For the past decade Chale Wote has been very consistent in its contributions to both the art world and to Ghana. Year after year the festival brings art to the masses, tourists to this country and opportunities whose benefactors span the entire globe. The Chale Wote mission has always been clear, to bring art to all people; thus it came as a great surprise that on 21st August during an exhibition to mark our 10th Anniversary, our independently funded festival became caught in the crosshairs of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly in such a brutal manner. Leading to the arrests of our directors and artists and an interruption of our events.
Chale Wote has given Ghana visibility as cultural innovation destination within the global art economy. The festival has accelerated tour, trade and creative economies while drawing international visitors by the thousands to Accra over the years. Ghanaian artists are building their portfolios and connections with businesses and institutions around the world due to the festival. It’s impact on the Ghanaian economy ranging from air and land transport, travel & tour, the hotel industry, food and beverages, Ghana made products, tourist attractions and employment by the thousands has proven to be a sustainable economic framework. This is the thriving ecosystem Chale Wote has built within the last 10 years. Such a brutal attack and unjust incarceration should not be the handshake we get from State security and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly after sacrificing so much for this country.
As an organization we have worked with the Ghana police for the past 10 years without incidents of this nature, where producers and artists alike are harassed, detained and incarcerated without any legal explanation, except that the order came “from above.” Chale Wote producers Mantse Aryeequaye and Nii Aryeh along with artist Nana Yaw Ananse Apem Darko and community Police officer Evans Abbio were arrested in Ussher town and equipment meant for the virtual event vandalised. The incarcerated individuals have since been released as of Monday 23rd August after spending a total of 48 hours in police custody. The confiscated equipment was released recently with a 200-ghc fine for “Entertainment without Permission”. Imagine being dragged from an indoor art exhibition with full covid protols into police custody, where there is no social distancing, wearing of masks or even basic covid prevention mechanisms.
This year more than ever during an almost 2 year long global pandemic, much thought and consideration was put into curating a responsible cultural fair. Street activities, which account for a rather large portion of our program, were stripped away in an effort to adhere to and maintain safety protocols. All outdoor activities were cancelled after a meeting with the Accra Regional High Command on the 18th of August 2021.
Many concessions and difficult decisions led to this conclusion, yet it seemed there was a larger hand at play, one that wanted to make an example out of artists who’s sole purpose last weekend was to bring art, not harm to people, but instead were served with brutality.
These demonstrations of police injustice shed light on the abuse of power we can face in this country as people and as an organization. The financial losses due to this raid by the A.M.A and the Police have been devastating for the festival and its production crew.
The actions displayed on 21st August were not only disappointing and severely damaging to the community, these brutal actions were especially damaging to the reputation Ghana is building and to its reputation within the global art scene, built due to this very festival. In the end the true victims are the members of our community, the city of Accra, the small businesses in James Town and Ussher Town residents who rely on its financial benefits, people performing post Homowo ceremonies and finally, the non-Chale Wote related vendors who’s private properties were destroyed raided then incarcerated, can all be listed as casualties of this “order from above” that was enacted on the artists and producers of Chale Wote Street Art Festival.
These acts are also a blemish on our reputation as a country of revolutionaries and forward thinkers and begs one to wonder if this a turning tide in our society where attacks on art, artists, creatives and global change makers are ordered from above and who ‘at the top’ is commanding police to carry arms into an art space, where people are armed only with critical imagination?
We will also like to take this opportunity to thank our comrades who supported us throughout this troubling episode. The outpouring of love and concern was overwhelming and beautiful, we remain grateful.