On 8 and 9 March 2017, the British Council partnered with HEVA Fund - a Creative Economy transformer- to deliver a Creative Finance Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya.

Over two days we were led by the dynamic Dr Njoki Ngumi - Learning and Development lead at HEVA -  through discussions that delved into critical aspects of the burgeoning  creative scene in Kenya. What does it take to ensure relationships are built; communities are valued; and economies thrive despite these trying political and economic times?

A number of lessons were shared and below, I’m sharing with you my top three and asking you some questions in order to connect Kenya and the UK’s dynamic sectors at this exciting time:

1. Investment in the creative sector should be the responsibility of the government

The symposium’s first session: ‘How is the government spending on the creative sector?’, asserted the assumption that the government should be investing in the creative sector. 

Kenya’s creative sector contributes 5% to the national GDP, creates jobs and is a contributor to a happier and healthier lifestyle.  It is clear that the  government has a vested interest in seeing Kenya’s creative sector prosper. The reality however, seems to be another story.

Dr. Joyce Nyairo - Senior Lecturer in the Department of Literature, Theatre and Film Studies, Moi University - posed a counter argument to the need for government support. Dr Nyairo argued that those who should be investing in the arts scene are those that understand the value of the investment they are making. And truth be told, this type of investor rarely comes from the government. 

Though not a popular viewpoint, it is one that went on to be repeated by other panelists and audience members throughout the symposium. 

In comparison, it could be argued that the UK government contributes considerably to the sector. But when you also consider the consistent cuts to a sector that is growing at twice the rate of the wider UK economy, the question of ‘government value’ seems as relevant to the UK as it does to Kenya. And so the same question can be asked, if the role of the government is not to fund the sector then what are they there to do?

2. We need to better connect the creative sector 

It’s not a secret that the creative sector can act like the black sheep of a multi-sector environment. We have a lot to worry about: governments rarely acknowledge the sectors’ financial and cultural value; the private sector can be one track getting a return on their investment which creates a considerable tension between corporates and creatives; and money from international donors can be entangled in politics, agendas and bureaucracy. 

So often we talk about pertinent issues within our own clusters and end up forming a members-only clubs. We need to have conversations with those who do not occupy the same space directly, but who do impact our creative spaces.

One reason why these conversations don’t take place is simply because the chance to be in the same rooms is just not there. HEVA recognised this missing element and the symposium offered that cross-sector space. And this is where the power of the event really revealed itself and set a tone for who should be involved when we plan for the sector’s ever changing needs, and offers.

HEVA isn’t striving to be the only organisation investing in creative businesses.Much like in the UK where there are a number of key organisations including, Creative United, Arts Council , Paved with Gold, and Creative England, who work to support the UK’s creative sector, HEVA want to be one of many across East Africa.

During the online conversations that took place during the symposium, it was encouraging to see that a number of offline connections between the UK and Kenya had already been made. Growing the creative sector’s flock both locally and across waters, will lend itself well to sharing lessons and fostering sound collaborations.

3. We are the community. We are the market.

Why do we continue to have such a heavy reliance on donor funding? If we’re to stop seeking donor funding, then what can we, as a creative community do to fund each other and help ourselves? Are grants a necessity or are they a distraction? 

These were the tricky questions asked at the symposium, that are relevant to the UK sector too. The symposium was peer led, collaboratively driven with the possibility to ask panelists - and each other - difficult and honest questions. In our contemporary moment, where the traditional methods of funding are being cut or removed altogether, new methods need to be built and doing this takes a community because the art community always has and still belongs to the artist.

Many of us are working through the current world climate and all of its political, socio-economic tensions for the first time. Many of us may have never lived through times like this. We are trying to hack it and see how things work out. But whatever the working out is, it needs to be done from a place of unity. In the words of Jim Chuchu, the creatives need to ‘show up for each other no matter the artistic discipline. Because the art community is our community’.

See the questions and conversations on twitter #CreativeKE 

And follow activities across East Africa at #EastAfricaArts 

Guest blog by Mutsa Marau, Head of Project Design and Delivery at The Nzinga Effect. The Nzinga Effect are currently working with East Africa Arts to tell the stories behind our new Art new Audience (nAnA) grant winners. Find out more about the nAnA grantees here

The Nzinga Effect is a platform founded in the UK, created to celebrate African women and women of African descent with them being the tellers of their own stories. The Nzinga Effect aims to change the narrative by celebrating Africa’s hardest working assets- it’s women.