Baf shows arts sector ready to reopen under the new normal

The Chronicle

Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Reporter
The Bulawayo Arts Festival (Baf) has come and gone and one thing is evident, the arts sector’s readiness to start operating under the new normal.

The festival which kicked off last Wednesday came to an end on Saturday with various events being successfully staged over the four days.

Watching the artistes perform, one could tell these were people who had missed being on stage as they gave it their all. Event organisers on their part, pulled out all the stops in ensuring everything went on smoothly.

The arts industry has been closed for more than a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic which forced many countries to place their citizens under lockdown. Since March last year, most events and gatherings have remained restricted as the country is still trying to contain the virus. Although lockdown measures have been easing from time to time due to a decline in the number of Covid-19 cases, the arts industry is still not fully operational as Government is yet to give the industry the green light.

Due to this, many artistes have been calling for the full reopening of the sector saying they are going hungry because of the non-availability of live shows that were their main source of income. They have also assured Government that they can hold shows observing Covid-19 measures, something they proved last week.

The staging of this year’s Baf provided a template that can be used in reopening the arts industry. It was a hybrid festival that mixed both on and offline events to a limited number of people at the various venues.

The first day of the festival set the tone on how the festival was going to be held. The only performance that had a limited physical audience was Ezimnyama Dance Troupe and Extra Mile’s show, but the show could also be watched online if one could not get to the venue.

This was like the ace up the sleeve for the organisers that all the performances or shows could be watched online. If one failed to get to the venue, they could just switch over to their gadget and watch the show online.

If you were lucky enough to gain access to these live shows, when entering the venue, you would have your temperature checked, hands sanitised, details taken down with the wearing of masks mandatory. Inside, chairs were spaced out for social distancing purposes with organisers ensuring that people were spaced out. Once the number of people was reached, no one was let into the venue and this could be a way in which the industry can operate going forward, especially for those who survive on live shows.

Taking a leaf from Baf, event organisers can take a two-pronged approach to this. Firstly, they can hold a physical show and allow a paying audience of about 50 to a 100, depending on the size of the venue. Those who cannot physically access the show can watch it online for a fee of course. This is where promoters can make use of platforms such as Gateway that offers Pay Per View services for artistes when they hold live shows online.

Other festivals can also go this route and make people pay to watch the festival online. What is left now is to have more innovations to enhance the experience of shows at festivals for the online audience. Interestingly, Baf managed to hold shows from different parts of the country showing that there is no need for artistes to come down to Bulawayo to perform as they can do so from wherever they will be and still be part of the festival. For instance, there was a day when Baf was live from Gwanda where an array of the mining town’s artistes performed.

All in all, the Baf showed that with the right structure and proper planning, the arts sector that has been closed for the year can be reopened and continue from where it left early last year.

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