Festivals boost local arts


HARARE – Festivals have always been part of human culture since time immemorial because they bring communities together to celebrate harvests, marriages, traditional rites, and many other commemorative community events.

They are there to educate, inform, celebrate and indeed unite people.

Zimbabwe has of late seen an exponential rise in the number of festivals that are held annually.

Of course, the more the merrier but are the majority of these events fit to be called festivals?

Generally, a festival is an event ordinarily staged by a local community which centres on and celebrates some unique aspects of that community which should meet certain characteristics.

An ideal festival must have a time frame which could be one or more days long depending on the activities that will be showcased. It can also be a one-off event or be held on a regular basis.

The number of days that a festival runs usually is not the measurement of its success because some festival organisers have a tendency of believing that the more the days they run their festivals, the better it will be.

A one-day festival can leave a lasting impression if it is well-organised than a five-day one. Ultimately it all boils down to the capacity of the organisers.

There are three types of festivals in Zimbabwe namely; community festivals, institutional open festivals and commercial festivals.

Community festivals are held by different communities to celebrate events or perform traditional practices among a given group of people.

These festivals are restricted, free and closed to certain people in and outside the community.

The institutional open festivals, on the other hand, refer to those created through an institution to bring together communities for the purpose of showcasing their arts.

Good examples are most of the provincial festivals scattered around Zimbabwe like Dzimbabwe, Intwasa, Shangano, KuMakomoyo, Rainbow to mention just but a few.

The last type is the commercial one attended by only those who can pay an entry fee. A good example is the Harare Festival of the Arts (Hifa).

The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe Festival Guidelines focus on the Institutional and the Commercial festivals.
Festival could be on one specific arts discipline — for example, it can be a theatre, dance, music or a film festival.

They can also be multi-disciplinary depending on objectives and the resources available.

Successful festivals are those that have their activities executed in line with objectives.

Some festivals have been spoiled by inconsistency in the distribution of activities. Some kick-off well, having been well-marketed but later degenerate into chaos because of failure by the organisers to hold activities on time. Some even fail to hold events they would have promised.

Failure to run a festival well ultimately impacts on the number of people who attends and in some cases such festivals eventually get cancelled.

Festivals are held at different levels depending on preferences of communities.

It could be at community level, district, provincial, national, regional and international. Regardless of the different levels, the festivals must involve communities for them to be regarded as such.

According to the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe Festival Guidelines, a festival should have at least 50 percent of the participants coming from the community in which the festival is held.

This is so because the celebratory mood of a festival is cultivated by mass participation and togetherness. Thus, being together brings a crucial element of celebration, sharing and interaction.

To add flair to festivals, some brand it by having a specific theme. Events are then organised in line with the theme. Usually by merely reading the theme of a festival, one should have an idea of the direction it will take.

Ordinarily festivals should not be competitive in nature as there should be mutual feeling of celebration.

However, festivals involving children have elements of competition as an incentive. Like the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (Nacz)’s annual Jikinya Dance Festival that showcases various traditional dances by primary school pupils from around the country.

The event aims to encourage children to appreciate and perform Zimbabwean traditional dances thus promoting and preserving Zimbabwe’s rich cultural heritage.

Festivals should be organised by organisations registered with Nacz. It is important that all regular arts festivals develop self-sustaining plans if they are to grow and achieve intended objectives.

Nacz always encourages organisations that hold regular festivals to be well-constituted with properly constituted boards of directors composed of reputable individuals.

This fosters transparency and accountability to the paying or participating public and investors of the festival.

The same guidelines also make it mandatory to lodge a programme of events with Nacz three months before the event.

Apart from that, festival objectives must be clear and not contrary to the aspirations of the communities they are held.

Since festivals are vehicles for the development of the arts and culture, they should strive to create synergies with already existing festivals.

Upon the completion of the festival, a full narrative and financial report should be submitted to Nacz for accountability and transparency purposes.

Elvas Mari is the Director of National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and views and comments can be emailed on elvasmari50@gmail.com or emari@natartszim.org

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