This month I will be a panellist at the Bayimba Music Festival Kampala, invited by the Lantern Meet of Poets a group of young Ugandans who come together to critic and perform each others poetry. I feel honoured to be a sounding board for them as they strive to make poetry more accessible and appreciated.
But I’m frustrated, the discussion will be about the challenges to ones creativity especially when it comes to making a living. I’m talking about getting paid for ones art. It seems that organisers and venues want creativity but don’t want to pay for it, or they pay some artists and not others.
I attend meetings, talks and performances. I have to cater to my needs whether that’s transport, food and time spent, but if I worked in the corporate sector those things would have to be paid for by the client who has invited me to talk. Why is creativity so different? Why do people feel that they can have us for nothing, even though we have put in countless hours and energy in refining our art which is why they invite us their events, we have skills, we are competent and bring an energy to the event.
Why are artists struggling?
The life of the creative is not an easy one. There is never enough money to pay us but we are in demand. Every year the Lantern Meet puts on a recital and the theatre is packed so it seems we are appreciated by our audiences who pay to see us. So where does the fault lie?
Are we not valuing ourselves enough as artists? There is no way that a doctor or engineer would work for free after studying for many years. The time spent on refining our skills and practice is meant to mean something. This is why our parents are always pushing us into professions because we can get paid well. The life of the creative is not taken seriously. Its just a hobby!
I’m not looking for an easy life, I’ve made personal sacrifices because I believe in the power of art to transform people and I understand how people drop out of creativity because they can’t make a living, but I want to change this format.
This is where creativity comes back into focus, not all remuneration has to be in cold cash, what other things can be offered? I suppose I’m advocating for some barter trade as money seems to be the issue, this would be the beginning of something different.
This is my profession, my divine gift, my purpose and I know I make useful contributions to whatever environment I’m placed in.
I don’t live in a fantasy world, I live in the real world of money, rent, school fees but I’m struggling to find the middle ground, beyond exploitation and good wishes. There are countless great initiatives worthy of support but I’m beginning to feel like if you don’t have the budget to at least give me transport, don’t call me. Its a risk because out of sight is out of mind and there is a need for multiple streams of income as a self employed person but damn I think I may have to change my name from Ife the poet who sings to Ife the ‘poetic engineer’ maybe then people will realise they have to budget for my words, time and energy.