“Culture comprises habits, practices, beliefs, worldviews, and values of a community, that have crystallised and become entrenched over time.” These are the words of Kingwa Kamencu, founder of Blackstar Media in Kenya.
To celebrate Heritage month, fraycollege hosted a #JournalismTalks Twitter space titled ‘Telling stories of Arts, Culture and Heritage.’ The space was led by Tamsin Jacobs-Wort, manager of non-accredited programmes at fraycollege. She was joined by the founder of Blackstar Media, Kingwa Kamencu from Kenya, art writer and theatre producer, Chepape Makgato, and documentary film director, Mamaponya Motsai.
Jacobs-Wort started the conversation by asking: why is it important that we have journalists who report on arts and culture?
Kamencu differentiates that there are two components to culture; material culture, which consists of the physical realm; like how people live and dress, how they decorate their homes and hair, and non-material culture, which consists of intangible elements like language, values, myths, legends, religious beliefs, and rituals. She says both components of culture influence art in different ways. Material culture, she says, often provides the tools and technologies to produce art, like musical instruments, pottery-making equipment, printing press, adding that and non-material culture is the spirit or soul behind the art.
“The artist sees something happening in the material world and given their understanding of what is right or wrong – both in their own understanding and the communities- what makes sense or does not, what inspires feelings of pain/joy/happiness/ heartbreak/horror/ hope, their art then expresses that through song, or film, or theatre.”
Kamencu opened the conversation by highlighting that arts and culture serve an important role in our countries and society and journalism is one of the solutions to enabling artists to get the support and recognition they deserve.
She pointed out that culture and heritage have a historical aspect and they play a crucial role in telling stories that become an art.
Makgato said that journalists are custodians of our arts, culture, and heritage. “Journalists must develop passion and love of the arts to establish themselves as art journalists,” he said.
Makgota also pointed out that the space is very limited for arts and culture coverage in South Africa, which makes journalists focus on the poverty of artists instead of the art itself.
Motsai said that our arts and culture should be reflected in journalism because it’s part of us, it reminds us of our uniqueness, humanity, and history.
The sustainability of artists is an issue that affects all artists across the continent and was a highlight in the space. Kamencu highlighted an incident where a famous Kenyan artist who had just become a new parent had to ask people on social media for financial assistance to raise his child.
She pointed out that artists are wired differently and they need the financial support that will allow them to create without the pressures of having other jobs.
“There is a pattern and history of ‘crashing and burning’ of artists, of artists blazing and burning bright and then descending into deep dysfunction and self-destructiveness. To begin with, we need to acknowledge this and not wish it away or pretend that it doesn’t happen.”
“Most artists have no medical care because the kind of work they do does not guarantee monthly income which makes them a risk to financial institutions for financial aid,” he points out.
He concluded that cultural workers would benefit more if they collaborated with other sectors, “for example a legal company handles the legal responsibilities of representing an artist on matters pertaining to law.”
Kamencu concluded that art journalists have to look beyond just writing, but they need to become coaches, mentors, and business managers to maintain the sustainability of art.
Motsai, who is also a journalism lecturer at fraycollege emphasised that as a journalist working in the newsroom it is important to be able to write on all beats given by the editor, including arts and culture.
The Occupational Certificate: Journalist at fraycollege is tailored to ensure that our students are able to thrive in a modern newsroom and cover all beats, from the pandemic to arts and culture. Applications for 2023 are closing soon.
To find out more, click here.