Hurdled under the shade of a tree at the August 7 Memorial Park in Nairobi, a group of artists attending a meeting called by Naftali Momanyi, Chairperson of the Kenya National Visual Artists Association in Nairobi on May 19, 2019, could not agree more with his opening statement: “With millions engaged in stable self-reliant jobs in the visual arts, the sector managed well, can become one of the major economic contributors to the country’s GDP.”
Economy and art are closely linked. In the previous article in this series, the authorship deliberated on the fleeting existence of local art galleries in Kenya, some of which have since closed down permanently. Factors responsible for this occurrence were pegged on lack of funding and an unsustainable local art market.
In this article we direct thought to the relationship between easing accessibility to the arts and the potential positive impact on economic returns as well as shaping of national and individual identities.
Arts tourism and global economy
Arts build tourism which is a key driver of the global economy. Because tourism is all about seeking new and authentic cultural experiences, of which art is core, a well archived creative history can evolve road maps to empower national prosperity for posterity.
What Kenya lacks is a central place where wider publics can access this history and heritage, such as a national art gallery. National art galleries across the world are recognised as top tourist hubs and revenue generators especially in major cities.
Hence, being tied to a major global earner such as tourism, the importance of arts is not difficult to justify; arts have a social impact, in bringing people together and improving social cohesion.
Arts have for a long time been used as a form of therapy and thus could be said to improve health care.
Arts drive sustainable development by creating inclusive job opportunities. Arts are beneficial to local merchants as they are behind the growth of significant enterprises such as the jua kali craft market popularly known as the Maasai Market.
Regionally, arts are an export industry and dominate the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). Last but not least, art is the root of all creativity and innovation.
No wonder the current wealth creation foundation in the remodelled Competence Based School Curriculum is laying its weight on the arts and its application through innovative thinking and problem solving.
The need to harness Kenyan art and ease public access through establishments such as a national art gallery serves to awaken the sleeping economic giant there is in the creative visual arts industry in Kenya within a global setting.