AAU Cultural Center returns as a haven for artistic expression
The sunny afternoon of Saturday, November 18, 2023, infused Addis Ababa University’s Sidist Kilo campus with an air of unprecedented excitement. After more than a year of enforced closure, the Addis Ababa University Cultural Center, formerly known as the Creative Art Center, flung open its doors, welcoming art aficionados back into its hallowed halls.
Distinguished guests, numbering over 150, gathered to witness the Center’s long-awaited grand opening ceremony. Among them were renowned artists such as Abebe Balcha, Alemayehu Tadesse, Bedilu Waqjira (PhD) and Mikias Tamire, along with esteemed arts lecturers, officials, and art students, all eager to be part of this moment.
With its impressive seating capacity of 250, the center boasts an array of facilities, including cinema halls, theaters, and art-night stage studios.
This rebirth of the Cultural Center breathed new life into a space that has witnessed the birth of remarkable talents, leaving an indelible imprint on the rich tapestry of Ethiopian art. Within the walls of the Center, literary giants have been nurtured, their creative prowess shaping the nation’s literary landscape.
Esteemed writers like Sebhat Gebregzabher, Haymanot Alemu, Debebe Eshetu, Abate Mekuria, and Tsegaye Gebremedhen have emerged from the center’s hallowed halls, producing works that resonate deeply with the human experience.
“The center has served as a breeding ground for exceptional literary talents, providing guidance and mentorship to writers who have gone on to become the literary giants we admire today,” expressed Tesfaye Eshetu (Ass. Prof.), emphasizing the pivotal role played by the Cultural Center in shaping Ethiopia’s artistic legacy.
Boasting a storied history that spans half a century, the AAU Cultural Center stands as one of the university’s oldest institutions and the country’s enduring artistic hub. Its impact on Ethiopia’s creative landscape cannot be overstated.
The Center has long been a sanctuary for diverse art forms, offering a platform for captivating theatrical performances, engaging philosophical discussions, and a vibrant exchange of ideas. It has served as a catalyst for artistic exploration, enriching Ethiopia’s cultural fabric.
“The center has provided artists with a safe haven to experiment, collaborate, and push the boundaries of their creativity, resulting in mesmerizing theatrical productions that captivate audiences,” shared Tesfaye.
He says the philosophical dialogues held within these walls have nurtured intellectual growth, fostering an environment where ideas flourish, shaping the artistic and cultural discourse of Ethiopia.
As the backbone of Ethiopia’s thriving art industry, the Center holds a vital position.
Esteemed pioneers in the field, such as Alemayhu Tadesse and Manyazewal Endashaw, laud the Center’s profound influence on the development of artistic talent and the creation of theatrical masterpieces.
Alemayhu, a trailblazer in Ethiopian art and a former student of the Addis Ababa University Cultural Center in the 1980s, emphasizes the pivotal role played by the Center. He underscores the significance of reopening the art programs as a crucial step in cultivating a talented pool of individuals who can contribute to the growth and success of the art industry.
The current Manager of the National Theatre and a former student at Addis Ababa University in the 1970s, Manyazewal, recognizes the profound connection between the Cultural Center and the National Theatre.
He acknowledges the numerous talented individuals who have emerged from the Cultural Center and found their way to the National Theatre. He notes that the Center has served as a fertile ground for the creation of captivating theatrical scripts that have enriched the repertoire of the Theatrical Art College and the National Theatre.
Alemayhu emphasizes the undeniable interdependence between the Addis Ababa University Cultural Center and the National Theatre.
“The Center provides a pathway for aspiring individuals to showcase their skills at the National Theatre. Many talented individuals have successfully transitioned from the Center to the National Theatre, bringing their creativity and passion to the forefront of Ethiopia’s theatrical scene,” said Manyazewal.
Both Alemayhu and Manyazewal agree that the Center stands as a catalyst for the growth and development of Ethiopia’s art industry. By reopening its art programs, the center continues its legacy of fostering talent and nurturing the next generation of artists, ensuring a vibrant and prosperous future for Ethiopia’s art industry.
In recent years, the Center has faced operational challenges, with intermittent closures since the imperial regime. However, the duration of the recent closure has been particularly prolonged, with the Center remaining non-operational for at least the past year.
Moving forward, the cinema halls at the center will be open three days a week exclusively for students and university staff: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
On Wednesdays, the Center will open its doors to art enthusiasts from outside the university, allowing the residents of Addis Ababa to partake in the artistic offerings. The art events will be open and free for all.
Alongside cinemas and theaters, art nights brimming with poetry and captivating performances will be on the menu, promising an immersive artistic experience for attendees.
For far too long, the Center has remained shuttered, held hostage by the relentless grip of political pressures and fiscal limitations. A hotbed for student demonstrations whenever the nation is engulfed in political fervor, the Center has become a dreaded gathering place in the eyes of authorities, who fear the potential consequences of student convergence, even for artistic pursuits, according to university officials that talked to The Reporter.
They says that whenever the government desires the Center’s closure, it conveniently wields its power to slash the Center’s budget, effectively snuffing out its vitality.
Tesfaye voiced the struggles faced by the institution stating: “The Center has faced budgetary constraints, which has severely impacted its resources and hampered the realization of ambitious artistic endeavors.”
“Limitations on freedom of speech have at times stifled creative expression, but the resilience of the artists and their unwavering dedication to their craft have kept the spirit of the center alive,” he said.
This political pressure has not only hindered the Center’s operations but has also formed an insurmountable barrier preventing teachers and students from rallying the necessary resources to keep the artistic sanctuary alive.
Tesfaye’s recollections of his time as a university student are a testament to the challenges faced. “The art shows have been subjected to an erratic on-and-off cycle for various reasons. Security concerns were cited as the primary issue, with authorities claiming that frequent student gatherings would disturb the peace, thereby complicating the organization of art programs,” he says.
The perpetual political turmoil of those times, Tesfaye says,“Presented formidable obstacles for the art community. I vividly recall my fellow students and I attempting to amass a collection of books, including 200 poems, 10 works of fiction, and several literary articles. However, the prevailing political climate rendered such endeavors immensely difficult.”
Nevertheless, a ray of hope now infiltrates the gloom that has enveloped the AAU Cultural Center.
It has recently been granted autonomy, making it the first independent university in Ethiopia during the current fiscal year.
Under the stewardship of president Samuel Kefle (PhD), a former participant in the Center’s programs, a renewed sense of purpose and determination has emerged to tackle it’s long-standing weaknesses.
Ambitious plans are already in motion to surmount these challenges, paving the way for a radiant future for the Addis Ababa University Cultural Center.
Enthusiastic art students, accomplished artists, and lecturers at AAU are convinced that the newfound autonomy, which liberates the university from political intervention, will serve as a catalyst for the flourishing of Ethiopian art.
“With the promised improvements and renewed focus on empowering emerging talents, the Center is poised to reach new heights and contribute further to Ethiopian art and culture,” effused Tesfaye, imbued with hope for what lies ahead.