‘Artpreneurs’ on why art as a business is still unfledged

Imanishimwe busy painting. Courtesy photos.

Jean D’amour Imanishimwe is the founder of Huza Arts Rwanda, a local company based in Gikondo.

 His firm deals in painting, mixed media painting on canvas, wall painting, advertising with art, illustration, graffiti painting, and digital branding.

At the age of 12, he began developing his skills. He could literally draw and paint anything he came across or put his mind to. Art was a friend and a language he understood better, at that time. Art was a way to express his feelings.

The 24-year-old viewed art as fun and an activity that gave him joy yet at the same time occupied him.  He later improved his talent with more skills at Ecole d’Arts de Nyundo.

Having completed High School in 2014, he pondered using the skills he had gained to start a business. It started slowly, but he didn’t earn much from it.

In 2017, he had saved about Rwf 250,000 and reached out to a friend about the plan of starting his firm. The colleague was fascinated by the idea and contributed Rwf 250,000. They started the company together from scratch, with time, they employed more three full-time employees and part-time who work when there are many clients.

An art piece made by Jean D’amour Imanishimwe.

“I have witnessed the perks and cons of the art business. It is not an occupation you run into and expect profits right away. I have worked tooth and nail at times not selling any art piece for a week but there is no day I felt like giving up,” he stressed.

 The entrepreneur was on the view that art is not a business for the faint-hearted, anyone can still earn from it, provided they are committed, patient and work to their best.

He noted, being creative and unique should be key for any artist as no one yearns to buy any art piece that is obvious or lacks creativity. 

The cons of the art business

Contemporary art is one of the ways that Rwanda has portrayed its culture to the rest of the world. Art is an industry that has attracted a number of tourists, however, regardless of all that, artists are still struggling to make a living through their talents.

According to Imanishimwe, very few Rwandans have mastered the value of art, some people even wonder why they would spend on a piece of art yet that money can be used for something else.

When you make a product and it not consumed by the public, then the business is likely to collapse, he said.

Imanishimwe noted that as a nation, much rotates around art.

Imanishimwe busy painting.Courtesy photos.

 “Our daily lives, thoughts, actions are all art, which is why it needs to be portrayed. Unfortunately, there is still much effort needed to convince fellow Rwandans that we need art to reunite, be happy, and reminisce about the good moments. “We are a work of art ourselves,” he said.

To him, it is very challenging to win customers’ trust especially in the beginning, due to either comparison to other artists or just doubt about doing a great job.

He further noted, some clients take long to pay while others are unsure about making a deposit for an art piece they ordered for, wondering whether it will turn out perfectly.

Art could also be exhausting, as it takes time and energy to decide what to draw (or paint, or sculpt), what size to work in, what medium to use, how many pieces to make. This takes a while, he added.

Imanishimwe stated, regardless of the time, creativity, artists’ ingrain, the money they are paid is often below value.

The entrepreneur also said, there are too many unrealistic expectations in this business as people think it is just a matter of painting and get cash, which isn’t the case. 

What other artists say

Gislain Mugisha is one of the few pen artists Rwanda has, and to him, the art business hasn’t developed yet because some of  the materials like high-quality papers and pencils used to make portraits are expensive as they are imported from USA.

He also noted that there are no art museums in Rwanda to expose the different kind of art done by Rwandans. This has kept this profession a bit under the cave.

“We lack international connections to showcase our art pieces, hence remaining on the local scene and not breaking the boundaries beyond Rwanda,” he said. 

Benjamin Rusagara of Cyenge arts is an artist who earns from his talent. He pointed out that for art to make sense and people to see the value of it, interpretation is very important.

He stressed that it is rare for people to buy an art piece that they can’t interpret, which is why it is necessary to use wordings so that the public gets to know what the picture is all about. But all in all, it all starts with love for art because you can’t buy what you don’t love.

Epa Binamungu is a visual artist who indicated that being a visual artist is a deliberate choice but not an accident or a providential possibility but rather, a skill and a development of a talent.

He emphasized that artists have their particular challenges from other professions.

 For example, some lack knowledge on how to make themselves known, selling their products and improving their knowledge with regard to intellectual property and adapting their creation to the evolution of time. 

“To be able to live and gain from their art, it takes a special look to make art a business through providing the artist with a space for expression and material working facilities and most importantly, advocacy,” he said.


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