Interview: Are creative spaces East Africa’s sleeping giants?

October 27, 2016

The Creatives Garage hub was birthed by a quest to engage in cultural activism and enable creatives to venture into social innovation. To date, it has partnered with 7,000 creatives who are guided to turn their craft into a source of livelihood.

In 2014, Creatives Garage’s Roy Ombati was selected to be part of the Age of Wonderland residence programme that was held in Eindhoven. His Mobile Shoe Lab innovation dubbed ‘Happy Feet’ was showcased as an innovative project that involved providing customised shoes for people affected by jiggers in Kenya.

With frontrunners such as Roy, Creatives Garage has continued to prove that Kenya’s creative industry is facing a new shift through inspiration, innovation and revival of artistic spaces. However, Hivos East Africa’s Ubunifu report states that these industries can actually thrive when given just a ‘little push’ in the right direction.

Hivos East Africa’s Sally Akinyi sat down with Liz Kilili, head of Creatives Garage, to understand how Creatives Garage is dominating the creative industry.

SA: Why is your title Chief Mechanic?

LK: Now that you mention it, many people think Creatives Garage is an actual garage where cars get fixed. In reality, you could equate us to a garage because we are a breeding ground where creatives are incubated, panel beat their ideas and learn from each other. As the head of the hub, it was only befitting to be labelled as the Chief Mechanic.

SA: What’s your main focus as a hub?

LK: Our main focus is on market access for the creatives, but we have now ventured into cultural activism and social innovation. Cultural activism speaks against vices such as gender-based violence using spoken word and music. Our #WTF series that spoke of such injustices in society managed to reach 800,000 people. In social innovation we have been incubating creatives who are developing the first 3D printers in Kenya using recycled material.

SA: What’s your take on the shrinking spaces for cultural activism?

LK: We have received a backlash on championing for LGBT rights mostly when it comes to sponsorship of our events. This speaks to the fact that cultural spaces have consistently been perceived as disrespectful to past regimes in the country. I believe opportunities abound to reclaim these spaces, if only we [creative community] organise ourselves to counter ingrained mind-sets.

SA: What are your thoughts on the status of Kenya’s creative economy?

LK: In comparison to 5 years ago, I have seen growth in the industry especially with the emergence of the digital revolution. I see digital spaces as opportunities that creatives can tap into to access markets and sell their products. However, there’s still a huge gap in financial stability. Creatives still lack a stable financial base to remain competitive in the industry. I see this as a market for financial institutions, such as banks, to develop appealing financial products that target creatives.

SA: Would you shed light on Hivos East Africa’s support to Creatives Garage?

LK: Hivos East Africa was one of the few organisations that showed interest in supporting our work. Thanks to Hivos’ Age of Wonderland programme, creatives such as Roy Ombati have gotten opportunities to be positioned as innovators in the creative industry. Government agencies such as the Ministry of Health are now interested in engaging him to develop prosthetic arms using 3D technology. Having someone who believed in our dreams and was willing to walk with us (Creatives Garage) has given us exposure to great opportunities.

SA: Any parting shot?

LK: For Creatives Garage we will continue to ignite spaces in the creative industry. With partners such as Hivos, the sky is no longer the limit.

Stories of change such as Creatives Garage continue to demonstrate Hivos East Africa’s commitment to reclaim and foster safe and sustainable spaces for Freedom of Expression in the region.

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