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Empowering Creativity: A Panel Discussion on the Evolution of Art and Challenges in Rwanda

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Amidst a backdrop that defied traditional norms, the launch ceremony of the "Fonds d’appui pour l’entrepreneuriat culturel" (Support Fund for Cultural Entrepreneurship) held its audience's attention. On October 20, 2023, within the compounds of Moshions, attendees gathered in a newly constructed basketball court, a space adapted for an event that blended artistry and dialogue. The atmosphere was charged with creativity, with an eclectic mix of high tables, high chairs, and lower seating spaces, where sewing machines were unexpectedly repurposed as part of the furniture, mirroring the inventive spirit at the heart of the creative industry. This distinctive environment set the stage for a panel discussion that brought together key figures in Rwanda's creative industry, each sharing insights into the essence of art, its transformative power, and the inherent challenges faced by artists in the country.

The Panelists: Voices of the Industry

The discussion was enriched by the experiences and insights of:

  • Dida Nibagwire, a producer and actor, representing L'Espace Cultural Centre, a hub for artists across various disciplines.

  • Joel Karekezi, a filmmaker involved in nurturing young talent through film residencies and mentorship programs.

  • Jean-Luc Mitana, the founder of Inzu Films Production Company.

  • Innocent Ishimwe, the managing director of Image Rwanda, a collective community of visual artists.

  • Moses Turahirwa, the founder of Moshions.

Moderated by Dominique Uwase Alonga, the Founder and CEO of "Imagine We Rwanda," the discussion delved into their current projects, the impact of art in Rwanda, and the hurdles they face.

Art: A Pillar of Rwandan Society

Dida Nibagwire opened the dialogue, emphasising art's deep roots in Rwandan society. She presented a candid picture of the current state of the arts sector, pointing out its largely informal nature. "Our industry is currently quite informal, and we are actively working on initiatives such as culture project management to train not just artists but also those who can manage artistic projects,” she remarked, indicating a shift towards a more structured approach that aligns with established professional standards. This perspective highlights the industry's growth direction: the need for dedicated project management and administrative support that understands the unique challenges and nuances of the arts.

She pointed out that many artists, especially the youth, face financial difficulties, adding, "Observing Rwanda's rebuilding process reveals art's pivotal role." The influence of art on Rwanda's journey of healing and reconstruction is profound, serving as a medium to process traumas and define identities.

Dida's emphasis on a structured approach in the creative fields aims to foster an environment where creativity can thrive freely. The objective is to streamline logistical, financial, and managerial aspects, allowing artists to focus on their art.

Dida's observations suggest a more expansive vision for Rwanda's creative industry. In this vision, art doesn't just exist; it flourishes, backed by competent experts who ensure the success and longevity of projects. It sets the stage for a time when Rwandan art can make a substantial impact on both culture and the economy. This impact is envisioned as Rwandan art becomes a recognized and influential force, attracting investments, fostering cultural exchanges, and becoming a significant contributor to the nation's GDP.

Cinema's Subtle Power: Shaping Society's Reflection

In their reflection on the state of the film industry, Jean-Luc Mitana and Joel Karekezi highlighted the challenge of insufficient local funding. Jean-Luc noted, "Our efforts are often influenced by how they are perceived by the wider community. The more workshops we conduct, the better the community understands and supports us." He emphasised that the financial challenges are also a result of a broader communal disconnect. Many within the community don't fully recognise the film industry's value beyond entertainment—it's a medium that reflects societal narratives, addresses contemporary issues, and shapes national identity.

The workshops Jean-Luc mentioned play a pivotal role. They aim to educate the public about film, promote local productions, and foster dialogue. This approach is designed to bridge the understanding gap and cultivate a sense of shared investment in the success of Rwanda's film industry.

Joel resonated with Jean-Luc's insights, further emphasising the substantial challenges the industry faces despite its immense potential. Together, their insights depict an industry with immense potential, yet facing substantial challenges. Their discussion points to a need for a holistic strategy—one that not only addresses funding but also cultural, educational, and communal support, envisioning a film industry deeply integrated into the cultural fabric and backed by a community that values its contributions.

Adaptability and Resilience in the Evolving Creative Industry

Moses Turahirwa passionately discussed fashion's transformative role in personal expression, identity, and storytelling. He highlighted the diversity within the fashion world, emphasizing its inclusivity. For Moses, fashion serves as a potent medium to communicate individual values, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds.

"Stepping out of the comfort zone is a significant challenge that many artists, especially in the creative industry, face," he noted. Moses stressed the need to break free from restrictive mindsets and emphasized adaptability and resilience in this ever-evolving field. To him, fashion, and by extension, the creative industry, represents a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, going beyond beautiful pieces to convey powerful stories and inspire change.

Gaining Perspective: The Role of Arts Education

During the panel discussion, when asked about how education could elevate the visual arts within the industry, Innocent Ishimwe highlighted the deeper value of arts education, emphasising its role not just for monetary gain but as a platform for expression. "It's not only about making a living but also about giving a platform to those who have things to express."

Building on this perspective, Innocent delved into the global perception of Rwanda. As he was carving out his niche as a photographer around 2015, he was struck by the prevailing narrative. The internet predominantly showcased images steeped in Rwanda's tragic past, especially the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Such portrayals appeared to be in stark contrast to the contemporary Rwanda, which has undergone a remarkable transformation, both socially and economically. Rwanda has made commendable strides, transitioning from its tragic past to a shining example of growth. Innocent remarked, "All I could see by then were pictures about the past, about the tragic history of Rwanda. Yes, you cannot erase our history, but the country has developed." His observation emphasises the importance for Rwandans to take ownership in narrating their story, offering a more balanced representation that both acknowledges the past and celebrates resilience and progress.

The arts, according to Innocent, are tools that provoke thought and evoke empathy, enabling viewers to see reflections of their own lives and cultures. "They are bridging this gap now by seeing the movies that Joel and others are creating. Also, through the performances and other artists performing around, they're being inspired." In other words, the creative industry, including film and other arts, can help bridge educational gaps and expand horizons.

Innocent's insights highlight the essential role of the arts in fostering self-exploration, introspection, and emotional understanding among young individuals. Through the arts, they learn to articulate thoughts, engage in discussions, and challenge viewpoints, contributing to their holistic growth.

Sustaining Rwanda's Creative Industry: A Path to Legacy

In their closing thoughts, the panelists looked forward to an era where the upcoming generation of Rwandan artists, anchored in their cultural legacy, take the forefront in creative ventures, shaping the soul of Rwanda. This panel discussion served as a testament to the importance of art in society. By emphasising its societal contributions and advocating for more significant investment in the creative sector, the discussion projected a vision of the future where art is a foundational aspect of Rwandan identity and resilience.

Wrapping up the panel discussion, Dominique questioned the participants about the kind of support they need, in just three words, apart from the obvious need for funding. She further probed into three distinct areas that could propel the creative industry forward if addressed.

Moses felt that the most pressing needs revolved around garnering the support of the people, appreciating nature, and rallying the backing of the country as a whole. Innocent saw the need for a robust platform for idea exchanges, creating more job opportunities, and cherishing unforgettable moments. Jean-Luc acknowledged the support they've received from advertisers and passionately called for more corporations to engage, emphasising their mission and dedication to nurturing upcoming creatives. Dida's view was structural; she emphasised the need for better infrastructure, a sharper focus on education, and an urgent review of cultural policies. Joel had a heartfelt invitation for the audience: to deeply experience their art, to see their work firsthand, and to set aside time for the movies they've crafted with dedication.

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