By Imou Eparis
For some people, the name artist is associated with struggling or starving. The face of an artist is that of a person that is trying to break into a world that for some can only dream of. The pandemic hasn’t been friendly to the once hopeful artist, turning their dreams of making a living through art, a living nightmare.
When the first lockdown was put in place, most artists lost their livelihoods almost overnight and were forced to re-strategize, rethink and even learn additional skills to make it through the lockdown. A year later the artist is faced with yet another lockdown to overcome but perhaps this time they were more prepared?
On the 29th of April, the American Corner Moi, Nairobi, had their first online meeting where they had an open discussion with local Kenyan artists about how the second lockdown is affecting them. Of course, there was the bad, no shows for the musicians, poets and stage actors and close to nothing to film and shoot for the videographer and photographer, sales and orders from the visual artist have gone down and little to no income for most of them. But there was also some good. “It is a good time to grow. My art has grown even though I haven’t had a show in close to a year. People have lost money for sure but it has given us time to think.” William Ogutu, a poet and actor from Mombasa commented. Norris, a student from Multi-Media University added, “I try to create content, however I can, for marketing and raising awareness for instance. If we fold our arms and wait for the lockdown to be lifted, we will be unprepared. Opportunity comes to the prepared mind so we have to be prepared. We always need to learn, in a pandemic or not. “
The Covid-19 pandemic kind of feels like a new age, like an era of change and uncertainty. A feeling that’s familiar in our world history, with every new age, everything and everyone had to adjust. I feel like I am living in a transitional era, kind of like the industrial revolution. Where people were building and rethinking the way they did life, new inventions, new challenges, it’s amazing because we are living in present history!
The artist is no exception, the pandemic has made the artist change how they do things. “Lockdown didn’t give us a break, but an alternative. It has allowed us to broaden how we do things. Things are changing, now you can have a wider market outside Kenya, thanks to the pandemic shifting our events and platforms from in-person to online. Do your work and put yourself out there.” Mary, a member of the American Corner added.
As much as I agree with this, I find myself disagreeing with what she said too, sure the pandemic has given us a wider audience but not to all artists. Take YouTube, for instance, Youtube depends on what kind of artist you are and your following. Streaming platforms won’t serve you if you are a visual artist. You would need a site or auction forum to set up shop and hope someone will buy your painting or sculpture or whatever other kind of visual art you do. Theatre can move to the screen but that would mean extra costs for production, locations, and more. Costs they may not be able to cater for at the moment. For the performing artist, it is very difficult to monetize an online concert. It is very difficult to monetize an experience, especially if the event is online. It is very difficult to monetize. I do agree, the online platform has brought with it many opportunities but there is still so much that needs to be done in person.
The artist is currently living in a grey zone. A zone of opportunity as well as challenges that we hope will be overcome.