A round 2001 government paid a whooping K300 million to acquire the then French Cultural Centre (FCC) to claim full ownership of the facility from the French Embassy.
By parting with that amount it was a demonstration of government’s willingness to keep up with the service that the centre had been offering for ages.
It was a show of commitment that government cares for the arts in the country and that they are ready to invest in the industry and safeguard the promotion of its standards and values. In a way, the move also spoke of the appreciation of the contribution the French had made through the centre and the importance of continuing with that journey.
Since its establishment and opening in 1973, there are few artistic stories that can be told in Malawi without reference to FCC now called Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC). The centre has played host to all manner of art events, foreign and local.
But since this take over was formally completed something has been going wrong in terms of management of the facility. The same lack of hands on management gave way to security lapses and it was with little wonder that immediately after the government took over the centre it was vandalised and a good deal of equipment was stolen.
Since then the face of the once popular art venue has never been the same. Lukewarm efforts have been applied in the past in the name of trying to resuscitate the venue to restore its fast fading glory and relevance, but sadly they have yielded decimal or even no results at all.
Multiple times we have been told that funds have been allocated towards the renovations of the place, but no tangible gains can be pointed at really. It begs the question as to where now the allocated resources have been going all this while.
All this has been happening while artists have had to contend with the challenge of lack of alternative and affordable venues in the city. As the industry is facing this challenge the BCC platform has slowly been decaying and fading away.
Last week’s visit of the place by new minister of Youth, Culture and Tourism Michael Usi of the facility was, therefore, very refreshing and assuring. What was also important, was his admission that he felt embarrassed with the state of the once dream art haven.
As a new broom in the ministry I am sure embarrassment is not a word that Usi would wish to be associated with. Certainly not at a time when the government he is serving has made big promises to champion transformation in many sectors of development by doing things unusual.
His visit to the centre was among his first engagements since he came into office. That tells you of what he feels of the place and its key relevance to the promotion of arts in the country. He certainly knows the history of the facility and how it got to where it is today.
Indeed the state of BCC now is nothing short of embarrassing. If some of the great sons of Malawi, past, who have built their legacies at the arena such as Du Chisiza Jnr can wake up today and see the lack of vibrancy in the operations of the place, they can quickly press the button for a quick return to their resting status.
As he made it one of his first engagements in his office, we expect Usi to make the renovation of the facility among his priority undertakings in his office. Usi owes us a fully functioning BCC. Reverting the place will be a cornerstone in achieving some of the lofty targets that he has set for himself.
We have experienced both sides of the BCC. The bad and the good. We are thankful for those who have made this possible. Now it’s time to stop the free fall of the facility so that we retain the good side of it.