Former Arts ProgramManager of the British Council, who led thecouncil’s two well-known art programs, Creative Futures and East African Arts,MahletMairegu continues to contribute to the nation’s creative industry with a new project. The Arts Mailing List, a newsletter dedicated to informing and connecting Ethiopian creative practitioners about national and international opportunities within the arts sector, has been engaging over 2,500 creative individuals for the past few months via email, telegram and other social media platforms. Visual artists, digital artists, musicians, music producers, writers, architects, fashion designers, graphics designers, filmmakers, video artists, photographers, software developers or any other people interested in a creative field can get a well-curated selection of jobs, open calls, inspirational pieces and events on a weekly basis. Following launch of The Arts Mailing List, HiwotAbebe of The Reporter sat down with Mahlet to take an in-depth look at the her latest project. Excerpts:
The reporter: Who is behind the Arts Mailing List?
MahletMairegu: Right now, the person behind The Arts Mailing List is me, Mahlet Mairegu. The idea came out of my experience leading the British Council’s two arts programs:Creative Futures that was funded by the EU as well as the East African Arts.
What was the idea behind the Arts Mailing List?
In 2015 alone, UK’s creative industries contributed GBP85billion and the sector’s contribution is growingcontinuously. And if we look at the numbers for this sector closer to home in the rest of our continent, the figures, when they can be found, are very encouraging. In Ethiopia’s case, cultural tourism has been a very profitable source of income. As such widening our perceptive, engaging favourable policies that encompasses the growing and thriving Ethiopian creative industries can only work in our favour. Let us not forget that creative industries around the world have shown to be one of the most successful sectors when it comes to wider women and youth engagements. With a growing young population, Ethiopia is in a great position to take its creative industries seriously and equip it with all it requirement to sustain itself. Moreover, by engaging, organizing, professionalizing, creating visibility for the sector, Ethiopia can take full advantage of what these growing industries can contribute to the overall development of our country. With that in mind, the Arts Mailing List is seeking to contribute to these wider discussions by encouraging, listening, informing, exposing, networking and organizing the Ethiopian creative sector so that it can live to its full potential. Secondly, the creative sector is currently largely unaware of the many opportunities that are open to it nationally and less so about what platforms exist internationally. Thus, by compiling and sharing these open calls with artists, the Arts Mailing List is striving to get to a stage where we finally hear Ethiopian creatives’ voices and see the sector actively involving in discussions in and about Ethiopia, Africa and the world. Currently, this space is very much dominated by non-Ethiopians. Growing up in the UK, I have mostly only seen non-Ethiopians talking on Ethiopia, Ethiopians and Ethiopian Arts. More recently, there is a shift where other Africans are taking their rightful places on platforms where Africa is the focus and sometimes, they are even able engage in discussions on wider issues. Yet Ethiopians, and in particular Ethiopian creatives, are still largely absent from discussion on Ethiopia, Africa and the world of arts let alone on wider issues. With the current growth of the global creative industries, it is imperative that our creative voices, our products, our creative experiences and our messages are heard and seen clearly. The value of the Ethiopian creative sector is wider than just its national contribution, as it brings forth different perspectives to the global creative arenas. Consequently, if the Arts Mailing List can support one more artist attend and showcase at a festival, conference or an event in other parts of Africa and beyond, we can actually shift the status quo, one event at a time. And finally, during my time as the arts programmanager at the British Council, I was able to see first-hand that the Ethiopian creative industries’ ability to network within Addis Ababa and beyond has been and is being hampered by the fact that there are no spaces for the sector to regularly meet. And this obviously limits the sector’s potential to share, connect, co-create and truly explore opportunities for growth in all directions, leading creatives to work completely unaware of what is being worked on and achieved by others within the same sector. And that is one of the reasons why the Arts Mailing List was born, to close that gap. Not only do we share the sector’s work with over 2,500 creatives on our database, we also connect individual creatives and teams who are looking for other creatives to work with or learn and share with, as together we can be more powerful, visible, organized and impactful.
What is been the response so far? Did you get feedback from the Mailing List recipients?
The response to the weekly Arts Mailing List newsletter has been overwhelmingly positive!As you and most of your readers know too well accessinginformation is very difficult and getting the types of information the Arts Mailing List newsletter shares to our sector is even more elusive. Thus, I received many messages every week thanking me for carrying on with Arts Mailing List. Additionally, I receive many messages from individuals asking for advice on a project or idea that they are working or when they are looking for other creatives to partner with. So thanks to the database I am able to connect them, they meet and think through potential collaboration. Since I have started this Arts Mailing list, I have always received messages from those on the database asking me to add their friends to the list. And more recently, I am regularly receiving messages from creatives from other parts of the continent to be included in the newsletters.
How do you gauge the progress or success of the Arts Mailing List?
As mentioned above, I hear from many on the Arts Mailing List database very regularly, telling me what they have been able to get from the newsletter. For example, a few weeks ago, I received a wonderful email from a Fashion Designer who was featured on the African Development Bank’s Fashionomics Africa Website because she saw their call on the Arts Mailing List newsletters weeks earlier. Another, a visual Artist applied to a call listed in the Arts Mailing List and won the second place, which was a place on a Master program in Italy. When I see these messages, I know that we are one step closer to achieving one of the goals of the Arts Mailing List,which is to get to an Ethiopian creative industry that is more visible, informed and connected!
What else are you engaged in right now?
I am currently working full time as a program manager for an environment charity and the Arts Mailing List is what to do over the weekend and evenings.
How do you see the arts mailing list evolving?
The immediate aim is to keep growing the databaseso that it can reach more Ethiopian creative practitioners.At the same time, I am extending my network continently and wider, so that I am always aware of what is going and in turn I can inform the creatives in Ethiopia and see how that can also include other from the continent. The next aim would be to further develop the sector’s capacity to apply and be successful in these and many more opportunities that are available both in country and internationally with the overall aim of hearing and seeing Ethiopia creative practitioners on all relevant platforms. As for the longer-term plan, well you will have to watch this space to read about that one!