Ruth Butaumocho

African Agenda

When Covid-19 struck, the entertainment industry which is considered as the luxurious sector was the first to be affected by lockdown restrictions.

Governments banned huge gatherings, including live shows to stop the further spread of the virus.

From a flurry of activities weeks before, live performances and other glitzy affairs that drew crowds, showbiz became history overnight.

More than six months into the pandemic, the arts and culture industry, which for years was characterised with mobility and connecting nations through varying artworks is at a standstill.

With reports of a second wave of the pandemic likely to strike again with much virulence than before, the art market will find itself in comatose, unless a financial lifeline is thrown its way.

Artistes no longer have commercial outlets for their work as many venues, pubs and performing places are closed.

As a result, most of them are facing unprecedented challenges because they can no longer hold live performances, they can only connect with their fans online.

Most performing artistes are live-streaming concerts from studios and online audiences have been showing their appreciation with a deluge of likes, shares and comments.

Sadly, the traction has not translated into dollars for the seemingly struggling artistes.

Despair is written on almost every artiste’s face particularly those who survived on live performances, after the Government banned public gatherings as one of the strategic measures to prevent further spread of Covid-19.

The arts and culture sector, once a bastion of cultural convergence is struggling to persevere with emerging artistes, showing serious signs of strain.

Within the short time that the Government imposed lockdown end of March, the arts and culture sector is literally on its knees with the performing artistes being the worst affected.

Covid-19 slammed brakes on busy schedules of artistes, who by this time of the year would have been on whirlwind tours across the globe.

The sad narrative of popular dancer, Franco Slomo, who can barely survive at the moment, gives an insight into the dilemma most artistes find themselves in and the uncertainty of the future, as Covid-19 ravages the land.

So bad is his situation that friends and fans of the gifted dancer have since launched a GoFundMe initiative for his welfare and kids.

Reports abound of artistes who have been pauperised by piracy, low income, lack of employment benefits and unviable arts projects.

Many will be thrown into poverty if they fail to get a timely bail out, outside the $20 million allocated to the arts sector under the $18 billion Economic Recovery and Stimulus Package.

In explaining the disbursement, Government pointed out that the money was allocated to the sector to artistes in Covid-19 recovery efforts.

Government’s response resonates well with different regional and bloc approaches taken by various countries to safeguard its people against the adverse effects of Covid-19.

Among a set of measures to help fight against Covid-19, the Kenyan government disbursed $1,87 million to alleviate the strain of the pandemic on the country’s artistes.

Other countries have also implemented similar initiatives with possibilities of sustaining the projects, as when the need arises.

Most artistes need financial support to keep going

While the artistes welcome the Government stimulus package which will rejuvenate some pockets of the arts sector, there are still hundreds of creative, arts and culture personnel who are falling through the gaps and would urgently need to be assisted with various packages that include, but not limited to medical assistance and food.

Arts administrators, worry that when divided among a long list of genres, the package will not be able to cover many of them, hence the need to bolster the Government’s stimulus package with more resources.

The growing calls for assistance on basic amenities among retired and active artistes point to an existential crisis, that Government cannot tackle alone, but would need the intervention of different stakeholders.

The situation that most artistes find themselves in, presents big corporate companies with opportunities to grow their brands by supporting these sector during their time of need.

In return, the artistes can then market the brands of private companies, in appreciation for services rendered to them during their difficult times.

In any case, challenges that most artistes are facing are not only due to cancelled opportunities and income stemming from the Covid-19 induced shutdowns, but are historical.

Long before Covid-19 knocked on our doors, the majority were already struggling to put a meal on the table, as show attendances across plummeted across the country.

With no personal savings, retirement plans and eroded royalties, life had long been a struggle.

Several artistes among them, yesteryear crooner Noel Zembe and comedian Marabha have been living off on the benevolence of fellow artists and the public, after they fell on hard times.

The pandemic should also serve a learning curve for artists to prepare for rainy days beyond the performing stage through proper planning, investing and appreciating the importance of financial literacy.

Already the untenable situation brought by coronavirus has already proved that without a proper financial plan, life can take a downward turn, hence the need to plan for a rainy day.

Even if life slowly returns to normal, artistes themselves are already sceptical that their legions of fans will not want to spend time in crowded performance venues, posing serious threats of infection, after the trauma of seeing thousands die from this flu like disease.

A long road awaits the arts sector.