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Opinions of Friday, 12 August 2011

Columnist: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel

The School of Performing Arts and ...

ORAL VILLAGE IDEAS

BY

DANIEL APPIAH-ADJEI

The School of Performing Arts and the Promotion of Creative Culture for National Development

“A country could be perfectly governed, immensely powerful and without poverty, yet, if it produced nothing of its own in architecture, sculpture, music, dance, drama, painting or books, it would someday pass into the twilight of history, leaving only the traces of a creditable political record”- Booth Arkintonn, 1941.
The Establishment of the School of Performing Arts seems to allay the fears of Booth Arkintonn and some concerned Ghanaian citizens as it continues to provide answers to all that he has said above.
Poachers for Academic Assassination
There used to be a time in the life of a University campus where some students were chastised with the best acronym ever to emerge, ‘dondology’. Many were those who even thought there was a course at that university by that name. The said course was erroneously considered to be very contemptible to those who ignorantly but arrogantly pursued other courses on that campus.
As to why and how they continuously spoke anyhow about the course still remains cloudy. Fortunately, those who defied all the negative rulings from their detractors finished the course with a lot of pride having studied and known their culture and their creative world. Comparable to Wawa aba of the Akan culture, the name which serves as a symbol of persistence, students there particularly believed in the strength of teamwork and unified spirit of the community. They were like the Wawa Aba, a seed of the Wawa tree, one of the strongest and most productive woods of Africa. For the performing artist, the Wawa Aba mainly has mystical significance. These are people who don’t let insinuations and disrespect discourage them. They seize all opportunities successfully and they are thus just as strong and adaptable as the Wawa Aba to pursue intelligence.
The Emergence of the unfortunate
From the interview conducted, it was revealed that, the all embracing Department situated at the very entrance to the University and for that matter, served as the protector and the gateway to the University had as part of its program, the combination of dance, music and drama. These artistic disciplines especially music and dance involved the playing of a traditional musical instrument called ‘dondo’ among other ensemble drums. So the creative but not well informed students in other departments hearing the sweet sounds from this traditional instrument named the whole university approved course after the said drum. In those days, I believe Ghana was not the only country that had a university offering that all important course. But since none of the other countries had an instrument called ‘dondo’, they never saw that course as ‘dondology’. You know the stone that the builders rejected…and the hero is always not noticed in his backyard.
The Trauma
The pain as to hearing somebody pursuing a course in the same university with equal ‘opportunities’ teasing another student on campus for having chosen and offered a course leading to the knowledge of his/her own culture. This was very excruciating.
Even today, some students on campus still out of ignorance refer to the course as such. How pitiful! As much as I do not condemn any of the courses pursued at the university, I strongly believe that all well meaning Ghanaians can testify with all sincerity that the School of Performing Arts has a strong influence on the University of Ghana and the nation, Ghana as a whole. The achievements of the school stand tall and could be counted very impressively among institutions contributing to national development.
It is worth mentioning the kind of creative work exhibited during the CAN 2008 opening and closing ceremonies here in Ghana. This has been internationally acclaimed as one of the best choreographies ever to happen under the globe. It was done by the lecturers and students of the school of performing Arts and other adjunct bodies of the theatrical fraternity.
The School has fed and continues to feed the minds of other teeming students with good human theories and creative works through the plays and other theatrical activities every week.
Developmental Perceptions
Development models have clearly failed despite constant amendment to live up to expectations they always raise. Many are those who claim that development has to be defined far too exclusively in terms of tangibles, such as roads, multi-billion buildings, Supermarkets, factories, farms, glass-houses, water and food.
Although, these are essential goods, the fact still remains that the importance of Theatre and development should be understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means of achieving a satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence. If you build mansions and do not feed the minds of the occupants with good moral conduct and appreciation, bear in mind, that, the mansion would sooner or later collapse.
Rome as an analogy
Research has shown that Rome in the ancient times excelled in most of the ways that any powerful country like America has done. Its engineers were without equal, the might of her army was supreme, its financiers amassed untold wealth, and its swimming pools were as lavish as that of Florida or California in the present times. Yet, after approximately five centuries of control over the western world, Rome left little to excite the mind and admiration of people, comparable in lasting glory to the contribution of the little city of Athens, which controlled but a fraction of the earth’s surface and held leadership for less than a century. In fact, one Greek drama, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles or Agamemnon by Aeschylus probably outweighs all the words and deeds of the entire Roman senate. Were it not for the achievements of its architects and sculptors and a few traditional philosophers, Rome’s reputation today would have been regretful.
The underlying factor is that, whilst the ancient Greeks saw theatre as a religious ritual commanding the devotion of the best minds in the community, the Romans on the other hand, saw it little more than a degraded pleasure, a project by slaves for the enjoyment of their masters.
Fulfilling the Vision of the National Commission on Culture
The prevailing socio-political and economic issues in Ghana in relation to the role of the performing Arts have propelled an indication which fulfils the vision statement of the National Commission on Culture: “To respect, preserve, harness and use the cultural heritage and resources to develop a united, vibrant and prosperous national community with a distinctive African identity and personality and collective confidence and pride among the comity of nations” –Draft Strategic Plan for Culture, 2005-2009
The School of Performing Arts represents our collective national heritage where people from diverse cultural backgrounds are brought together as students to learn our unique cultural features and traditions that give identity, self-respect and pride to the people. The School therefore is seen to maintain the unique cultural identity and value for the promotion of the integrated national culture as well as contribute to the overall economic development of the nation. The fulfillment of these circles revolves around the subjects designed for the course which could be categorized as::
1. Developing and implementing subject areas/courses and programmes which promote creativity and sustainability for positive values
2. Preserving, exhibiting and enhancing national heritage through creative productions
3. Establishing linkages with other Departments and sectors to project national identity
4. Disseminating information through theatrical performances on our cultural values and practices to Ghanaians and the world at large with help of existing media.
Keeping in mind what our culture entails, one can simply establish that, the School of Performing Arts is the symbolic root for all cultural deliberation in the country.



Fulfilling Nkrumah’s Dream
It could be asserted that, one of the institutions that have spearheaded the thoughts of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana in the establishment of the University of Ghana is the School of Performing Arts.
According to Nkrumah, the African personality lies in his artistic deliberations. Quoting Nkrumah, Mawere Opoku once said: “You see the African personality clearly in his dance, music, drama and everything”. This was based on a scene in a documentary film which Opoku and Nkrumah were watching together, when the wife of a drum maker had brought him some food and as she was leaving the man stylishly hit the wife’s buttocks and Nkrumah exclaimed: “that’s so African” Nkrumah was convinced that through theatre, Africans would be able to restore the African Personality. The School of Performing Arts re-echoes Nkrumah’s vision which is understood as embodying the intrinsic African values and system of thought, state-craft and system of hospitality. With this, Nkrumah envisioned Ghanaian personality as capable of recovery through the arts, not only in symbolic, nor in going back as it were, but bringing them to bear upon the Ghanaian situation through Theatre.
In reference to what Kwame Botwe Asamoah in his Kwame Nkrumah’s Politico-cultural Thought (page 65) he wrote: “Nkrumah saw theatre not only as a forum for intellectual discourse, but also as a medium for restoring African Personality and history submerged during colonialism”
The inability of foreign cultures to wipe out the rich Ghanaian cultural heritage is rooted in art, music, dance, drama, paintings and sculpture which exhibit the Ghanaian artistic and aesthetic values. For this reason, Mohammed Ben Abdallah explained during an interview: Nkrumah entreated the School of Music and Drama to provide the Institute of African Studies “with an outlet for creative work, and for the dissemination of knowledge of the arts through its academic endeavors and creative productions”
National life
In truth, the School of Performing Arts embraces all aspects of national life by implanting the following not only for the students, but also, for the general public:
• Preserving national heritage
• Promoting cultural education within the formal and informal sector
• Providing support for creative cultural industries
• Intensifying support for creative cultural tourism
• Empowering students, particularly the youth with creative traditional skills acquisition and training
• Integrating theatre into relevant aspect of national planning
The School of Performing Arts among other things recognizes all civil society groups, business and corporate organizations as stakeholders in the nation’s cultural heritage and seeks their participation in the implementation of their policies and programmes. This has been spearheaded most of the time by Abibigromma, the resident theatre company of the school. It is therefore appropriate that maximum co-operation should be given to the School and the students when they embark on research and cultural promotional activities.
Supply of personnel
It is on record that, apart from the fact that Banking institutions in the country are now chasing graduates from the School of performing due to the discipline they acquire with regards to time consciousness, accuracy, punctuality and above all team-work all deriving from the course structure, the school constantly provides the working force, not limited to the following institutions and agencies only.
? The Regional and District Centres for National Culture, The National Theatre of Ghana, The National Dance Company, The National Theatre Players, The National Symphony Orchestra, The Ghana Museum and Monument Board, Bureau of Ghana Languages, The Copyright Office, The National Folklore Board, The W.E.B Dubois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture, Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, Pan African Writers Association, The Ghana Education Service, Electronic and Print media houses, Film Industries etc, The Ghana Dance Ensemble, Abibigromma, NAFTI etc.
It is imperative to note that, the School of Performing Arts has a herculean task to supply qualified personnel for all these sectors for national development. It could be said that, there is no other School in Ghana which has a number of institutions to serve than the School of Performing Arts comprising of Music, Dance, and Drama.
In the projection of the School, in terms of nation building, the University of Ghana by establishing and maintaining the school stands out as one of the universities in the country which has its developmental obligations covering all other sectors of life in this country.
This can be further explained as the school still provides the platform to:
• Research, preserve, and promote cultural values and practices that encourage national unity, social cohesion and harmony for socio-economic development.
• Create avenues to make the arts self-supporting springing up many artistic groups
• Encourage and support public and private participation in the development and implementation of cultural programmes in and outside the school
• Maximize Ghana’s comparative advantage as a major centre for creative cultural tourism
• Integrate culture in national development through Theatre for development programmes
• Foster the promotion of Ghanaian languages through theatre.
Forecasting for improvement.
The School of Performing Arts believes that its active participation in the development process of the country’s rich creative culture would be made possible if the University of Ghana and the Government of Ghana and of course everyone help to address some of the challenges seen to hamper its operations effectively. To mention but a few, these among other confrontations have been identified:
? Poor infrastructural base and lack of well equipped Theatres
? Inadequate funding for theatrical programmes
? Inadequate human resource capital
? Poor investment in creative cultural industries
? Poor marketing of creative cultural goods and services
? Lack of publishers for creative works (Plays, Choreographies, Musical recordings etc)
? Lack of cultural awareness
? Poor patronage to theatrical programmes/performances
? Strong influence of negative alien cultures, especially on the youth
? Lack of strong database on National cultural assets etc.
Conclusion
Let me conclude by thinking aloud; it is a bare fact that, the promotion and the wearing of ‘Ghana-made’ clothing/ African touch materials is strongly influenced and administered by the people who work in the cultural industries in the country highly, dominated by former students of the School of Performing Arts and other Arts institutions in the country. Na lie? No na True…
By His Grace, I shall be back