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September 22 2016


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Millicent Muthoni is a Kenyan journalist, author and editor. She is also one of the mentees taking part in the Arterial Network African Women in Cultural Leadership (AWCL) pilot programme in Nairobi. When interviewed about her experience of the programme so far, this is what she had to share.

"The most positive change for me thanks to AWCL has been the connections and networking opportunities made available to me. The programme is designed for mentees to fulfill goals that we set at the start, and my goals were challenging enough to get me on my feet. The programme offers a structure and an accountability agreement where my mentor, Sitawa Namwalie, holds me to my word.

I am a writer, specifically a cultural journalist. I committed to creating a database of artists and art events, as well as attend two cultural events per week and meet at least two new cultural players every week. These commitments are meant to assist as I work towards starting an online arts and culture journal in November.

I am getting to know people in the arts, as well as to be known as a reliable, authoritative, informed writer. Several opportunities have opened up through this networking opportunity brought about by the AWCL programme. I was awarded a consultancy with the Goethe-Institut, Nairobi, handling media coverage and public relations with regards to their cultural programmes. I was also invited to be part of a select group of cultural players working with the leading telecoms company in Kenya, Safaricom, to come up with an arts and culture directory for the country. On top of this, I continue to write a weekly column on art and culture for the People Daily newspaper, offering opinions on leadership and a variety of information to readers.

My article on the UNCTAD 14 side event on the subject of creative economy was published by Daily Nation, the leading newspaper in Kenya, as the main opinion editorial piece. I was also commissioned to develop a creative writing curriculum for a college called Africa Digital Media Institute (ADMI). I have been seconded as a member of the advisory board of the Kenya Entertainment and Arts Journalists Association. Our first project was to lobby the Media Council of Kenya to include an arts category in their journalism awards, which process we have begun.

The changes are significant for several reasons. I have been writing for many years, but as a solitary affair, where I attended few events and did not fully interact with people, simply to write an article for the newspaper. While this worked for me as a writer, it didn’t work for my leadership development because I wasn’t building relationships. Now I am being invited to cover events and consulted for feedback by organisers. It has also opened doors to other opportunities as outlined above.

I am now making a living from my writing, as a freelance journalist. It’s the first time I have related to my craft as the source of my livelihood, and I’m now being strategic about costing my contribution and branding myself as an arts journalist and a media mobiliser for arts and culture projects.

My main goal for this year is to start an arts and culture journal in November. I’d say networking has deepened my understanding of what’s happening in art and culture in Kenya; what the industry players are dealing with, the opportunities in the creative economy, and the status of the policy framework that supports art and culture. It has also built trust between me and the artists, art managers and event organisers, because they feel that I’m interested in their contribution.

The biggest challenge I encountered with AWCL is that I feel the pressure to perform at the highest level of excellence. I must be well read, well informed, well grounded in the realities of the art and culture sector, yet I feel that it will take time to build expertise. Sometimes I have no access to information, say when policy discussions are held behind closed doors, and can only write from what I know. Kenya is currently writing its cultural policies, straddling language, music, the creative economy, and culture as a whole, and so there’s a huge opportunity for me to contribute to this debate and move the action forward. The pressure to be ‘an expert’ sometimes leaves me frozen. The art and culture sector is vast and there’s a lot going on, and to be an opinion shaper or thought leader requires a deep understanding of the issues facing the sector.

There aren’t many cultural journalists in Kenya, and stepping up to the plate exposes me to criticism and appreciation in equal measure. It is significant because I feel that my legacy lies in art journalism, and I want to be instrumental in the revolution that is happening in Kenya, with many young people embracing art and culture as a viable career path and with unprecedented levels of innovation in the creative fields."

On the 26th of July 2016, the AWCL mentees held their first public seminar at the Alliance Française in Nairobi titled ‘Passion into Profit: Can Creative Women Be Business Minded Leaders?’ To read more about the event, click here.

The African Women in Cultural Leadership (AWCL) closing ceremony will take place in Nairobi on the 2nd of November 2016. For more information about the methodology behind the AWCL pilot programme in Kenya, click here.

For more about Millicent Muthoni, click here.

Photo: Millicent Muthoni (centre) at the Goethe-Institut, Nairobi
Photo Credit: Millicent Muthoni

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