The National Arts Council of Botswana has officially launched its first round of grantmaking since its instatement as a public body. Launched by President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi in May 2023, the council has been finding its feet but not without its fair share of work.
The month of July saw the momentous culmination of the national arts and culture competitions in the form of the National Arts Festival – formerly known as the President’s Day Competition – produced and overseen by the young body.
As an instrument, the National Arts Council of Botswana (NACB) bears the role of serving as a bridge between the general public and the structures of arts and culture development in the country. Beyond producing and financing, the responsibility of strategically aligning creative sector outputs with local, regional and international standards falls on NACB’s shoulders. As President Masisi said at the launch, this administrative role stands as part of Botswana’s expectation to move toward a knowledge-based economy.
A promising prospect
While presenting a promising prospect for those interested in being direct stakeholders in cultural production, the grant continues to experience some structural impediments. For the 2023-2024 cycle, applicants have been given no more than four weeks in which to compile competitive bids to be financed. Between 24 July and 24 August, artists, individuals, trusts, societies, associations and companies operating in the arts and culture sector across the country are to present themselves as fitting potential beneficiaries of the national grant. The vast range of eligible endeavours includes festivals, talent management, production/recording, infrastructure maintenance, research, awards, human capital development, exhibitions, and capacity building among others.
Within the assemblage of programmes administered by the Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sports and Culture, the work of NACB stands as the cultural equivalent of the economically-oriented Youth Development Fund – which is destined to fall under the charge of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship once procedural readiness exercises have been completed. With National Arts Festival award recipients already earning prize money of up to P 30,000 per category, it cannot go without stating that in order for the arts and culture sector to not be seen as a fast profit scheme, apt governance is imperative.
The burgeoning national space forms part of a global market valued at USD 67.8 billion in 2022 – representing a volume of 37.8 million art transactions worldwide, according to Statista. Direct investment in arts and culture, through grants such as this, stands in alignment with ensuring people’s access to their rights to the cultural life of the community as enshrined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Half a million people
Similarly, the industry provides people opportunities to contribute to national development. According to UNESCO, the African cultural products industry employs “half a million people and generates $4.2 billion in income”. Thus, it is incumbent on the system administrators to ensure that their end-users are not only provided financial backing, but also safeguarded against non-sustainable practices to benefit the overall mission of the institution. While the present cycle only acknowledges applications submitted physically, a point of urgency must be the digitisation of the process such that barriers to access are lowered for would-be applicants.
As the migration to non-extractive value production continues, the landscape of cultural practice, production and benefit must also showcase significant change. With the existence of the National Arts Council of Botswana must also come the material and intangible wealth development to inspire generations to come.