The government should operationalise the Cultural Policy approved six years ago to institutionalise the creative sector, which remains disjointed.
There is not much infrastructure to support the important sector which employs some people.
Artists in the country do practice solely on passion, but they have families to feed.
Without government support, talented people that entertain and helped inform the nation die as paupers. These include painters, musicians, writers and dancers.
In Malawi, artists have formed creative associations to fight for their interests.
The power of the arts can never be underestimated. It was music that helped garner international support for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
In Zimbabwe, more than 20 000 fans cheered US pop star Paul Simon in 1987 and 25 black South African musicians in the first African performance of the controversial ″Graceland in concert″ tour. More than 2 000 white South Africans, clad in distinctive T- shirts, packed Rufaro Stadium for the opening of the two-day concert attended by then Zimbabwean President Canaan Banana and Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s wife.
The white South Africans applauded and sang-along with black South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s impassioned ″Free Mandela″. The advocacy paid off three years later.
And of course art is a money spinner. In 2015, the Lake of Stars Music Festival attracted 79 Malawian acts and generated nearly $1.5 million.
Recognising the huge potential, the government is galvanising efforts to support the growth of the creative sector.
In 2013, Wipo estimated that the sector contributes around 3.4 percent to Malawi’s gross domestic product (GDP). Kenya’s creative sector, for example, accounts for 5.3 percent of GDP. Similarly, Nigeria’s Nollywood, the world’s fastest-growing film industry, employs a million people with annual sales worth $5 billion.
Of course, there are some positives happening in Malawi.
In 2016, the government ramped up its drive to tap the country’s creative wealth when Parliament amended the copyright law to take advantage of the digital age.
The law brings the copyright law in line with current international intellectual property (IP) standards to better promote the economic rights of creators and crack down on piracy.
The copyright law introduces new provisions on online licensing to ensure that artists are paid for the expanding use of their creative works, including ringtones and online platforms.
The law eases access to copyright-protected works by people who are blind or visually impaired. This is good since the country plays home to more than 10 000 people with visual impairment.
The new feature means that these people, especially young people, will have a chance to get an education, secure employment and live independent lives.
However, still more needs to be done. A National Arts and Heritage Council needs to be established by an Act of Parliament to develop and promote Malawi’s cultural and creative industries.
Once established, the council will be the operational arm of the Cultural Policy responsible for programming and coordination of some key players, particularly non-state actors.
Unlike several arts associations which operate without government funding, it means the council will now receive subventions.
Currently, there is no funding for the renovation of the dilapidated arts mecca—Blantyre Cultural Centre.
The executive and legislative arms of government need to act with speed on these concerns.
Apart from creating the council, there are rising calls for a stimulus package for the creative industries and synchronising scattered departments that deal with the performing arts and culture.
These include the departments responsible for museums, antiquities, copyright laws, censorship and public entertainment.
The nation must add value for the arts. This is not too much to ask.