Art

First of its kind arts academy in Kenya

NimoMathenge

Nimo Mathenge, founder of ZannArts Academy. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • Nimo Mathenge left Kenya more than two decades ago with big dreams and high hopes, many of which she managed to fulfill over those next 20 years.
  • And in the last two years since she’s been back, Nimo has confirmed she’s no less ambitious about her latest set of dreams becoming realities here at home.
  • That includes starting a school specifically dedicated to training Kenyan youth in the arts.

Nimo Mathenge left Kenya more than two decades ago with big dreams and high hopes, many of which she managed to fulfill over those next 20 years.

And in the last two years since she’s been back, Nimo has confirmed she’s no less ambitious about her latest set of dreams becoming realities here at home. That includes starting a school specifically dedicated to training Kenyan youth in the arts.

“I’ve always been interested in education and the arts,” says the Moi Girls Nairobi graduate and Daystar University alumni who now runs ZannArt academy of the arts.

And even when she took off for the filmmakers’ mecca, Hollywood, where she ended up co-producing documentaries, film shorts, and full-length features for everyone from Disney studios to Oprah’s station OWN, Nimo still stayed grounded in education. “I’d find time to teach kids from low-income areas of LA about creativity,” she tells the Weekender.

Even when she got a job teaching film at the acclaimed Orange Country School of the Arts, Nimo still taught slum children whenever she could.

“It’s so important that children learn to appreciate the arts,” says Nimo who felt she had a ‘divine calling’ to start the school, even though she knew it’d be an uphill battle among most Kenyan parents who still believe their children’s best interests are served if they study business and accounts or law or medicine; rather than dance, voice or acting or the visual arts.

Yet parental biases haven’t deterred Nimo. Instead, she takes the Orange County School as a worthy case in point for figuring out Arts Education could work in Kenya. She also went and got a master’s degree in teaching at Harvard as further evidence she is ready to sustain the school.

“Parents need not think ZannArts neglects the academic aspects of children’s education,” she adds, noting that all the school’s morning classes are devoted to either math, science, language, history, geography, or CRE.

“Then our afternoons are dedicated to arts subjects,” says Nimo who works closely with both home schooling experts and leaders at the Steiner School where creativity is a critical component of the school’s curriculum.

In any case, ZannArts’ first semester of classes which ran from January to June 2021 went well, she says.

But what was also exciting is that Nimo ran a series of shorter summer classes, several of which were led by the group, Broadway Dreams from New York.

Founded by Annette Tanner, who’s got similar interests to Nimo’s in education and the arts, Tanner brought two tremendously talented Broadway stars to teach young Kenyans. Quinten Earl Darrington and Noah Ricketts only taught at ZannArts for two weeks.

But that was enough to make their performances late last month at Movenpick Hotel a monumental success.

Together, Noah and ‘Q’ worked closely mainly with youth groups coming from Kibera. ‘They worked with S’Cools Sounds, a young people’s band run by Jacob Saya, the dance company, Cheza Cheza, and several youth groups that work closely with another American group, Crossing Thresholds.

At the centre of the whole program is ZannArts and Nimo Mathenge who also got serious backup sounds from Levy Wataka and his National Youth Orchestra.

Yet it wasn’t Nimo who had the highest praise for the young talents who performed recently at Movenpick Hotel. It was Annette Tanner who, during the closing of ZannArts finale showcase who gave the most credible justification for why every parent with an artistically inclined child ought to attend ZannArts Academy of the Arts.

“We travel all over the world and meet young people committed to the arts. But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen children with so much enthusiasm, energy, talent, and willingness to try out new things,” she said.

In fact, there was little doubt that Kenyan youth loved working with Noah and Q as well as their fellow Kenyan musicians, acrobats, dancers, and actors.

By program’s end the two Broadway stars had sung (and taught) everything from Michael Jackson’s Man in the Middle, and The Lion King’s Circle of Life, to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, and Delivered’ and Eric Wainaina’s ‘Diama’.

And as they sang, they looked like ‘The Pied Pipper of Hamelin’ followed by scores of school children who would clearly love to attend a school like ZannArts if that was a possibility.