Cultural operators tipped on financial sustainability

What comes to mind whenever a big music or arts festival comes to Kigali? Well, to festival-goers, it is the sheer prospect of a day, or weekend of good, clean fun provided either free or at a small fee.
A cross-section of cultural practitioners during the workshop. (Moses Opobo)
A cross-section of cultural practitioners during the workshop. (Moses Opobo)

What comes to mind whenever a big music or arts festival comes to Kigali? Well, to festival-goers, it is the sheer prospect of a day, or weekend of good, clean fun provided either free or at a small fee.

That is always the case whenever festivals like the KigaliUp, FESPAD, Rwanda Film Festival, and the Ubumuntu Arts Festival have descended upon Kigali. 

From the organisers’ point of view, however, it’s a different ball game all together:

A lot of work has to go on behind-the-scenes for such events to be staged successfully. Most importantly, money has got to be spent on expenses like paying for air tickets for artists and technical crews flying in from abroad, accommodation, and meals.

One also has to cater for all the other support roles the festival will need –technical and make-up crews, costume and set designers, name it. 

So the question is not if one needs money for all this. Rather, it’s where one can actually get this money. 

Participants follow the PowerPoint presentation while others look their notes. (Moses Opobo)

It is against this background that local cultural practitioners converged at the Umubano Hotel between August 25-26 for a workshop that sought to avail them with information on opportunities offered by donors, both national and international in Rwanda for promoting culture. 

Organised by the cultural instrument of the Belgian cooperation–Africalia, the workshop drew many artists from various cultural disciplines like dance, theater, cinema, and music. 

Founded in 2000, Africalia is an association commissioned by the Belgian Development Cooperation that implements cultural programs in eight African countries, including Rwanda. 

Christian Link, the Managing Director of ICE (International Consulting Expertise) and Frédéric Jacquemin, the Director for Africalia Rwanda facilitated the workshop. 

Jacquemin briefed participants about the coopération agreements signed between Africalia, Ishyo Arts Center and the Rwanda Arts Initiative, as part of its culture cooperation programme in Rwanda.

The workshop drew cultural practitioners and entrepreneurs from various fields. (Moses Opobo)

“In the agreements, a strong focus is put on the economic sustainability of the cultural and creative sector. In this spirit, this workshop has the double objective to present and enhance the guidelines for economic sustainability and resource diversification of cultural operators, and to strengthen participants’ understanding of current and future features of funding schemes and reinforce their capacities in accessing them.”

On the first day, the facilitators took participants through a manual with all the major donors –international, bilateral and national organisations that support culture as a main activity at the socio-economic level. Some of the key organisations recommended were;

UNESCO, the British Council, European Commission, Goethe Intitut, SIDA, AECID, DFID, DANIDA, as well many foundations, including the Commonwealth Foundation, and the Prince Claus Foundation. 

On the second day, the facilitators gave advice to participants on how to be successful when participating in a call for proposals, and how to properly manage a grant when one gets it -offering tips and tricks for sound technical and financial management. 

“We were really analyzing everything about the participation to those big calls for proposals, and I think they have the level for going for those grants. They are clever, and they have good ideas,” explained Christian Link, one of the facilitators:

“We tried to open the eyes of the participants to all those opportunities and to tell them there’s a way to get money for your project, as long as you have a very good idea. It’s not that complicated. You just have to stick to the rules and procedures. There is willingness needed for that. They have also to contact people, contact organisations, in order to learn about this process,” he added.

Some of the participants already had experience getting grants from different donors, but most of these have been the smaller grants, not big ones. 

“When it comes to large grants, there is all those project management aspects that are important, and for them it’s a little bit scary –first to partner with an organisation: what will happen if those partners do not do their job properly?” 

A participant from the Rwanda Arts Initiative raises a point during one of the sessions. (Moses Opobo)

Generally, participants were worried about project management skills when applying for funding because the procedures are quite complex, a problem that Link easily acknowledged: 

“Of course if you’re an artist you’re not necessarily a project manager,” he explains and hastens to add:

“For sure it’s not easy for an artiste to deal with figures and counting and project management and procedures and so on and so forth. 

But time changes, and I think that now most of the artists have also to be managers and manage the financial aspects of their creations and be in contact with the right people and so on.”

In such a situation, Link proposes two options:

“Either they can partner with another organisation or the people taking care of that management component, or they can try to do it themselves because at the end of the day in every discipline, there are the exciting tasks, and the boring ones. It’s the same for any profession-you need to deal with those financial aspects and procedures.”

Participants also shared case studies of successful applicants’ stories, information on tax regimes applicable to grant contracts, how to successfully secure grant funding, and the different steps to be followed before the decision to apply or not. 

The facilitators further shared the criteria upon which grant offers are dependent, and why most grant applications fail. 

Participants came from such cultural institutions as the Ishyo Arts Center, the Rwanda Professional Dreamers, KigaliUp Music Festival, Moriah Entertainment, Rwanda Arts Initiative, the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, as well individual cultural practitioners. 

For Mashirika Performing Arts, which is already in the paces of putting together the second edition of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival that debuted this year, the workshop came in handy:

“We’re looking to get some funds to support the festival, which includes paying for air tickets for artists coming from outside Rwanda, local transport, accommodation, meals, and also to support other activities at the festival –getting a really big professional staff so it can be a success,” explained Mashirika’s Secretary Maija Rivenburg, who attended the workshop. 

Interestingly, Mashirika had never applied for a grant before. 

“We do a lot of project-based initiatives, so when a tender is released, and we think we can do the activity that is requested, then we put together our proposal and submit, and we’ve really been fortunate enough to win a lot of these bids. Then also we work on a partnership basis. One of our biggest partners is AEGIS Trust. They were our partner for Ubumuntu this year.”

While this year’s festival lasted two days, Mashirika intends to stage a four-day event next year. That, too, will be partly dependent upon the size of their budget. 

“I think that the training today and yesterday helped me see what really needs to be done to make a really good proposal that’s strong and unique, to be very concise and clear, because the people who are funding these projects are not necessarily drawn from an arts background, so making it clear to people who may not know anything about the performing arts,” Maija concluded. 

For Dida Nibagwire, a performer and actress from Ishyo Arts Center, the workshop was an opportunity to shoot two birds with one stone:

“Africalia (the facilitators of the workshop) will be partnering with two institutions here in Rwanda to start their work – Ishyo Arts Center, and the Rwanda Arts Initiative. It had been almost eight years and they hadn’t done any work here and they’re starting again.” 

“So I’m here to both learn, but also build on that partnership. So it’s kind of getting to know what we’ll be doing in the coming years, but also learning as an artist and as a project manager how to raise funds or write successful grant proposals, as that’s one of the things I do at Ishyo. We work by grants, so we always need to be writing grant proposals and submitting them.”


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