NAGN rebranding to ensure positive impact on artists

CR: Kindly give us a bit of background on the institution’s rebranding?
SK: At the National Art Gallery of Namibia( NAGN) we have drafted our new Strategic Plan Document for the next five years ( 2021-2026), which provides direction on the type of programmes we will implement to ensure that the NAGN remains relevant and resilient during this challenging time, in specific reference to the institution’s mandate, the current global social, cultural and economic demands, and of course repositioning ourselves as the dynamic institution leading the growth and sustainability of the visual art sector in Namibia, while instigating a high performance based culture, hence the need for a new feel and look of the NAGN, which is the rebranding.

CR: What impact will the rebranding have on the art industry?
SK: The sector has been faced with a variety of challenges in ensuring its positive impact to the livelihoods of our visual artists, therefore it is important for us to analyse our programmes and rethink our approach to meet the demand and needs of our artists. We are positive that the rebranding will assist us in ensuring that we decolonise the minds of our people in the way they think about arts in Namibia and what our artists can offer, it is important that we tell our own art stories, what is relevant to us as Namibians and what our Namibian visual artists can offer to the rest of the world.
It is important that we improve the local public interest, so that when they visit the NAGN for exhibition viewings they relate to what they see, appreciate, and are attracted to purchase an art piece, and not only rely on international visits to purchase art. It is no more business as usual where we just showcase artworks for viewing, and rely on tourists to buy our art; it has become very important now and in the future that our artists benefit from their creative process, by making a living from their art, become self-employed, and that our own public invests in local art.
As the national institution responsible for promoting and developing the sector, we take note of the urgency for us to change our approach and be ready to move with the fast-changing world. Our function being the only national institution for promotion and development of visual artists and their art in Namibia is demanding, in the sense that we are the custodian of the National Heritage Art Collections, and at the same time we are providing exhibition spaces for free to our artists, including hosting international artists as well. With Covid-19, all have now moved to visual platforms, and hence we needed to be innovative in the planning and implementation of our programmes. The rebranding campaign will also ensure that the NAGN is actively decentralised in our 14 regions.

CR: Kindly give us a brief on the campaign strategy the NAGN initiated?
SK: Our intention was to start with the CEO roadshow in June 2021, but unfortunately because of the current high health risk due to Covid-19, we are monitoring the situation in the country, and will start with the campaign as soon as the situation normalises. The campaign will start with the launch of our new strategic plan in one of the regions, and will have the campaign rolled out for eight months in one main town in each region, working closely with the respective regional offices and our regional artists. We are indeed excited to embrace the change that will come along with our new look, and the new programmes planned for the next five years. Our artists will be with us during this exciting art journey.
CR: How has the NAGN been beneficial to artists during Covid-19?
SK: When Namibia went into the first lockdown last year, we immediately moved our physical exhibitions online on our website, which ensured that our artists were not deprived from exhibiting their artworks, while the NAGN was closed for more than two months, as per government directives. This approach also allowed our art lovers to still view our exhibitions in the comfort of their homes.
Launched NAGN YouTube Page: This online platform has been very beneficial to our artists. This is the platform where we showcase the artists’ creative process, and allows the artists to directly interact with the public etc. This platform, including our Facebook page, has proven to be very useful for the promotion of our artists and their artwork.
#WhatsYourStory Project: We invested N$400 000 plus N$150 000 funding from the National Arts Council of Namibia in this project, for the benefit of our artists. We then launched the project #WhatsYourStory? In partnership with NACN as our response in assisting our artists to survive during the first lockdown. Seventy-eight artists participated in this project. Every participating artist received an honorarium of N$2 000 and free art materials to create those artworks. From October 2020 to January 2021, all NAGN venues were availed to artists to produce their work for #WhatsYourStory?
This approach was initiated to medicate the challenge of most of our artists who don’t have art studios to utilise for their productions. We have encouraged a freedom in creativity of scale and removed the limitation of what may have been created in their bedrooms and expanded their horizon through immediate curatorial support in the NAGN spaces to think through ideas and translate them as best as possible. During this time we allowed 27 artists in our spaces on a daily basis, this led to some of the artists creating sculptures that we managed to showcase in public places in different towns in Namibia.
Bank Windhoek Triennale competition: N$350 000 and in addition our own cost to put up the exhibition; we also pledged to provide a residency to the overall winner in 2021/22 or 22/23.
Art come together workshop in Erongo region sponsored First National Bank, through the Rand Merchant Bank: N$73 707.45 was invested in the workshop. We ensured a fair representation from each constituency in Erongo, as follows: 1 from Uis, 2 from Omaruru, 2 from Walvis Bay Urban, 2 from Walvis Bay Rural and 18 from Swakopmund; a total of 25 participants.
Initiated the NAGN Artists’ Corner: The artists’ corner is in the NAGN PASHUKA multi-purpose centre. The purpose of this programme is to assist our artists to mitigate the challenges of technology due to Covid-19. Artists and art students have free access to internet to work on their exhibition preparations, network with other artists of their choice on online platforms, research, and create their online platforms.
In the same space we also have an art reading corner, which is equipped with art magazines and books. All artists and students are requested to visit the NAGN and utilise these important free services for their own benefit, while adhering to Covid-19 regulations
SK: Despite the challenges that came along with Covid-19 we managed to hold six exhibitions, 440 artworks from 126 artists. All our exhibitions in the NAGN spaces are at the same time displayed on our website. We also assisted one of our visual artists Rudolf Seibeb with funding to acquire art materials he needed for an exhibition at Project Room.