By Margaretta wa Gacheru. 
Published April 7, 2014 Business Daily @ Radar Screen p.3
1st prize winner in Seasoned Artists category Kennedy Munala was awarded KSh300,000 at the opening of 5th annual Manjano art exhibition at Village Market. Pix by Margaretta

Putting a monetary value on contemporary Kenyan art isn’t an easy thing to do.
Some say it is valueless and young people especially should not waste their time on it. These are the educators and politicians who felt justified in removing Art as an examinable subject from the national schools’ curriculum.
Others respect Kenyan art so highly that they get representative pieces of it into leading galleries and museums all over Europe and States.
Many in this latter category of people also collect contemporary Kenyan art, some do it simply for the love of it; others as an assured investment knowing it can only accrue in value over time.
In Kenya today, the best evidence that creating Kenyan art can be both a fulfilling and a lucrative enterprise is the annual Nairobi County Visual Art Exhibition, also known as ‘Manjano’.
That’s because artists can win anywhere from KSh15,000 to KSh300,000 in the adjudicated competition that accompanies the exhibition itself.
This year’s Manjano winners, who were announced on Thursday night, 4th April at the Village Market, included both students as well as seasoned local artists.
Six in all were selected out of the 175 artworks submitted for consideration. The three student winners received KSh15K, KSh30K and KSh50K while the more experienced artists got KSh75K, KSh150K and KSh300K respectively.
Keeping everyone present at Village Market Exhibition Hall in suspense, the director of the GoDown Art Centre (which organized the exhibition and ran the adjudication process), Judy Ogana announced the winners in the student category first. They are in third place, Mark Gisiora for his mixed media painting Waste Gate, in second place, Samira Saidi for City Rush and Elsardt Kegen Amulyuta for his painting Nai Ni Nani.
Two out of the three student winners, Samira and Gisiora, are currently students being mentored at the GoDown by the Citizen TV Saturday morning children’s art instructor, Patrick Mukabi. In previous years, since Manjano was first established in 2010, Mukabi’s students have consistently won awards for their art and creative expression.
Back in 2010 however, the lead organizer of what was then the annual Nairobi Provincial Art Exhibition was the Department of Culture in the Culture Ministry in collaboration with the GoDown.
Unfortunately that first year, the government allocated only KSh35K for the entire exhibition, so there were no cash incentives given to any artist.
Once the GoDown took charge of Manjano however, the value of Kenya art was monetized with KSh620K set aside for prizes alone, including KSh300K which was won by Michael Soi (whose art is currently on exhibition at Alliance Francaise together with that of Thom Ogonga and John Kamicha).
This year the cash award of KSh300K went to Kennedy Munala Atsullu for his mixed media sculpture entitled Manyanga wa Embakasi. The second prize of KSh150K went ot Dennis Muraguri for his mixed media collage entitled Bus Stop, and the third prize of kKSh75K went to Moses Nyawanda for Koinange Street Reloaded.
In 2014 it seemed there were many more artists submitting their work in the student category than in the seasoned one.
One reason for this shift, according to some of the more experienced local artists, is because they feel that having their art hung side by side of students’ was a ‘put down’ to them and something that would depreciate the value of their own art. Thus, they claimed they ‘boycotted’ the exhibition this year.
Others seasoned artists like Dennis Muraguri said Manjano offers opportunities for all visual artists to be appreciated both socially and monetarily. His winning the second prize in the mature artists category vindicated that point of view.
The adjudicators were selected by the GoDown for their arts experience, neutrality and unbiased perspectives on Kenyan art. They were Thom Ogonga, a painter and arts blogger, Wendy Karmali, formerly a curator with National Museums of Kenya and Oluwatosin Onile-Ere Rotimi, a Nigerian arts consultant currently based in Nairobi.
As for the reality of more young artists submitting their work to Manjano than the older, more established ones, there were a number of observers and connoisseurs of Kenyan art who were present on Thursday night who said they saw it as a healthy sign since it suggests new blood and a more expansive field of creative expression coming alive in Kenya today.
What is clear from the overwhelming support among young artists for Manjano is that the visual arts are becoming an important asset to Kenya’s creative economy. This is the sector of the local economy that generates monetary value or wealth for the country’s ‘creatives’ who are based in the arts and culture sector.
Unfortunately, the Kenya government has not yet followed precedents set by various United Nations agencies to calculate what percentage of the country’s GDP is currently being generated by the creative economy (meaning revenues earned in the arts and culture sector) but hopefully that will be forthcoming.
Currently, a country like the UK generates more than 12 percent of its GDP from its creative economy.
Kenyan ‘creatives’ claim they can generate even higher percentages than that in the near future. Manjano is a significant factor stimulating the sort of interest in and enthusiasm for the visual arts that will help make that claim a reality.

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