Dec 29 , 2018
By Hanna Haile
A circus show rolled into Hawassa earlier last month. They set up their vans, pitched their tent and began their activities. There was a promise in the air of a month full of entertainment, with only one thing missing, an audience.
This month-long event ran with an air of festivity that is rare for the city, yet there was a clear lack of interest by the populace. It is not that much different in Addis Abeba a year ago, where people complain that there is nothing to do, while multiple cultural and creative events are held bereft of audiences.
The culprits for low turnouts range from spending time watching TV to the internet. Just as guilty are the bars sprouting in every nook and cranny. A beer culture that has dominated our country has taken charge of our society. Other modes of entertainment fight for attention and, if lucky, get the scraps.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a few drinks with friends, but when it becomes an institutionalised dominance of our nation’s cultural development, there needs to be some sort of intervention.
This is all the sadder given that in the last two years or so creative and cultural events in Addis Abeba were just beginning to get traction.
Interestingly enough, these same events have found investors and sponsors in the very beer companies whose brands are attracting people to the pubs of the city. While the beer culture is thriving, beer companies stand in the forefront of creative events in our city.
Indeed, they are some of the few companies that are willing to entertain sponsorship ideas for all types of creative endeavors. They are willing to support, because they know that sponsoring cultural events brings positive impacts to their brands. Those with more prestige can solicit the support of NGOs to fund their initiatives, while others, however creative their event, rarely have anywhere else to turn to.
I am not convinced that the path we are on is a healthy one. There is a sense of co-dependence that is slowly creeping in. And at this time, it may seem beneficial to both, yet a time will come when the beer companies, as the only benefactors, will become bold enough to dictate the content of the events.
When proposals are presented, depending on how successful the events have become, beer companies will offer to buy the event if one is willing to insert the names of their brand into the event title. Again, this is neither good or bad. Yet if we do not have alternatives, it puts artists in a position where they have no choice but to compromise.
Our creative and cultural events are already in a very fragile state. We lack spaces that are solely dedicated to showcasing these events and the costs associated with organising one are too high. It is thus no wonder that these events have become too closely associated with foreign cultural institutions or beer companies.
Those who claim that Western influence has diluted Ethiopia’s culture should be well informed that this is a consequence of Ethiopians inability to support the growth and preservation of indigenous culture.
There is a clear void when it comes to the arts, and there needs to be more to counter it. In a few years, unless we can cultivate the development of our own culture, others will appropriate it, and we will be left wondering what we could have done when we had the chance.
PUBLISHED ON Dec 29,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 974]
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