Despite other factors, there was no way Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) could be staged at the dilapidated Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) for the fourth time or so in 2016.
That is why organisers announced the cancellation of the festival last year.
Commentators observe that big events such as BAF have been taking place at the rundown BCC for the past five years, with key government officials presiding over the events without feeling ashamed of the state of the facility.
Musician Lucius Banda says if government were serious with issues of arts and culture renovation of BCC would have been completed by now.
“But it seems there is something wrong with the way things are run in the Department of Culture,” he said.
BCC falls under the Department of Culture in the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development.
For the past year, Banda has been advocating for the economic rights of the country’s artists by pushing for mindset change among Malawians, government officials and the corporate world towards the entertainment industry.
BCC used to be a haven of arts and culture-six years ago when it was being run by the French government.
However, when Malawi Government purchased it at the tune of K300 million, the delay in handing over the centre led to massive looting of the facility including equipment such as drums and guitars that were being used by artists.
Since then, renovation of the facility has been moving at a snail’s pace with funding coming in bits and pieces.
“Imagine, for the past four years, the ruined BCC has been hosting international artists.
“Rebecca Malope performed at the BCC during the previous BAF, but guess which wash rooms she used?
“So you wanted BAF to repeat the same mistake by inviting international artists to a venue which has broken toilets?
“We are not being serious as a country,” said Petulo Mumba, regular patron of BAF.
BAF has been using ordinary cartons and boards to cover some pitiable spaces of the BCC such as rooms that have literally no windows and doors to cover up government’s negligence.
Many artists decry lack of political will which results in erratic funding towards the renovation of BCC.
“If it were some political rallies or government event, BCC renovation would’ve been concluded by now.
“But because there is no political will that’s why the renovation of the centre refuses to take its full course,” said Banda.
Last year, government put BCC in its Public Sector Investment Plan, a prioritised plan of development projects which government and development partners committed to fund for a specific duration.
It was estimated that the BCC project will cost K350 million for the period of two and half years.
But during the 2015/16 financial year, only K75 million was allocated for electrical installations, plumbing, carpentry, painting and roof waterproofing. Currently, we are already half way into the 2016/17 financial, but the Department of Culture is yet to release funding for the renovation of the centre.
Asked to explain the delays, Christopher Mbukwa spokesperson for the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development demanded a questionnaire which he was yet to respond.
But artists fault government for paying a blind eye to some of the issues that have a direct benefit to the growth of the country’s creative industries.
Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president Chimwemwe Mhango said BCC serves as an economic engine for many artists in the country. But the state of the centre is negatively contributing to their economic activities.
“Yes, we heard that renovations are taking place but is it fair to do plumbing, electrical installation and amphitheatre only in five years?” wondered Mhango.
Though government claimed that it has carried out plumbing works at BCC, the main toilets are in a mess.
Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) president Mike Tsambalikagwa Mvona said cultural centres usually have displays, including resource rooms for learning and research purposes.
But BCC’s rooms remain doorless and windowless.
“Arts associations which are at the centre of promoting the country’s culture want their offices there too. But the current situation is prohibitive.” n