Friday, 2 September 2011

funding art in Nigeria

How not to fund arts in Nigeria

By Tajudeen Sowole
Tuesday, 29 March 2011 00:00 



As arts funding in Nigeria remains a recurring issue, the ongoing crisis in England and Wales – over cuts in government’s support for The Arts – offers an opportunity for policy makers here to learn how not to make the state a capitalist investor in the culture sector
ALTHOUGH professionals from these parts of the U.K., in the last few weeks, have been appealing to government to rescind its new policy over cuts on the arts, the funding structure, despite the cuts, still encourages the growth of the sector compared to the situation in Nigeria. In fact, it is a zero-support of government for the arts in Nigeria.
Last October, the government of Britain announced that its agency, Arts Council England “would have its budget cut by almost 30 per cent.” And in response to the professionals’ voices against the development, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in defence of the new policy, argued that cuts to arts were less deep than those to many other areas such as police. The cuts are expected to start taking effects from tomorrow just as the culture professionals have written to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, seeking an audience with him.
In Britain, the Arts Council England, which distributes money to hundreds of art venues, groups, individual artists and galleries was established in 2003 from the 1940 establishment, Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA).
In Nigeria, what appeared like an equivalent started with a 1991 act known as National Endowment for the Arts. After two decades of silence, it took a build-up to the 2011 general elections for the government to remember the importance of arts funding, hence the recent announcement of “$200m investment of Federal Government in the entertainment industry.”
However, the involvement of the Bank of Industry (BOI) as the managers of the fund, which, apparently, is a deviation from the grant structure expectation, seemed to have melted the earlier excitement the announcement of the fund generated within the arts sector.
The commercial investor posture of the Nigerian government is a contrast to public funding support for the arts in most countries of the world. In fact, some countries extend such benefits to citizens of other nations. In the last few years, for example, some individual Nigerian artists and groups have benefitted from grants of foreign governments to enhance their visibility, either at producing or projecting their works. One of such grants, consistently, came from The Netherlands-based Prince Claus award, a non-profit initiative of the government of that country. Established in 1997, for the benefits of artists, intellectuals and cultural organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Prince Claus has been given to three Nigerian recipients in the last four years. Writer Chris Abani was the first Nigerian to be honoured by the awards foundation. Other beneficiaries of such funds include photo artist, James Iroha Uchechukwu and Committee for Relevant Art (CORA)
With as many as over 10 recipients selected from the focused regions every year, the grants range from 100,000 Euro to 25,000 Euro.
Also, late last year, an individual initiative and proposed charity, The African Arts Trust, founded by Robert Devereux – former partner of Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic – raised a total of £4.7m ($7.6m) through auction sales of the donor’s collections. Consideration of entries for the trust is scheduled to start in September this year. Devereux noted that Africa “has huge potential but very few resources to support its burgeoning talent,” and added: “I decided to establish a charity devoted to supporting the arts of Africa.”
However, in a country such as Nigeria where so much money made from oil and other revenues end up in the management of a large government, and not in the areas of developing human resources, grants for artists, sadly, appears elusive. And as government chose to be a capitalist investor – not a donor or true supporter of the arts – through the BOI outlet, wouldn’t a zero-interest rate for the Special Entertainment Fund give this “investment” a more responsive face?
Vice President, Guild of Professional Artists (GFA), Abiodun Olaku, said that the guild was still studying the situation, “and cannot make any official pronouncement.” He however, noted that, “personally, I think it’s not too much if government gives artists interest-free financial assistance.” He argued that “if government gave bailout fund to failed banks, it is not too much to give artists, for example, little assistance to strengthen the employment opportunity of the culture industry.”
Interest-free loan could be a complex kind to administer, Frank Ugiomoh, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State warned. “If placed on loan, it will be better managed so that over the years, many artists would benefit from repayments,” Ugiomoh argued.
As it is a commercial-investment input of the government, BOI would need assurance that recipients can pay principal and accrued interest, hence possible demand for a collateral, which could frustrate or discourage most artists from taking the loan.
Former Chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Lagos State Chapter, Olu Ajayi, was, however, optimistic as he noted that “loan to artists is not abnormal, rather it injects serious business attitude to the industry.”
For the Special Entertainment Fund, application to access the funds was scheduled to have started on January 17, 2011. However, as at press time, nothing on the BOI website, www.boinigeria.com, provided any information on the Special Entertainment Fund.
Ajayi advised that BOI should organise a stakeholders’ forum with groups such as S.N.A, G.F.A, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts practitioners (ANTP) and other relevant professional bodies. This, he argued “is to further enlighten visual artists and other artistes to provide adequate information on terms and conditions of the funds.”


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