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Artists empowered through digital skills up-scaling by Vuka Afrika

Artists attending a training to scale up their digital skills

Performing arts organisations are benefitting from a digital skills up-scaling program that is being rolled out by Vuka Afrika with funding from Culture Fund (CF) and is supported by the European Union (EU).

Instigated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the program is part of the creative actions project.

The Mash West leg of this training was conducted during the annual National Culture Week.

Program coordinator Tawanda Maguze said it’s a program informed by empowering artists through digital upskilling to increase their presence and monetize their products.

“This program started last August after we identified two theatre groups each in Manicaland, Mash West, Midlands, and Mat South. We carried out a needs assessment to understand and enhance them in upskilling when it comes to online activities within the digital and online sphere. The project came about as a result of limitations induced by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The marked exodus of arts groups from the offline to online space triggered the interrogation: “We saw an exodus of artists going off the face-to-face performance and embracing online, albeit, with deficiencies. They were not prepared to start operating online safely, responsibly, and profitably.

“In short, artists are not sufficiently prepared to take on and monetize that space. They would do some work but bemoaned the fact that their works were taken upon by others and they only watch as predators made money out of it.”

A grant of US$16 000 was availed by the CF for Vuka Afrika to embark on the cardinal upskilling program.

“We started last year by identifying needs and the groups to rope in. This year we have started to facilitate the actual digital upskilling clinics with each of the two groups in each province.

“Some of the top areas in needs assessment is the dearth in an e-commerce component, cybersecurity, digital law and platforms that can beneficially benefit them as digital citizens.”

Mentorship will be an ongoing effort.

“The groups will continually benefit from remote mentorship in their areas.”

Quizzed on any challenges in working with the upskilling program with the artists, Maguze responded thus, “Challenges include different levels of digital aptitude. Sometimes it gets a bit tricky on where to pitch the training. On a positive note, participants are assisting each other as they train since we engage them as theatre organizations, not individuals. They’re really excited and share a lot among themselves.”

The issue of data to access online services came under the spotlight.

“Data connectivity is another challenge, in-house, we’re able to connect them during training. They lament expensive data besetting their operations. We mentor them on areas that can be done offline then get connected when there is a real need. We also have to engage internet service providers (ISP) for more accessible and affordable internet data.”

Some were skeptical whether they would understand. However, on the ground they realise they were already interacting with these skills but, the challenge is how to use them more purposefully.

“We need to, not only enhance their skills but, cement digital presence as well. We are not saying they completely depart from offline performances. They compliment convention by expanding reach to audiences both offline and online.”

Participants, George Mabwe of Berina Arts and Terrence Phiri from Kwekwe Arts Group both displayed an appreciation of the training hoping to spread it to other artists in their respective localities. They highlighted that at the moment, they need more presence online and don’t have knowledge on how to monetize but, that can be done through such training.

They added that they’re going to scale up from what they’ve learned and teach others within their reach. The duo is excited that their digital skills are now broader and emphasized to utilize the social media space even more.

Going forward, the artists are to receive a grant to enhance their work like, purchase equipment and buffing up their activities with minimal hindrance.”

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende