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A visit to Nairobi’s GoDown Arts Centre

As part of her autumn secondment, Marlena Chybowska-Butler made a visit to the GoDown Arts Centre, a Nairobi creative hub that is an institution in the capital’s art scene.

Founded in 2003, the not-for-profit organization provided visual and performing artists spaces in which to work, exhibit, perform and onboard skills. Currently located in the Kilimani district, GoDown will embark on an ambitious renovation of its former home — a disused motor garage in the city’s Industrial Area. The KES2bn project will break ground in 2023 and create a multi-story, multi-disciplinary arts space when it is completed in around two years’ time.
The vision of Executive Director Joy Mboya, GoDown boasts a long history as a focal point of creative expression for artists in Nairobi. Local luminaries that found their footing at GoDown include Michael Soi, John Silver and Patrick Mukabi. In addition, the Kuona Trust managed visual art production before creating its own hub in Kilimani. Soi recently opened a retail shop, similar to the one he operates at the Kuona grounds, and also keeps a studio at GoDown. As does Dickens Otieno, a participant at the Kenya Pavilion during the 55th Biennale di Venezia. GoDown also is home to Ketebul, a music producer, and Peperuka, a fashion design and retail shop.
GoDown subsidizes studio space for visual artists and offers an array of programs that help creatives to build their skills and business acumen. These include courses on entrepreneurship and a four-month copyright law course that is sanctioned by the Harvard Law School in the US. There are workshops and artist-in-residence programs, as well as outreach efforts in foreign countries. One recently-completed effort, led by Italian non-profit Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) and funded by the European Union, resulted in the establishment of similar creative hub in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
According to Program Director Lima Mbai, GoDown draws its funding from a mostly international roster of donors who share the centre’s vision of providing space in which artists can work and collaborate. The foundation employs 12 full-time and approaches other non-profits, like with its CISP association, on a project basis. Mbai said GoDown is looking to the Kenyan government for help in lowering the costs of renovating its location on the Dunga Road. She said the programs will continue to be run in Kilimani when the renovation project gets underway in January.

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