Arts Festivals Shrug Off Challenges of Pandemic

Arts practitioners have, like other sectors, been resilient in finding alternative means to share their products during the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the Government introduced lockdown measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus including banning public gatherings which were major sources of income for performers, many in the sector joined the digital “migration.”

The adaptation to the new normal has been amazing.

Some organisers obviously had to adjust the events that usually take a few days, to weeks.

Zimbabwe’s urban culture festival — Shoko Festival kicked off on Monday filling up the whole week with different activities being held online, coordinated from different venues.

The festival usually takes place over two to three days.

This year’s edition, will run under the theme “The Phoenix Edition” will feature performances from popular urban acts including South African-based Zimbabwean Shasha, Jah Master, Poptain, Ray Vines, Natasha Muz, Anita Jaxson and Pro Beatz among others.

Shoko Festival director Samm Monro, who is also known as Cde Fatso, said it has been difficult planning the festival in the wake of coronavirus.

“It has really been tough and demanding planning a festival in the wake of Covid-19. It challenged us to be more creative.

“I think you know that Zimbabwean artistes have been some of the most affected by the lockdown because they rely on live gigs to earn a living.

“We really wanted to make Shoko happen this year to make sure that we can support and give a stage to all those dope spoken word artistes, the young dancehall artistes, the young rappers who have a message and need a platform to share, this is their platform,” he said.

Mitambo Festival which commenced last week enters its second of three weeks of events that includes workshops, discussions and performances.

This is opposed to the week-long inaugural event that took place last year which means organisers have to employ workers for three times more than usual, which also means more resources are needed.

It has been a logistical nightmare organising these events.

Hosts have at some point had to offer data allowances to their audience, instead of the usual case where the audiences pay to attend.

This has been all to make sure the audience get the much needed entertainment relief and the artiste the much needed income.

Thanks to various corporate and non-governmental organisations, most of the events have been financed.

Participation however, remains low. Even with data allowances available, internet connection remains poor, making participating in a video conferences or watching streamed performances hard, especially for those away from city centres.

Some event organisers have also not been able to provide all willing participants with data, but only their key partners.

As data costs continue rising, almost on a weekly basis, the festivals remain too expensive for many willing participants.

Mitambo Festival director Lloyd Nyikadzino said some of their audiences may not be online to engage during this year’s festival.

“With the impact we had last year, we were expecting more from this year, but coronavirus happened and we are worried that some of our audiences are not online,” he said.

“They are out there where the Mitambo pop ups events would have reached them”.

It has remained a challenge to generate an income from digital events, with the audience enjoying the shows for free, the only reprieve coming from promoters and corporate partnerships.

Future digital events need to come up with ways to earn for their survival; waiting on donor funding is not a realistic way to ensure the purest expression of art.

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