Since the inception of democracy in Ghana, many activities have taken place. As the guiding light of democracy in Africa, Ghana continues to enjoy stable political atmosphere for the past two decades.
The country’s economy has also been given a major boost since the commencement of oil production in 2010. Nevertheless, one aspect of Ghana’s economy that is still under the hegemony of colonization is the arts - its education and industry. Unknown to most Ghanaians its powerful socio-economic impacts, arts students in the country are disrespected, underestimated and unrecognized.
The critical question, therefore, is why are Ghanaians judging wannabe artists seeking a creative degree as “wasting their time”? Another question is, why is it then that students who intend to study creative arts subjects are disrespected in comparison with medical and science students? I think all art students can testify to this.
True and impossible to disagree with, everyone has dissimilar talents and capabilities. Creativity is a gift that cannot be taught so easily out of a textbook. Disrespected by the academic brain of the intellectuals, higher degree in creative arts appears to lose its significance in Ghana. The least said about it the better. In the strictest sense, art is categorized into three nomenclatures – literary, visual, and performing.
The literary arts include: novels, poetry and short stories. The visual arts include: painting, sculpture photography, architecture while the performing arts encompasses: theatre, acting, dance, opera and music. Realistically, all the stated art forms are conceived, presented and interpreted by artisans. Without the arts, there is NO other means to release our emotions, express our feelings, dreams, hopes and worries. For the arts to be made complete, it must be appreciated, watched, listened to and enjoyed by people.
Ironically, it is this same group of people who patronize the arts that turn around to disrespect art students and artists. They soon forget that without art education, we close our minds to the human world of creativity.
More noticeably than ever, creative art subjects like preforming and visual arts are pigeonholed as soft university courses, waste of time and resources; and almost certainly (there is) unemployment after graduation. Nonetheless, many of us, when growing up, our imagination and creativity was extremely appreciated by all and sundry. When we dipped brush in colours to fill a blank sheet of a paper or on a canvass, we were given toffees.
When we imbibed the feel of a song and sang it beautifully with full dedication in church for Children’s Day, we were given chocolates. And when we dressed up as a child to play the role of a character in a drama in school for our Speech and Prize Giving Day’s, we were cherished by our parents and even considered as superheroes with super powers.
It is therefore, quite pathetic, unforgiving and unfortunate that hordes of people presume arts education is useless and nothing short of waste of time. Naively, others still presume arts education and arts industry is for people without mathematical and scientific brains. No wonder that these presumptions have sparked off the proliferation of household names and “national anthems” such as dondology on the lips of many people, especially, students pursuing the better courses - Medicine, Law, Accounting, among others.
Many a times, art students are asked “So what course are you reading?” And if the answer is given as Performing Arts the resultant statement is “Oh I see…you’re studying performing arts…What then are you going to do with that?”
I write this article with mixed feelings. I was extremely excited when I had a notification that I had been admitted to the University of Cape Coast to study Theatre Arts with History and Asante Twi. But at the same time, I became dispirited prior to the course that I was going to study. Why? This is the big answer. “Why Arts? Why not Political Science? Why not Law? Why not even Education…?” I was quizzed.
The reason is, I had the opportunity to pursue a course in History and Political Science and Education at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and the University of Education, Winneba, respectively. Well-known for my left-winged views and vocal demeanour, I was pushed to go and study Political Science. That was enough motivation! But my star sign wasn’t for that. I’m a Leo. Therefore, I defied all odds to study Theatre Arts, my first love.
Sadly enough, when I made the decision of going to the University of Cape Coast to study Theatre Arts, I was told point blank that my plans in the arts are not realistic and that they will not be more than a pipe dream. In a soliloquized manner, I said to myself “nothing can bring me down except myself” as a sign of being self-confident.
The passion for arts kept drumming a clarion call in me that as a student, why don’t I study what I was passionately drawn to and make a career out of it rather than following the wishes of other people? I was then again told that I’ll not have future with the arts. Rather than being demotivated, I found solace in the timeless words of Horace Walpole “the world is a tragedy to those who feel but comedy to those who think.”
Unarguably, when thinking about the future with the arts, it may scare away one’s passion. Prospective art students are demoralized. In addition, as compared to Law, Accounting and Medicine, the salary involved is not anything to brag about with the kind of work involved. The arts is exacting! It demands long hours and sacrifices. Amidst all these demands, those who look forward to making a future in the arts with unflinching confidence make it, although no job assures maximum comfort and security.
Contrary to popular belief that the arts education is a well-trodden pathway to financial woes; rather, it is the excellent choice for the growing number of unemployed graduates. Aside the fun aspect of creative arts, it is an engine for economic growth.
Have you the slightest idea of the number of artisans employed for the Beasts of No Nation movie shot in Ghana? What about Afro Nation Ghana – hosted by Afro Nation, the biggest urban music beach festival in Europe, for the Year of Return? If No, what about Afrochella 2019 which was also part of the Year of Return activities?
All these events were exceptionally accomplished because the expertise came in handy. Beast of No Nation movie alone engaged over 300 artisans, excluding marketers and distributors. Afro Nation and Afrochella hired art students encompassing set designers, light and sound technicians, costume and makeup designers, photographers, stage performers, live painters and installers, the list goes on. These events brought broad smiles on the faces of the artists as they were able to feed their families and paid their rents.
It is an obvious truth that arts students are multi-skilled. They are cut-and-dried, naturally gifted, well-rounded, employable and capable of excelling in a wider range of professions. Arts education endows students with skills such as: interpersonal, presentational, innovative, communication, entrepreneurial, active listening, discipline, time management skills, just to mention a few. These are the qualitative skills that multi-billion companies are competing to get from bright and smart graduates. The study of arts, therefore, makes a person whole.
The impacts of arts are unparalleled and immeasurable. Irrespective of arts single action of overwhelming benefits, it is still relegated to the background. This is because, naivety has succeeded in Ghana to blur the lines of art between reality and fantasy.
Paraphrasing my encounter with Mr. Michael Attipoe, the former Director of Administration and Finance at the National Commission on Culture, he palpably recounted that here in Ghana, artists are undervalued. Hence, the continued disrespect for arts students in the country.
Having creative talent is something to be respected and adored. Some students may not have the ability to become doctors and mathematicians, but not all doctors have the capability to be naturally creative. Therefore, the way we think about creative art students in Ghana needs to be reexamined. Respect art students, Ghana!
The writer is with the Centre for National Culture, Kumasi.