Performance Artists Talk COVID-19 Impact

Namibia’s gig-based entertainment industry is one of the most hard-hit industries by the Covid-19 pandemic which currently has the country on lockdown. As per government regulation, no public gatherings are allowed and in the local entertainment industry, no public gathering means no income.

With events, performances and art installations cancelled or postponed, actors, make-up artists, filmmakers, theatre-makers, musicians, musicians, technical personnel and many other creative industry players are left jobless with bleak prospects.

Impact of Covid-19 on the arts sector

The Namibian creative industry has already been operating under tight financial conditions and with the impact of Covid-19, the live events and entertainment sector is most likely going to take longer to recover as social distancing restrictions are expected to keep people from going to the theatre or attend a concert for a long time- even with a flattened curve. As at now, there are no clear support measures in place to support the creative industry, especially from the side of the government.

“Because most of our income comes from large gatherings, creatives, artists, technicians and everyone forming part of our industry is feeling the pinch with most events been cancelled or postponed indefinitely,” says theatre practitioner, Zindri Swartz. “It’s ridiculous to state that our lives or the rent we have due are of no importance or lacks priority.”

Swartz says with the absence of a functional body or organization tasked with the protection of the rights of artists and with most artists having access to social security, artists cannot afford to take out loans on VAT, since they are barely able to sustain themselves.

Zindri Swartz (Image: Provided)

“We are part of the informal sector and stand in solidarity with the marginalized and as such government should look into other effective solutions to aid this industry. We are tired of being treated like a stepchild by our own government but when it’s time for parades and celebrations, it is us they turn to. Perhaps we should in engage in a discussion on the way forward,” Swartz argues.

Adding to this, stage and screen make-up artist, Kulan Ganes says despite the whole world turning to the arts to keep sane during this time of uncertainty, artists continue being overlooked by the government and the private sector alike.

Ganes says the situation not only makes artists financially disabled but also has a huge toll on their mental health.

Kulan Ganes (Image: Provided)

“The government should meet us halfway to find ways to provide for us without them losing out on an industry that actually contributes to the economy. Funding for postponed projects shouldn’t be withdrawn so that we can have work and an income when all this is over,” Ganes adds.

Actress and singer-songwriter Bianca Heyns says for most performers, like herself, creating is a career and not a mere leisure activity.

“Not only have I lost gigs but I personally have lost money and other opportunities that would have benefited me in future. For many of us creatives, we live by grabbing every opportunity we get, and now that gigs have been cancelled and moving forward I have found myself in a rather puzzling situation. My question is what is Namibia without the arts?” Heyns asks.

Bianca Heyns (Image: Provided)

Using her voice and platform to an impact, Professional Speaker, Storyteller and Fitness Advocate Hermien Elago says since the lockdown, she has resorted to making a difference to an audience she cannot physically see or engage with, without the means of an income.

“The situation is testing my core values and my intentions about why I chose this profession to begin with. Plus, I no longer have an exact idea as to how far my stories will go, I do not know who they will touch and I have to trust my digital voice and the true value that I bring through the power of storytelling,” Elago says.

Feeling the pinch from cancelled gigs in the live music scene, Musician Shiruka says with music being her main source of income, she is left hopeless, especially since she is a non-Namibian.

Shiruka (Image: Provided)

“I came to Namibia for studies and often I’d perform to pay for my studies. If it wasn’t for my talent, I don’t know how I would have some money to at least buy my groceries and basic goods,” Shiruka says.

Musician and filmmaker, Micheal Pulse, who also had the Namibian premiere of The White Line planned last month, says although he welcomes the stimulus package government has made available for the unemployed, it does not eliminate the problem that the art industry is one of the most neglected and under sourced sectors even though it is very impactful in informing and educating the masses in a very creative way.

Micheal Pulse (Image: Provided)

“I think instead of payouts, there should be referendums and policies put in place that is there to uplift our creatives,” Pulse feels.

Celebrity make-up artist, Miss Jey Arts says no one was prepared for a pandemic, especially those in the entertainment and arts industry as there were numerous shows and appearances planned for the year.

“So many bookings and projects had to be put on hold. Maybe they might be totally cancelled. Unfortunately, there’s nothing one can do except hope that the aftermath will be much better,” Miss Jey says.

Miss Jey Arts (Image: Provided)

Sadly in Namibia, Miss Jey adds, entertainment and arts is seen as a luxury instead and artists are therefore not considered as important.

“Most of us survive on payments after shows and we feed and support our children with the same payment, we pay rent, buy food and electricity with it. If only the government can put aside a package meant for the arts and entertainment industry, especially considering that it might take a good 5 to 6 months for events and shows to start taking place again,” Miss Jey explains.

In order for art to live, creatives are needed, and in order for creatives to live, they need to eat, says award-winning make-up artist Jay-Aeron.

“The one thing that keeps us together in the creative industry is intimacy. Intimacy with your make-up artist if you’re getting ready for a performance, intimacy with your scriptwriter/director if you’re a performer and intimacy with an audience, but none of that can happen with this pandemic,” Jay-Aeron adds.

Jay-Aeron (Beanii Boy Photoworks)

Coping with Covid-19

Arts educator & writer Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja says social distancing as a safety measure has created a lot of isolation and segregation, although this is not what it intends to do.

“One main challenge right now is access to information is a huge challenge for many artists around the country who do not generally have a good internet connection,” Mushaandja says.

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Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja (Image: Julian Salinas)

However, Mushaandja adds Covid-19 has offered opportunities for the creative and cultural industries to claim their spaces in national discourse and care work.

“This moment provides an opportunity to use cultural work as a coping, survival and transformation mechanism,” Mushaandja adds.

On adapting to the current climate, Elago says she had to learn to make a difference to an audience that she cannot see in person and still to find a way “go out there” anyway.

“I know that this is what I am called to do. It is teaching me that if you are called for something you learn to adapt and adjust and still give the same value that I would have given had I been standing on a physical stage with an audience that I can actually see,” Elago says.

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Hermien Elago (Image: Provided)

Elago further adds that the public speaking fraternity has to learn that stages are not only physical platforms and that there is a need to learn how to go remote if the audience is suddenly forced to lockdown.

“The moral for me is we are being forced to adapt and adjust and understand that in this era, our stages take many forms,” she says.