How long will the Hifa flame last? 

Source: How long will the Hifa flame last? | The Sunday Mail April 29, 2018

Takudzwa Chihambakwe
IN 2015 Zimbabwe’s cultural and creative sector was dealt a big blow. Arts hub, The Book Café, was shut down.

Chief among the issues that resulted in its closure was the inability to adapt to shifts in the marketplace.

“The business model that The Book Café had been using had become unviable. The café was not an entirely commercial entity and this was because we were so focused on developing the arts sector at all costs,” brand owner of The Book Café, Tomas Brickhill told this publication last year.

Now Zimbabwe’s biggest arts and culture phenomenon, Hifa, is struggling to maintain the gusto that it has been known for over the years. Similar to the café narrative, the non-profit making organisation model which Hifa runs on is making it difficult for the platform to maintain momentum. Year after year, corporates keep reducing funding they invest in it as they are battered by the tough economic climate.

Zimbabwe cannot afford to lose Hifa. But how will the festival sustain itself going forward in this arduous economic climate considering that last year’s edition had low attendance and the vibe this year is very low?

The Sunday Mail Society got in touch with Hifa founder and artistic director, Manuel Bagorro, who admitted that sustenance is tough.

“Sustainability is a major challenge for arts organisations across the globe at this time,” said Bagorro.

“Many non-profit arts presenters struggle in different ways, whether they are in Zimbabwe or elsewhere. As you rightly say, relying on a single or small group of donors is problematic, as many organisations in Zimbabwe, including Hifa, have felt with the withdrawal of major arts/culture donor agencies and embassies over the last few years.”

So how does Hifa plan to deal with the crisis?

“Our thinking at Hifa involves three main strategies for ongoing sustainability – first, to nurture a diverse range of investors and supporters; we approach corporate partners inside and outside the country, we continue to foster relationships with embassies and donor agencies, we make applications to various international foundations and we constantly look for ways to engage support from individual donors at home and abroad.

“The second strategy is to continue to develop plans for an endowment – a significant amount of money offered as a gift by a Hifa supporter – the interest is used by Hifa. Knowing that the organisation has an endowment allows for more confidence, and also ensures that we are not starting fundraising from scratch each year. Capital campaigns every five years would continue to grow the endowment so that a meaningful proportion of annual costs could be covered by interest each year.

“The final strategy is to continue to look for ways that we can derive more income from the event itself – we want to keep the event as accessible to as many Zimbabweans and visitors as possible, but there are many ways in which we can develop new income streams without compromising our mission or audience reach – we are excited about exploring these opportunities in the future,” he revealed.

Having revealed these strategies, is there a possibility in future for Hifa to become a profit making organisation?

“I believe that being mission-driven, rather than profit-driven is important for Hifa. As I mentioned, we will look for ways to increase income and would possibly consider some programming that would be run by a commercial arm of the organisation.

“However, Hifa should remain a community initiative, motivated by our collective desire to celebrate the power of the arts to transform lives, change perspectives and make life richer and more beautiful for all of us.”

Still on the matter of adaption, festivals the world over change artistic directors and some feel Bagorro has run his race and its time new blood takes over. Asked what being Hifa artistic director entails and when he will be ready to handover the reigns, Bagorro said, “The role of the artistic director of Hifa is to listen. I work with an incredibly talented group of Zimbabwean consultants in each arts discipline – Blessing Chimanga for music, Elton Mjanana for theatre, Soukaina Edom for dance, Jane Parsons for craft and design, and Ondine Francis for young people’s programming.

“They put together a draft programme, we discuss all the options, and a large part of my job is to consolidate their programming ideas into a coherent and balanced overall programme.

“As I work on so many international arts projects, I am in a very fortunate position to engage the interest of international artistes and work with them to make their participation possible. This involves Embassies here in Zimbabwe, but also other sources of funding and support.

“I believe that my being an artistic director ‘at large’, active on the international arts presenting scene, and constantly making contacts and promoting Hifa, is an important asset for the organisation.

“However, I am constantly looking for the right ways to involve new voices, directors, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe to develop year round projects here – in schools and working with professional artistes.”

Bagorro said the future plan is to have more than one artistic director.

“I can imagine the future of Hifa’s artistic director role involving more than one person, which will allow the Zimbabwean and visiting programming to deepen and broaden even more.”

Meanwhile, there is a fringe festival running concurrently with Hifa, which is run by Theatre in the Park.

Said Bagorro: “I am excited about all new creative ideas that give Zimbabwean audiences more opportunities to access arts experiences. I also enthusiastically support the creation of opportunities for artistes to be employed.

“I think it’s important for new arts initiatives to think about opportunities for audiences throughout the year rather than just during the last weekend in April/beginning of May, but offering more quality opportunities for audiences and artistes is something that I will always support,” he said.

Bagorro also revealed that American James Blaszko will be directing the 2018 Hifa opening show.

“Blaszko is being widely touted as a major new, young directing talent. He has directed several visionary productions in the United States and elsewhere.

“For the last couple of years, he has spoken to me constantly about participating in Hifa. I liked his ideas from the start, and particularly liked the fact that he saw his role as creating a ‘container’ in which the ideas of the Zimbabwean artistes and his fellow directors/designers for the show could be presented.”

There will be a street party on the day of the opening show.

“Blaszko came up with the idea of a street party in which everyone on stage (over 100 performers) and everyone in the audience are experiencing this party together – it’s about everyone and involves everyone,” he added.