Thursday, January 17, 2013

Talking About Arts and Culture


Langston Visits the National Museum and Arts Gallery 2012
It is clear the conversations we have about the arts and culture in Papua New Guinea is more than about the administration and policy directions of the government in developing the arts and culture. It is more than about the issues of lack of government support, lack of access to resources, and the struggles of writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, and artifact makers.

The important element in our discussions is about the people who are active as artists, musicians, playwrights, writers, painters, sculpture makers, and the traditional craftsmen. These people are the makers of the arts that depict or represent their cultures. It is easy for people to speak about what to do to develop the arts and culture, but it is difficult to live the life of an artist, struggling to make ends meet to make a sensible living.

The discussions in the national symposium on arts and culture in development focused on the theme: Harnessing the arts for national development. It was held between 7th and 9th November, 2012.  Three groups of participants were brought together. The administrators, policy makers, and the practitioners and academics formed the composition of their respective groups. For the academicians the exercise is a necessary exercise to promote a certain kind of understanding of the arts and frameworks of cultural development. For the administrators and policy makers the symposium serves as an important process for knowledge production that forms the basis of future decisions and actions they take toward improving the national development of the arts and culture.

Practitioners are not interested in talking too much. They want results from the administrators and policy makers. The practitioners want to know if there are government help that can help them to develop their arts and craft further. Practitioners are the people who have no support of their own, but struggle through life without any recognition. These are the people who live their lives in a simple way without worrying about the politics of the way things are. They just want to move on and use their arts to give pleasure, raise awareness, entertain, and allow art to bridge the gap between peoples, generations, and places.

The National Cultural Commission took the initiative to organize the symposium. Support also came from the National Museum and Arts Gallery, where the symposium took place. The Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture, UNESCO, Tourism Promotion Authority, Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, Melanesian Institute of Arts and Communication, and UPNG Open College also supported the staging of the symposium.

Dr. Jacob Simet, the Executive Director of the National Cultural Commission, expressed his satisfaction with the success of the symposium. He acknowledged that some of the issues were old concerns, which needed new treatment, and others were new conversations that were discussed rather quickly, and still others may need further discussions in the future. In his conclusion of the symposium on the final day, Dr. Simet stressed that the National Cultural Commission would like to make everyone happy, but this is not possible as a result of the legislative limitations and the insufficient resources allocated to it every year by the government.

In many case the same story of poor government support and lack of funding opportunities seem to prevent anyone moving forward in the arts. There are other issues that are linked to various statutory acts and regulations. Some of the acts need review or amendments to incorporate the changing social, political, and economic environment to address the needs of arts and culture sector in the country.

From the sharper discussion of the arts and culture paper by Jackie Kauli we get a sense of the more specific nuances of the culture and creative industries. And the informative discussions of specific activities undertaken by the National Cultural Commission: the canoe and yam festival in the Milne Bay Province, the Mask and Tubuan festival in Rabaul, and the Mambu and Garamut Festival in the East Sepik Province. These activities and other exhibitions have been the main ones staged annually. Reports from the organizers of these festivals show the successes and challenges of the host provinces.

The biggest impediments that most artists and cultural specialist feel is that resources, government support, and decentralization of roles and functions of the National Cultural Commission. Each province must have its own cultural centers and museums as a way forward. Existing provincial cultural centres and museums are catered for under a different legislation and must be reviewed together with the NCC legislation.

The institutions and organizations responsible for the arts and culture must work together. Differences among them only enlarge the gap that already exists, making it difficult for them to respond to the artists and cultural specialists and the needs of the grassroots.  The call for the each of the organizations and institutions to work together is critical at this time and age. The main reason is that everyone must work together to benefit from the mineral and resource boom by developing strategies and long-term goals that link the arts and culture more clearly than it is now. Stated another way, the question to answer is how can these institutions work together to help make money for the common these artists, the grassroots, and majority of Papua New Guineans still living and practicing their cultures in the rural villages.

I think the highlight for me was the last panel of writers, artists, filmmakers, and textile designers. The panel was very inspiring and dynamic in that our famous Russell Soaba, Martin Morurubuna, Nora Vagi Brash, and Albert Toro spoke as living legends without recognition. They acknowledged the pioneer artists who paved the way, but who died without proper recognition. It was suggested that the National Museum and Arts Gallery should inscribe on the walls of the museum the names and biodata of all great PNG artists in the country. The simple reason is that the artists as individuals or groups were ambassadors who represented Papua New Guinea through their art, music, theatre, writings, and films.

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