Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I was invited to participate in a new project here in Dar. The UN ambassador to Tanzania is married to a woman who has a passion for the arts and would like to open a performing arts centre here in Dar. The meeting I attended last week sparked my interest but I'm wondering what the artistic vision for such a centre might be. While a performing arts centre may be a great idea in theory, the reality in this city is that many Tanzanian citizens have had little exposure to music and dance training and certainly don't consider it a top priority while they struggle for basic survival. So who is this for? The concern automatically surfaces that this will be yet another perk to serve the transient expat community and Dar's elite. My initial guess is that the intent is not to provide Tanzania with an arts centre that encourages the local population to participate in the arts as a way to improve one's quality of life and, in some cases, perhaps provide a marketable skill for employment later on. It's difficult to focus or steer someone's vision to include the poor when it so obviously means that the process to stabilize the community being created becomes much longer and intensely more complicated. I'm not sure where to start. My immediate suggestions at the meeting to address this major issue were a) that the majority of the teaching staff should be Tanzanian citizens and b) that there be a scholarship program to extend financial aid to students who can't afford arts training but who demonstrate they have the commitment to stick with it for at least a year. There are still a lot of questions I have about this centre and I suppose there's a lot to think about in the beginning stages of something this large and unknown. Though I don't intend to teach at the arts centre as it will definitely conflict with my workers permit and contract at IST (despite the fact that the ambassador's wife might have some pull with the government to avoid these hassles), I do intend to keep my hand at task and continue to advocate on behalf of the many who would benefit from the programs offered. I only hope that the overall idea to begin a much needed centre for the arts here in Tanzania isn't sabotaged by either the good intentions of philanthropy or the easy solutions of exclusivity. We just have to locate that border between those extremes and continue to navigate carefully. Hopefully all the key decision-makers are thinking carefully through each decision.