EDITORIAL COMMENT : Good art, artistic heritage need backing, protection

The problems of funding creative art, basically supporting creative artists and providing respectable and adequate marketing, have come to the fore once again as options close and a major collection of some of Zimbabwe’s best art is likely to be sold off.

A few weeks ago, one of the top art dealers in Zimbabwe, Roy Guthrie of Chapungu Sculpture Park in eastern Harare died, and that was just four years after the death of Tom Blomefield of Tengenenge, two men who showed what committed art dealers could do, formally and informally to encourage and support creative artists and creative art.

Foreign dealers are circling and local artists are worried that what amounts to one of the better collections of recent decades of Zimbabwean art is likely to be sold off at what could be a song, depending on auction bids.

Unless some Zimbabwean philanthropists step in and either buy for themselves or buy for public galleries, this artwork could be lost to Zimbabwe.

The Government arts budget is very low, and there are limits to what can be budgeted in a developing country, and the private sector contributions once important sources of income for the National Arts Council and the National Gallery are now very minor.

The State Lotteries used to be a major arts contributor, as similar organisations are in other countries, but the switch of gambling into other areas has also dried up that source of funding.

But perhaps some major corporations could take a stand and could be ready to compete with the outsiders.

But the deaths of Guthrie and Blomefield highlight another missing dimension in Zimbabwe, the willingness of passionate marketing to couple with passionate art in that necessary partnership that encourages art at the highest level with the right of the artists to make a good living.

Both did a lot to practically encourage the artists who created the art that was then marketed, but both also liked to see the art that the artists they supported did went to the final customer, rather than being bought cheap and sold dear.

Dealers who take their just percentage are different from dealers who speculate in art and care little or nothing for the creative artists.

Blomefield established the Tengenenge Arts Centre on his farm in Guruve, almost by accident he said later, but this did allow sculptors and their families to live on the farm, where there was a source of suitable hardstone.

But that was just a start. Blomefield had the passion for art, although not an artist himself, and moved, again accidentally, into helping with the marketing. So he provided the critical outside components all creative artists need, the facilities, the encouragement and the marketing.

Guthrie moved more deliberately and in many ways more deliberately commercially, starting with a small city gallery and then just after independence taking over the old Doon Estate, the old Wenela headquarters in Harare, and building up a unique sort of business, the Chapungu Sculpture Park for artists and the Doon Estate development based on the old farm buildings for craftwork.

Chapungu was his own business and very largely his passion. Again he saw the need for a dealer to be more than just a marketing tool. He provided work space and often materials for sculptors, and put in place the marketing, which had to include a lot more than just a gallery for sales, but somewhat like Blomefield, but in a different way, helping to publicise and build up that market.

At the same time, on the rest of the land of what had been a mini-farm sliced off the old Makabusi Farm, he helped create a quite different sort of business, for the better classes of craftwork.

Art and crafts do merge, and can be confused, but they are different and while craftwork misses the creativity of the arts, it is still important and still a source of pride for the crafts people and a source of income.

We now have a gap. Those two special sort of dealers have not had successors. And yet the circumstances and opportunities still exist, and most importantly the artists are still there and new artists come to the fore all the time.

We need to remember that Chapungu was the happy amalgamation of a successful business with successful artists.

The same problems exist in other areas of creative art. In music, probably the best organised of art forms when it comes to marketing, there are many modern problems.

At one time the two production and distribution houses could largely run the business, with live shows tied in. Now while established artists can, just, make a reasonable living it is very difficult to make a break for the aspiring artists.

Drama sort of exists, but hardly anyone makes a living from it. And that is wrong.

While creative arts are never, in any country, going to provide an income for a large number of people, they should still be there for the passionate and most talented.

But this requires putting together the bits: the talent, the passion, the marketing and finally the buyers and the audiences. Success requires both the knowledge to recognise what is good art, and the need to be fair to all in the chain, from creator to buyer.

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