By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published December 7, 2010
When it began in March 2005 as an in-house, on-the-job training for youngsters from school interested in writing for the ArtMatters.Info creative and cultural portal covering East Africa, little did any one know that five years down the road the ArtMatters.Info Skills-Development Programme (previously known as ArtMatters Critics Guild) would develop into a full-fledged training in creative and cultural entrepreneurship (event planning and presentation, conception and production of high quality film, exhibition and promotion of films, critical appreciation of creativity, media literacy) that it is fast growing into.
The seed of a mentorship programme for journalists—planted following the training at Deutsche Welle Akademie and Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin (Germany) of its founder, Ogova Ondego in 2005—germinated in June 2006 when the then fledgling ArtMatters Critics Guild received some financial support from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development of The Netherlands to assist her in training practising journalists and up-and-coming writers in cultural journalism mainly through eastern African film and cultural festivals. In July 2008 the programme benefited from the support of Africalia of Belgium and Jan Vrijman Fund/IDFA of The Netherlands to the annual Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival skill-development mentorship programme and market for children and youth in eastern Africa.
Though on one-off basis, the support has seen ArtMatters.Info–that handles mentorship at Lola kenya Screen since 2006–train participants in Zanzibar (July 2005 and July 2006), Zimbabwe (August/September 2005), Uganda (September 2005 and May 2007), South Africa (November 2005) and Kenya (August 2006, August 2007, August 2008, August 2009, and August and November/December 2010). So far, some 154 youngsters from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zimbabwe have acquired skills in filmmaking and film journalism and criticism.
November 29-December 4, 2010 saw the programme—now mainly run through Lola Kenya Screen—go a notch higher with the training of 30 children and youth from Nairobi and its environs in creative documentary filmmaking and critical writing as part of the events marking five years of Lola Kenya Screen.
Many individuals working as journalists—print, radio, television, online—or public relations practitioners have gone through the ArtMatters.Info’s Skill-Development Mentorship Programme and have either taken up jobs with news media or have risen to relatively high positions in their place of work.
In Kenya, ArtMatters.Info’s Skill-Development Mentorship Programme continues to equip children, youth, and mass media students with creative writing, cultural journalism and critical appraisal skills through Lola Kenya Screen’s annual festival, school outreach programme and on-the job internship opportunities.
Among the people who have passed through the ArtMatters.Info’s Skill-Development Mentorship Programme are Mwenda Micheni of the Nation Media Group (Kenya), Bamuturaki Musinguzi of The EastAfrican (regional weekly), Saphia Ngalapi (freelance public relations/journalism in Tanzania), Emmanuel Ssejjengo of New Vision and Mwijuke of The Monitor (Uganda), Beda Msimbe of Majira, Alasiri and Lukwangule (Tanzania), and Vicky Kimaro of Nipashe (Tanzania).
Students from Daystar University, University of Nairobi, Kenya Institute of Mass Communications, Uganda Christian University, United States International University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Tangaza College, Kenya Science Teachers College, Kenya Polytechnic, and Multi-Media University College, have gone through this programme.
Through the pan-African, Africalia-supported Cinetoile African Cinema Network in which Lola Kenya Screen represents Kenya, ArtMatters.Info Skill-Development Mentorship Programme has in 2010 traversed the breadth and width of Nairobi and its environs, introducing primary school pupils and secondary school, college and university students to the various aspects of film criticism, film journalism, media literacy and film production.
The interaction with more than 4,922 youngsters in various Kenyan primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities between July and October 2010 alone has proved that young people in these institutions are not only talented but are yearning for a chance to understand more about the media and put their skills to use. Even at higher institutions of learning such as universities, the desire to apply the acquired knowledge is lacking. Kenyatta University film students, for instance, say that they are looking for areas where they can continually put to use their classroom knowledge yet such opportunities are hard to come by. This not only shows the poor cultural systems in the country, but also point out to many more weaknesses in the media systems in Kenya. The lack of support from established media houses, lack of interest among practicing journalists and lack of facilities not only make it difficult to children and youth to appreciate creativity and culture but also affects the quality of journalism in the region. This, in turn, contends Ogova Ondego, stifles creative and cultural expression.
“The plan and desire of ArtMatters.Info Skill-Development Mentorship Programme to assist in preparing and presenting cultural journalists, critics and practitioners to the service of society,” says Ogova Ondego, “is hindered by inadequate resources. The programme had initially toured and mentored young journalists in the eastern and southern African region but this proved difficult, forcing us to concentrate our efforts in Kenya as it is also our base. Our collaboration with the Prince Claus Fund of The Netherlands was worthwhile.”
Ondego contends that since “arts and culture do not seem to rank high among priorities in the countries where ArtMatters.Info operates”, the organisation is looking for both local and international partnerships with individuals or organisations interested in developing creative and cultural spectra of society to help in the training of ‘foot soldiers’ for arts and culture.
“Considering education for Communication to be a transversal axis to the processes of civic education”, Ogova Ondego says, “we are oriented towards the realisation of film debates with youngsters in both primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities.”
The curriculum for ArtMatters.Info Skill-Development Mentorship Programme—that uses the ComMattersKenya (Nairobi, Kenya, 2010)-published How to Write on 1001 Subjects! manual—tackles areas like bolts and nuts of writing, how to write, arts journalism and criticism, introduction to mass media, the role of the mass media, introduction to news writing and journalism, interview skills, arts appreciation and criticism, approaches to appreciating creativity, perspectives of criticism, the vocabulary of creative and cultural analysis (fine arts, literature, music and dance, drama, screen arts), and style, tone and format of good writing.
How to Write on 1001 Subjects! is compiled by Ogova Ondego using various eclectic international sources on writing, grammar and criticism.
Referring to writing as a game to be played only by people who understand and adhere to the rules that govern it, Ondego says How to Write on 1001 Subjects! teaches ‘any one’ how to think logically and coherently for that is the only way to write clearly and crisply using a simple and concise language. Like a compass, he says, the manual is meant to assist the writer in finding direction and preserving professional consistency.