First published in August 2013
By Gen Elly Tumwine
The NOMMO GALLERY which was established in 1967, was first housed on Kampala Road in an old building which was later condemned and demolished around the City Square.
To promote art and culture, the then President gave the present house which houses the only National Art Gallery, NOMMO GALLERY to Visual Artists, and an art exhibition to open it, was presided over by the First Lady then, Miria Obote. It was originally an annex to the Nakasero State House.
It was handed to the Artists who had formed The Uganda Artists Association (UAA) to unite all the visual artists. Artists like the late Prof. Francis Musango Gwantamu, the late Buluma, the late Kyeyune, Prof. Nagenda, and others participated.
During Amin’s regime, when most artists ran into exile and the main patrons, the rich Indians left, the gallery was almost deserted and the few artists who stayed quarreled among themselves.
The Ministry of Culture then appointed an Overseer to run the gallery but only paid a miserable salary to him, such that he was only able to survive from his art but there was no money enough to even maintain the compound.
In 1986, when NRM took power, I encouraged artists to come together. I invited many back from exile, and worked with the School of Fine Art at Makerere, to be involved in designing and painting to depict the new situation.
In 1988, I was made the Patron of the UAA. We organised many Art exhibitions, but we were always embarrassed by the unattended compound and the whole environment, with helpless complaints from the overseer then Mr Buluma, who was soon to retire.
In 1992, I was appointed the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC), to take care of the National Theatre, the Nommo Gallery, and another community house in Mengo (which was later returned with the Lubiri). The (UNCC) Act only talks of the National Theatre. The Ministry told our Board that we had to raise our own funds to run these places.
There was a small wage subvention to cover the salaries of a few members of staff. The National Theatre was leaking, and the chairs in the auditorium smelling and the bush was around all the premises.
The Nommo Gallery was the worst with many ant-hills in the compound. One day, a company came marketing Hydra-form technology, of making bricks from ant-hill soil without using cement. It was exciting, and I told them that we had plenty of ant-hills even next to State House, and they could demonstrate there.
From our ant-hills exhibition in the bushy compound, we got 5,000 bricks. As an artist and responsible person, I made use of the bricks after paying for the labour, by putting up an artistic temporary two roomed structure using metallic supports, and the wall of the neighboring building.
At that time I had no official office elsewhere, and wanted to do whatever it took to improve the Art promotion centers, as many people were not bothered.
After contraction, we invited H.E. The President to see the Hydra form demonstration and many other dignitaries from the ministries, which led to the purchase of the machines.
At that time, very few people visited the gallery. We then started a campaign to promote the gallery to become a tourist centre and a lively place for art lovers and the public, so that they can patronize the artists work on sell.
The Board appointed a substantive Director of the Nommo Gallery, the Late Fabian Mpagi, and a well known artist. I worked with many artists to organize exhibitions at the gallery and even abroad.
Then I realized that there was a gap on attracting people to the gallery, there was no eating place and no African food being served around the area. I then took months convincing restaurant owners to come to Nommo Gallery, until I convinced the ladies running Pearl Restaurant, who were at Pioneer Mall then.
To convince them, I offered them one of the rooms on my structure free of charge for six months, so that they test the Market. When it picked up, we then, started discussing the idea of B.O.T (Build Operate and Transfer).
I was working with the Director and briefing the Board of Trustees all the time. Finally, they raised the funds to build the restaurant as a temporary structure, and they entered into a legal agreement with Nommo Gallery in 1997 to build operate the restaurant for 10 years, after which, they would start paying rent. This included maintaining the premises in a good and attractive condition.
After 10 years, in 2007 , the ladies running Pearl Restaurant, started paying rent of Ugshs 3,000,000 (three million) per month, until it was reduced for them to Ugshs 2,300,000 (two million, three hundred thousand only).
This money has been paid to the Board, although little has been done to improve the gallery in these years. Iam told it is this period when there has been grave mismanagement that has led to the interdiction of the Director of National Theatre.
When they left my room, in 1997, we turned it into a classroom, for different lectures, on art, environment, grey-haired and bold-headed, nutrition, visiting students from all over the country, and an additional exhibition space for art. I worked jointly with the director, to offer internship art training to different students, with some coming from abroad.
I made and commissioned many art pieces to display in the compound to give the gallery a deserving image on a National Gallery.
Iam proud to say that my vision, that I expressed at the opening of my art exhibition in 1993 at Nommo Gallery, when I assured those present that we shall turn Nommo Gallery into one of the best sitting places in Kampala, has been fulfilled as we speak. I was not occupying the gallery as a commercial tenant or an employee for pay. I was there as a Patron of the artists and a representative of the owners, not to work like a” paid laborers” which some people are.
I have taught worked, helped and promoted young artists and many other people as a responsible patriot not for pay but for value addition. I have spent tremendous time, a lot of money, and in depth thinking to fulfill the purpose for which the gallery was set up, worth more than any amount of money could have done (if it would not only tempt the greedy that are in plenty).
As the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, I introduced to the board the idea of generating income without investing a shilling by attracting crafts operators to construct temporary iron-sheets structures, operate them and pay monthly ground rents, as well as using the car park for generating income than just parking staff cars only as was the case before. We invited restaurant owners to establish restaurants behind the theatre to pay rent, but unfortunately, much of this income cannot be well accounted for, according to reports.
Whenever the different Boards invited me for discussion, they would agree with me to continue contributing the way I have been doing as a partner and promoter, not as a tenant. This was also in recognition that it was my continued interest to support, supplement and promote their assigned work, that they did not see the point of demanding rent from me as if I was there to make money.
And that I had put in place better sources of earning sustainable income than all the officials. We are now discussing and already working on bigger strategic ideas as was discussed in our most recent meeting.
The writer is the Minister of Security and proprietor of Nommo gallery