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Stimulating the Art Scene in Nigeria

Stimulating the Art Scene in Nigeria

By Jerry Adesewo

In my column last week, I attempted to set a cultural agenda for the incoming Nigerian President, taking a cursory look at the campaign promises of the leading presidential candidates in the persons of PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, Labour Party’s Peter Obi and APC’s Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

One of the issues I raised was the need for a cultural plan or policy, citing the need to do a bit more in helping to galvanise and stimulate the art scene in Nigeria, to achieve its potential, and in turn, yield the necessary fruits for the practitioners, and of course the nation itself, in terms of economic value.

Stimulating the art scene in Nigeria is a difficult task, especially when trying to do so without jeopardizing the safety and well-being of artists and patrons. Historically, the arts have been seen as a frivolous pursuit by Nigerian society, which has attributed a lack of aesthetic taste to the population as a whole. While this mindset has begun to change in recent years, there is still a long way to go before Nigerian arts are considered respectable or accepted in mainstream society.

Though debatable, and the situation at the moment is changing, Nigerian art, whether visual, performing or literary arts, is not respected by mainstream society because it is often seen as primitive and unsophisticated, and it is also considered to be a reflection of the country’s poverty and hardship. To address this issue, it is important that Nigerian art is made more visible within the mainstream, which can be done by focusing on showcasing the beauty of the art, connecting with the Nigerian community, and encouraging people to purchase art from established Nigerian artists.

Several efforts had been made in the past to achieve the goal of bequeathing Nigeria a robust art scene, by both individuals and organisations. However, it is important to state that stimulating the Nigerian art scene will require a concerted effort from the government, the arts community and the public at large. While progress is being made, the road ahead is still fraught with challenges.

Promote and develop cross-cultural collaborations between Nigerian artists and their international counterparts. At the moment, there is not a single Nigerian agency that is known to be looking in this direction. The National Council for Arts and Culture is focused on internal activities, which in itself is a step in the right direction, if well harmonised. The NCAC has a huge role to play in achieving this. Same with the National Theatre, the national troupe of Nigeria and of course the National Institute for Cultural Orientation, within their respective mandates.

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While it is not sure what our embassies abroad are doing, the different embassies and foreign missions in Nigeria, are doing to establish cross-cultural collaboration which helps to promote and develop their own art, and we must confess, even ours have benefited from. It is important to put a mechanism in place to ensure that the right investment is made into the creative and cultural industry, in order to pave way for growth.

Establishing and maintaining art galleries and public art spaces in major Nigerian cities remains a critical step the government of Nigeria needs to take. And I dealt with that critically in the last article, where I bemoaned the lack of art facilities, and the need to invest in infrastructural developments.

Supporting and funding innovative art projects and initiatives is a sure way to stimulate the art scene. I, for one, would like to see an NCAC that provides grants, and mobility funds for Nigerian artists, to fund their projects and embark on cross-cultural programmes. The Dutch Performing Arts Fund, Creative Scotland, Korea Foundation, and Goethe Institut are others, put in place by many other countries, calling on artists and art organisations to apply for grants to develop their arts and carry out projects which help put galvanise the scene and sustain it.

Increase access to art education for students and the general public. It is important that the Nigerian government invests in educational initiatives and programmes that foster an appreciation for its art and provide resources for artists so that their work is more accessible. During a trip to Germany in 2019, we visited the Berlin Parliament, where one of the legislators, and a former theatremaker informed us that a bill has been passed, beginning in 2020 which makes it a crime for any school in Berlin, not to have theatre in their curriculum. He added that the school don’t have to pay for it as funds have been appropriated for theatre companies to apply to, and if granted, to tour schools with their works. There couldn’t have been a better way to stimulate the art scene than that. These young beneficiaries would themselves, either become artists or lovers of art, who become patrons of art.

Developing and promoting the Nigerian art market is another core of all efforts needed to be put in place to ensure a robust art scene. Access to funding, or in this case, the capital. Through the National Council for Arts and Culture or other relevant organisations, banks and other financial institutions should be encouraged to provide access to enable investment in the Nigerian art market by entrepreneurs, collectors and exhibitors. As had been mentioned previously, funds should be allocated through these agencies of government and other grant-making organisations.

Let me end by encouraging the individual efforts, of those individuals, associations and organisations who have been at the forefront of ensuring that the Nigerian art scene remained alive. The likes of the US Embassy, British Council, Korean Cultural Centre, French Institute, Spanish Embassy and many others, including the organised private sector have made major contributions to the Nigerian art scene.

The creative and cultural industry holds a lot of promise that is not being harnessed.

Stimulating the Art Scene in Nigeria

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