VICE-President Inonge Wina has launched the Presidential Choral and Arts Festival and the K30 million Youth Empowerment Scheme meant to assist artists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking during the launch and when she presented the cheque to the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC), Vice-President Wina said the launch of the scheme was an indication of government’s commitment in promoting arts in the country.

“His Excellency President Edgar Lungu is a number one supporter of artistic expressions. It gives me great pleasure to join in the arts family on this historic day when the Presidential Arts Development and Empowerment Scheme is officially being launched! A number of pronouncements have been made about the arts and the special role they play in community development. Today is the day we turn the speeches and promises into action,” Vice-President Wina said.

“Since the Patriotic Front formed government, we have shown commitment to promoting arts. Since the creation of the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, my government has demonstrated that arts and the artists are key players in national development. I note with gladness that the country’s arts sector has been registering tremendous growth, which has attracted both local and foreign attention.”

She said government had created an enabling environment, which had seen the growth of the arts industry.

“We have seen an increase in local contents on television, an increase in demand for local arts and crafts, and an increase in attendance to Zambian concerts, festivals, fairs and exhibitions. All these are a result of the enabling environment that government in collaboration with stakeholders has put in place. Therefore, my government’s desire is for the arts to make an even more significant impact in economic development,” she said.

“I am very much alive to the challenges that artists face to access business development services that are readily available to other sectors of our economy; due to the nature of their work, artists struggle to get loans. In response to this, government has devised the youth empowerment scheme targeting the artists. This scheme is about listening to the artists, creating interventions that are realistic and understanding the unique dynamics that affect this work. I, therefore, urge the Council to take a consultative approach and ensure that the scheme benefits as manys artists as possible. I am directing that artists, who would apply, must be given an opportunity to access the funds.”

Vice-President Wina announced that government had targeted 15,000 artists to benefit from the scheme.

“Today, we are launching the two programmes of my government and these are: (a) The Youth Empowerment Scheme targeting arts; (b) the Presidential Choral and Arts Festival. These two intertenvions are structured to provide relief to the sector that has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The plan is a stimulus package for a sector that has continued to play a key role in diversifying our economy and creating jobs and income opportunities for thousands of our people. The scheme will offer relief to the sector,” Vice-President Wina said.

“The Choral and Arts Festival will bring us together and empower artists. I am informed that the National Arts Council of Zambia is targeting to reach at least 10,000 artists through the first loan. My government plans to indirectly reach at least 15,000 artists across the country and the scheme is targeting artists’ cooperatives and artists’ businesses that are community-based. The scheme will empower artists with the means to continue producing their products and services. It will enable our youths from all parts of the country to transform communities through the talents that God gave them.”

Vice-President Wina further said that government had released K5 million through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) to pay youths involved in the manufacturing of masks for examination pupils.

“Let me assure all the youths that were asked to make masks, including those youths that had gone into the bush, time has come for them to access some extra funding from DMMU, through the Ministry of Finance. K5 million is being released to pay all the youths through the Ministry of Youth and Sports that have made masks for our exam-sitting pupils, who are now back in school,” said Vice-President Wina.

And Tourism and Arts Minister Ronald Chitotela said his Ministry would ensure that the K30 million loan was made accessible to all artists.

“As Minister responsible for arts, I am pleased to inform you that the two programmes we are launching today (Wednesday) are as a result of consultation and engagement with artists across the country. The artists in Zambia have lost income opportunities, jobs and have struggled to earn a living. The last six months have not been easy for the arts sector. I want to assure you that under the supervision of the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and in partnership with the Citizens Economic and Empowerment Commission (CEEC) the procedure for accessing these loans are developed with closed consultations with artists to ensure that access to these funds is not an issue,” said Chitotela.

“I am reliably informed that the National Arts Council of Zambia called all the associations to come and participate in the formulations of the guidelines so that we don’t blame anyone. If we fail to access the money, we will blame ourselves because government has made the money available and you are the ones who formulated your own policies and you are the one who formulated your own guidelines; the role of government is to supervise and making sure that things work according to what the government desires.”

And NAC chairperson Patrick Samwimbila said the disbursement process to the intended artists will commence next month.