- AAU revives Cultural Festival to promote the Arts
Addis Ababa University’s storied grounds came alive last week as the country’s premier institution revived its long dormant Cultural Festival. From February 5th through the 7th, students and faculty were treated to performances by renowned artists as well as presentations exploring the influence of culture in academia and society.
The festival, which was last held seven decades ago, has resumed with two pillars at its core. The first features artists of all disciplines, from drama and music to poetry, chorus and more. Half of the performers are AAU alumni while the other half are selected guest artists.
In an inclusive spirit, students and faculty from any department—whether engineering, medicine or otherwise—were also invited to showcase their artistic talents. Performances took place at AAU’s cultural center, which reopened just six weeks prior after years of dormancy.
The second component centers research with papers addressing topics such as the current state of culture and art in Ethiopian universities, the development of art and culture nationally, and culture’s contributions to communities across the country.
Initiated by Samuel Kifle (PhD), the recently appointed interim AAU president and state minister of education, the festival’s revival aims to underscore art’s importance for all. In his opening remarks, Samuel asserted that art is essential for everyone in all non-art related fields.
“A medical doctor who has exposure to art, does not only medicate but also heals patients. An engineer who is filled with art, can build houses and infrastructure good for humans,” Samuel said.
Over the three day event, Addis Ababa University served as a hub for cultural exchange and appreciation. Audience members were particularly delighted by venerable artists who graced the stage with their exceptional talents, adding prestige to the program.
Legacy artists like AyalnehMulat, GetnetEnyew, and BadeluWaqjra stirred souls with poetry weaving together Ethiopia’s past and present. These renowned figures received their formative training at AAU’s once-robust cultural center before budget cuts forced its closure, lamentably stunting the growth of the nation’s art sector.
The Addis Ababa Circus Group brought levity through daring acrobatics blending Ethiopian influence with international flair. Their performance brought widespread delight, underscoring the enduring popularity of circus in the country.
Across the festival’s run, attendees immersed themselves in an array of cultural experiences. Traditional music, dance and cuisine offered a taste of Ethiopia’s rich tapestry. It served as an occasion for communities to connect, share customs, and forge lasting bonds – a testament to the successful celebration of diversity.
The university’s cultural center also featured promising youth.
Beyond the veteran artists and circus group, the Center’s own young talents took center stage. In a showcase curated by the university, their collective musical performance infused the atmosphere with youthful exuberance.
Among the highlights was a rendition of the beloved song “Enkuan des alachu,” evoking nostalgia and joy.
Beyond artistic showcases, researchers converged to present scholarly work, emphasizing the event’s multidimensional dynamic of creative expression and intellectual inquiry. It provided attendees with a holistic experience that brought Ethiopia’s rich cultural traditions to the forefront.
Reflecting on the Role of University Cultural Centers, Assistant Professor Tesfeye Eshetu, Director of the Addis Ababa University (AAU) Cultural Center, highlighted the important role that university cultural centers play in nurturing and preserving Ethiopia’s rich artistic and cultural heritage.
He emphasized the power of research and creativity in advancing these cultural values while also strengthening connections between academic communities.
“The absence of such cultural festival and the closure of the AAU cultural center, has had a huge negative impact on the growth of the industry. So, many students are passionate, interested and coming,” said Tesfaye, enthused about the resumptions.
With the goal of fostering collaboration among institutions, the multi-day event in the capital promoted unity and solidarity among participants from varied backgrounds. As it concluded, it cemented lasting memories and relationships – fulfilling AAU’s focus on cultural understanding and intellectual exchange.
In a bold public demonstration of cultural pride, AAU hosted the cultural festival, showcasing the talents of the nation’s youth while laying the foundation for future international partnerships. It showcased the talents of the nation’s youth while establishing the foundation for future partnerships, according to Tesfaye. The annual tradition will rotate between partner institutions.
Looking ahead, plans are underway to elevate the festival to an international stage, further establishing Ethiopia as a leader in global culture and creativity.
The festival marked a milestone in establishing the “National Association of Cultural Centers of Universities,” signifying collective efforts to promote preservation and exchange nationwide. By coordinating centers, this initiative aims to strengthen unity among Ethiopian universities, paving the way for future collaborations and mutual growth.
The AAU Cultural Center traces its roots back decades as the Emperor Haile Selassie Cultural Center. Over time, it has nurtured the talents of singers, composers and orchestras, cementing its status as a beacon of artistic excellence.
Its storied collection reflects this heritage, including works by renowned artist Gebre Christos Desta, whose legacy continues to inspire generations of Ethiopian creatives.
As the center takes on a leadership role in shaping cultural exchange, its national responsibility becomes increasingly important. By spearheading initiatives like the association of centers, it is establishing an inclusive and vibrant cultural landscape celebrating diversity while fostering unity and understanding among Ethiopians.
As Tesfeye stated, “We now stand on the verge of hosting a great national festival, the first of its kind.” With support from AAU leadership, veteran artists and enthusiastic students, the inaugural festival marks the beginning of a new chapter defined by collaboration, innovation and unity.
Next year, another university will assume host duties for the annual inter-university event. 17 institutions have already signed up. The next host will be selected through the university consortium. Ethiopia is home to nearly 49 institutions of higher education in total.