Arts associations in the country want government to increase the stimulus package it has set aside for them.
This follows the announcement by the Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Culture Michael Usi of a K20 million fund that will see certain artists applying for relief funds to mitigate Covid-19 effects.
This, according to the minister, was worked out after seeing how measures to contain the spread of the virus have affected economic activities for the arts, and creative industries.
He said: “Arts requires numbers in terms of audiences and sale of creative works and services. The sector is also hugely driven by foreign tourists in terms of sales for creative works and patronage of arts events and festivals.
“In addition, due to travel restrictions, artists can no longer do international tours. In partnership with the Malawi Gaming Board (MGB), the ministry has set up a fund aimed at cushioning selected local performing artists from the impact of Covid.”
Usi added that recognising that artists constitute one sector that has been hit the most, his ministry came up with the Artists Against Covid Week to be commemorated later this month.
During the period, selected artists will take a leading role in the dissemination of the Covid-19 messages in return for a modest stipend.
“These funds will be accessible to artists in the various performing arts categories such as musicians and poets who will be required to apply for the funds and produce works on Covid-19 messaging.”
However, Poetry Association of Malawi president Chisomo Mdala, also known as Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa, believes government ought to do more on the package.
He told the minister after the launch: “Artists are indeed languishing because of the global pandemic. This fund is timely. However, while K20 million is a good start, it obviously is not enough for the arts fraternity in Malawi.
“There is need to have some bail outs from outside partners like Malawi Gaming Board. If we get that, the impact will be big. Of course while not every artist can benefit, but with this start up, the numbers are going to be a lower side.”
In his reaction, Filmmakers Association of Malawi president Ezaius Mkandawire said it is sad that some players within the arts sector have been excluded from benefiting from the fund which ideally was supposed to cushion everyone from the effects of Covid-19.
“The question on our mind now is how the ministry arrived at the decision that it is only musicians and poets that have been impacted more by the pandemic than others. We needed to be honest in our approach to this issue and the sector-wide approach would have been ideal,” he said.
Mkandawire said though there seems to be a drawback, they are happy that at least a step has been taken to help the creative industry.
On his part, visual artist Madalitso Ziwaoh said it is surprising that visual artists have been left out yet they are one of the worst-hit as the number of tourists, who are their main customers, visiting the country has drastically reduced due to global travel restrictions.
He said: “As visual artists, I believe we need an association so we can speak with one voice. Most visual artists live on painting as their full-time job unlike in some other trades where people engage as a pastime passion. This is a huge concern really.”
His views were shared by other associations including Musician Union of Malawi.
In response, Usi said the ministry is looking at the K20 million as a start-up.
“True, the money is not in any way close to meeting the needs of Malawian artists. But looking at how the pandemic has ravaged the sector, it is better than none. Let’s keep on talking about this issue and hoping on more well-wishers,” he said.
To operationalise the fund, a joint task force comprising representatives of the MGB, artists and the ministry has been put in place. It will offer guidance on the criteria for selection and how the erforming artists can apply for the fund.
The task force is expected to conclude its assignment by end of next week so that this initiative is open for applications.