Creative Industry Weighs in on National Arts Council Bill

Says the new era of an arts council is a welcome development


In a move hailed as commendable, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development (MYSC) recently distributed the National Arts Council Bill in draft form to the creative sector and its stakeholders and invited commentary from them.

In a previous interview with this publication, the Permanent Secretary at MYSC, Kago Ramokate said the bill proposes to set up a council with an 11-member board that would receive a subvention from the government and raise funds from other sources.

Creatives moved swiftly to weigh in on the development that is set to put the arts and culture sector on a new level.
“We have been lamenting lack of an umbrella body for the arts. This is the time for us to formalise our industry spearheaded and led by the National Arts Council,” said photographer, pianist and all round creative, Batho Motlhake, in an interview.

“This will see better coordination of ideas, plans and policies, leading to better cohesion in the industry as a whole. Our various sectors will no longer work in silos. The council will oversee and regulate all these sectors.”

Motlhake added that a group of people from the creative sector had recently discussed the draft bill in a zoom meeting. The group was made up of Gao Lemmenyane, Seabelo Modibe, Tonderai Tsara, Benjamin Raletsatsi, Bathusi Losolobe, Thabiso Mashaba, Pascal Proctor, Akhutlheleng Mogami, and Motlhake who all concluded that the bill was a welcome development.

They recommended that the arts council should be registered as a private company with 100% shareholding by the government as opposed to being a parastatal. In the meantime they will seek legal advice on this recommendation. They also recommended that affiliation should be from bodies such as the Botswana Music Council and Business Botswana and not from individuals and companies. These can be aided to setup using the arts fund and promote good governance. Two representatives of each industry organisation should attend the Annual General Meeting.

Regarding appointment of the chairperson of the board, Motlhake says it is not mentioned in the draft bill. Nevertheless, they recommended that the appointment be made by the minister from the creative industry and that only two people from the government should be appointed to sit on the board. Industry bodies that are affiliated to the arts council should elect the rest.

It was also concluded in the zoom meeting that the objectives and functions of the arts council are to establish and operate a National Arts Fund, as well as to register and regulate creative industry bodies, establish and operate a National Arts Welfare Fund to support artists during emergencies like COVID-19. The arts council should also establish and operate an artist’s mobility fund, uphold and protect artist’s rights, promote indigenous languages, and develop national monuments and heritage sites.

Motlhake said: “We would also like organisations like BOMU, Thapong and BEPA to send their position papers instead of having individuals each come forward with their suggestions. We are trying to do some desktop benchmarking on how arts councils in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa and the world are doing things.”

Artist Tshepiso Kast Molapise is among the creatives who have been advocating for the formation of the Botswana National Arts Council when he embarked on a 2000 km ‘round the country’ journey in 2018. Like his fellow artists, he was excited that the moment had finally arrived for the industry to be coordinated in a way that should see growth. “It’s an exciting time, especially for me and my team because for a long time we felt like we are putting so much effort to try and sensitise people about the importance of an arts council and this is a testament that it was all not in vain,” he said in an interview.

Sharing his two penny’s worth on the draft bill, actor and award-winning playwright, Donald Molosi, told this publication that he would like to see more input from Botswana creative consultants who are already doing the work. He was thrilled that there would finally be a body by a statutory body to assist in professionalising the arts in Botswana.

“The council will help communicate the professional nature of what artists do for their corporate partners. The corporate world tends to be very rigid and only recognises that which looks like itself. If I were to pick board members, I would pick those people who have been doing the work so that they can bring their experience to this new structure because we will need that expertise.”

For his part, veteran disc jockey, Sidney “DJ Sid” Baitsile, said the National Arts Council is a new era for the creative industry that is way overdue. “I just hope it is given the necessary teeth to transform the industry selfishly to empower Batswana. People elected to the board are going to be key to this and hopefully they will all be chosen after intense scrutiny based solely on experience, training, expertise and ability to execute the council’s mandate firmly, fairly without fear or favour,” he said.