are put at the bottom of the receiving end. With the lack of funds allocated to the promotion of arts in society, private companies have followed suit awarding only bursaries to people wanting to pursue careers in other “prominent” disciplines except the arts.
Every functional economy on the planet has the arts as a backbone. Not just for entertainment but to preserve a national identity through cultural expression. The arts give us national pride. Our children grow up with role models who look like them and talk like them. The arts teach them to believe in themselves and their heritage.
The arts are also a way to make a little bit of extra money and help bolster the country’s GDP. Our government has realized that Hollywood is no longer the entertainment capital. The arts are evolving and there is a demand for content from around the world. Content that celebrates different cultures and different stories. This is something that countries like South Africa, South Korea and Nigeria have realized and have taken advantage of. While we here in Namibia are left behind.
As we all rush to subscribe to Netflix, Amazon and DStv we forget one fundamental truth: we are giving money away to other countries. We are supporting their artists and by extension their economies. We are promoting their culture and teaching our children that foreign culture is the standard.
Perhaps the government is taking its cue from the former colonial government which discouraged black Africans from expressing their culture and heritage through art and storytelling. This tactic was made to hide the truth about who we are and the injustices that were being carried out. It was to hide the fact the we the people had power to inspire change and power to enforce change. Empowerment starts with education.
The primary foundation of arts from pre-school through to the end of primary school is barely enforced. In secondary school the arts appear in the school timetables as per educational policy, but they are merely there for show. Arts lessons are usually used as revision for physics, maths, chemistry, etc. Subjects deemed more “serious” and “important” in shaping you into the individual you ought to be.
It seems the system just doesn’t care. The inclusion of “Arts” in the ministerial name, Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture is unfounded.
If we as individuals cannot make small decisions that are good for us selfishly without bugs in our ears from the society at large and if the government promotes one discipline more than the other, then how free are we really as a society?
It has been hard and it still is, but as the masters of arts would normally suggest, regardless of what happens the show planned must be staged for the waiting patrons, in other words, “the show must go on”.