The ending of Minister of Information and Civic Education Moses Kunkuyuâ€™s choral competition has given birth to a blaring tussle for the somewhat rehabilitated French Cultural Centre (FCC).
The battle for the on-and off venue, which has survived years of vandalism since its closure in December 2010, has matured into mounting calls for government to surrender it to artists because they claim to be better-placed to run it.
If this prayer is granted, the country will be on course to replicating the story of the one-time rundown Lusaka Playhouse in Zambia which was rescued by a few creative hands at a time businesspeople were baying to turn it into a booze club.
However, Blantyreâ€™s entertainment mecca still wears scars of two years of uncurbed looting that was supposed to end when Government staged a K300 million takeover from the French Embassy last year.
The effects of the shambolic change of ownership seemed to be on course to the end with the K2 million (about $6 666) renovations orchestrated by the organisers of Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) last monthâ€”with the Minister of Tourism and Culture Daniel Liwimbi hinting that it would be closed for repairs soon after the three-day fest on October 7.
However, concerned artists, at their meeting last weekend, declared the venue is usableâ€”saying the hosting of Kunkuyuâ€™s Shout of Praise choir contest, won by Revival Singers, mirrors double standards and politically-orchestrated favouritism in the running of the partially repaired centre.
Said the concerned artistsâ€™ rep Max DC (real name Maxwell Chipinga) in an interview: “We visited FCC and noted the place is usable while the routine works take place. If the venue wasnâ€™t, BAF wouldnâ€™t have used it in the first place.
“We therefore want government to surrender the centre to us, artists, because this issue is in our interest. We will establish a trust to run it and some of proceeds from the events will go towards renovating the place.”
But Kunkuyu in his opening remarks on Sunday denied using his political powers and proximity to Liwimbi to earn the keys to the shut down centre. He told the crowd that he only approached the Ministry of Tourism and Culture as a way of ensuring the side does not remain idle while it is awaiting repairs.
This year, government allocated K200 million (about $665 000) for the renovation of the centre. At BAF opening, Liwimbi hinted that that the budgeted works will take off by December because they were still waiting for work plans from the Ministry of Land and Housing.
The Nation has learnt that Nanzikambe Arts, together with other art groups (names withheld), tendered to run the centre while renovating it, but the bid was rejected by the culture ministry. The source, close to the cited groups, said the ground was not level for a similar arrangement by donor-backed BAF earned nods from Liwimbi. The festival was partly bankrolled by the embassies of Germany, Norway, France and US.
In an interview, Liwimbi referred the questions on the battle for the FCC to Katopola. The chosen respondent refused to give answer and consigned the matter to Director of Culture who could not be reached.
Artists credit the venue for affordable prices, purpose-built facilities and art-friendly grounds which hosted a diversity of local heavyweights and international stars. The artistsâ€”including dramatists, musicians and poetsâ€”are compiling a petition to be presented to President Joyce Banda, disclosed Chipinga.