Walking into The GoDown Arts Centre gives you the sense that you are treading on holy ground – entering art’s sacred space. It might have something to do with the mural on the perimeter wall that greets you as go through the gates. The wall is currently home to a larger-than-life portrait of Lupita Nyong’o, by BankSlave, Images of Dedan Kimathi, Barack Obama, Michael Jackson and Miriam Makeba also live on the walls of the Godown.
Before 2003, when The GoDown opened, the only reasons many people had to go into Nairobi’s Industrial area was to see their mechanic or buy affordable car spare parts; or for whatever business they had at one of the many factories located there. It was a place people passed through, en route to the city centre from the suburbs.
The GoDown Arts Centre, a 6,000sqm space in the midst of hundreds of warehouses, has changed all this. The GoDown provides the opportunity for artists and artists’ organizations to rent out space at a reduced rate. Here you will find ten individual art studios, as well as workshop spaces and outdoor working areas. There are also exhibition and rehearsal areas and an amphitheatre that is now one of the most popular performing spaces in the city. There is always something being created and showcased at the GoDown. The artists here feed off each other to create art with a distinctive flair. Their work is a product of the wonderfully unconventional environment in which it is created.
The GoDown has had several successes. Judy Ogana, the Centre’s General Manager, is most proud of The East Africa Arts Summit, a biennial conference that brings together cultural actors, managers, practitioners, policy makers and government officials across all arts disciplines, to discuss pertinent issues affecting the sector. The GoDown is also proud of its local impact on Nairobi.
“With this foot-print in the heart of the city, we enable and contribute to a robust, creative environment. The GoDown underpins the important role culture plays in our society as a mirror, providing space to reflect, create, express and share. Through various festivals such as the annual Nai Ni Who? Festival, the GoDown has engaged Nairobians from across the city. The Manjano Visual Arts Exhibition and Prize has grown as an important platform for Nairobi based visual artists over the last six years, and our ten-week Creative Entrepreneurship Course is now in its third year with its fifth cohort!’’ Judy said.
Plans are underway to redevelop the GoDown. The idea is to create a cultural precinct that is cognisant of the rich historical value of the area.
Wanjiru Koinange is a Kenyan writer. She recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing the outcome of which was her debut novel that is based on the events around Kenya’s post election violence in 2007. She currently lives in Nairobi where she is working to re-install libraries into primary schools and public spaces.