The Chale Wote street art festival, and a discussion on local tourism for James Town

in Cultural + Heritage by

The second installment of the Chale Wote Street Art Festival took place yesterday in Jamestown, the historic section of Accra. The event, produced by Accra[DOT]alt, aims at creating a space for creativity and art in the neighborhood and attracting residents and fans to this historic and culturally rich area in Ghana’s capital city. Last year, I wrote about the first installment, and I’ve written about how the festival, along with other creative initiatives, is carving out a space for cultural creativity in Accra, leveraging local artistic innovation and activities.

Check out this slide show of some of the festival’s activities (mainly focused on activities at Old Kinsgway Building, since that’s where I was helping with the program):

You can also see these fantastic photos by Ghanaian photographer Nana Kofi Acquah of the event.

Beyond these photos and the colorful, action-packed moments of Chale Wote, it’s clear to see that this type of festival is changing the game when it comes to promoting arts, cultural and local tourism in Accra.

Saturday afternoon and into the evening, there were a whole host of activities that took place. Take a look at this festival map below to get a better idea of the day’s schedule (map created by yours truly, gotta do a bit of self promotion, you know):

Helping out with this event (and seeing the major efforts that its organizers put forward to ensure the day would be a success) have given me a new perspective on just how challenging — but also rewarding — events like this can be for communities who pull them off.

In her blog post “Jamestown, flip flops and running with the mob,” Accra-based writer Fiona Leonard describes how the festival is amazing, although still in its infancy as the organizers continue to work out the bugs in organizing this type of event. This type of festival — focused on community activity, art, music and creative performance, is not only virtually unheard of in Accra (especially as a free event, I might add), it’s never really been done before. So it’s a huge opportunity, but also a huge challenge, with no best practices to work from and improve upon.

For example, one of her suggestions — trying to pedestrianize the street (close it off from cars so that people could freely walk back and forth) would likely require an AMA permit, and given the layout of the roads (and the essentiality of High Street), would be fantastic, but maybe not so feasible.

Another challenge is to not only hold the event in James Town, Accra’s most historic neighborhood, but to also sufficiently include the local residents within the activities. The organizers works to do this, including local performers and vendors where possible, hosting activities at key, cultural locations such as Ussher Fort (a former prison and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Lighthouse and Mantse Agbona (the palace of the James Town Mantse, or chief/local leader). They organized a whole schedule of creative activities for neighborhood youth, entertaining them with dramas, music, arts and given them a free lunch — some activities that kids their age may or may not have access to them on a regular basis.

The event has even built some serious street cred by hosting Generik Vapeur, a Marseilles, France-based street theatre troupe that performed that evening. But even more than that, the festival was about, supported by, and enriched by the performances of Accra and Ghanaian artists, who are typically overlooked.

Most of all, events like Chale Wote are opportunities to show community pride, to boast of the community’s assets and talents, which too often go ignored and are marginalized. Chale Wote has come a long way, from an idea, as an uphill planning battle with little local support — and has been a success two years in a row. Imagine what it could be if the city of Accra, including key agencies like the AMA, really threw their support behind the event….

  • Anonymous

    Awesome! when is the nxt event coming up?

  • This is a seed of cultural preservation…Keep up the good work and play…SDT

  • Thanks, and apologies for the belated response. The event was organized in large part by accra[dot]alt, you can check out their webpage here: accradotalttours.wordpress.com. They put on really interesting events each month called “talkparty” that you might be really interested in.

  • Chale Wote Festival 2013 will take place on September 7-8th in Jamestown, Accra 🙂