I don’t remember much of my S6 economics class, and in truth, I only watch the news in the morning if it’s the channel my dad left on the night before. For that reason, I usually find it wise to focus my blog on the ridiculously fascinating and certainly newsworthy drama that is my life.
Occasionally however, a bit of social commentary does surface. This is usually the result of a sudden burst of new followers on Twitter – or a jaw-dropping 10 likes on my Facebook status – going straight to my head. I will then go through a phase of thinking that not only are my thoughts well-informed, insightful and highly sought after – but they also simply must be shared with the rest of the world! Yes, this is a dangerous result. At this point, I will often stay up into the wee hours of the morning composing, what I have convinced myself will be, the blog post to end all blog posts on whatever topic I’m blogging about.
Friends, tonight is such a night / wee morning.
Sometime back, I discovered that the Ishyo Arts Centre is in danger of being shut down. The Centre, located in a residential neighbourhood in Kacyiru, as far as I know, is the only one of its kind in the city – if not the country. As described on its Twitter page, it is ‘a Rwandan Cultural Hub’ – a safe haven for Kigali’s emerging artists to share, grow and be discovered – whether it is through open mic nights, acting classes, creative writing workshops or comedy nights. I’ve even performed at the Centre several times this year. Okay, fine – it was once this year… at one event. That’s not the point.
The point is, why would such a great place get shut down? Yeah, that’s what I wanted to know…
At first, all I could find out amidst the social network uproar that resulted from the announcement, was that it had something to do with the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB). So I thought, ah, this must be some kind of financial issue! (Did I mention that it is a non-profit organisation?) Maybe the Centre somehow owed RSSB money and all we (the fans of Ishyo) would have to do would be to raise the funds to save it. I tried find out more information and eventually came across an article on another blog - it explained that RSSB “has decided to sell the land on which the theatre stands. Originally given until May 10, 2012 to move out, the arts centre… got a 4-month reprieve after a social media campaign and must now leave by September 30, 2012. ”.
What upsets me most about this story is not that the Centre is being shut down, but our desperate need for it to stay. I was reading people’s reasons on an online petition and I was heartbroken to see that, it was not so much an emotional attachment to the building, but more a cry of ‘where else are we supposed to go?’. How did we get to a situation where those who want to express their creativity to through poetry, dance, rap or any other form, feel that they have only one place to do so freely? It’s all very well to blame RSSB and assign them the role of ‘the Man’ and our reaction to be to ‘stick it to him’ – but then what?
The last time I was at the Ishyo Arts Centre, it was was for a Spoken Word Festival. I remember sitting in the theatre waiting while the organisers began setting up for a talk from two renowned authors from our region. As the crowd around me chattered excitedly, I let my eyes wander around the building taking in the peeling paint, dusty floors and loose boards hanging from the ceiling. I began to wonder who paid for the building to be maintained… and how did they afford it? After all, the spectacular festival I was attending, like so many other events hosted by the Centre, had no entrance fee.
So, here’s a question I’ll allow you to debate – since my own thoughts may not be as well-informed and insightful as you were hoping for: Is it the duty of the government / RSSB / The Man to ‘allow’ us to have a space for art & culture? Better yet, should it be ‘imposed’ us? As far as I am aware, the Centre was not started by the public sector, but somehow it is now in their hands to save it.
Perhaps, if I were willing to pay the same amount I would to attend football match at Amahoro Stadium, as I would to attend a poetry reading at the Ishyo Arts Centre, then the government would actually be setting up more centres, or the Centre would have bought their own land by now. Okay, the truth is, I’ve never attended a football match at any stadium anywhere – except perhaps at my secondary school – but that’s not the point. The point is, if I did attend a match, I would expect to pay. I would value the experience as worthy of my hard-earned francs.
So, I don’t think getting RSSB to leave the Centre alone will solve the problem… permanently. I think the problem is, when I was 18, I decided to study computers because I didn’t think I would make enough money as an artist.
Interestingly, that is just the sort of mindset the Ishyo Arts Centre is trying to change.
Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder of Shaking Sun Ltd, a multimedia company.