Friday 9 September 2011

International ArtExpo Nigeria Awards 2011

ArtExpo Awards... with or without NGA
By Tajudeen Sowole 
 Friday, 22 July 2011 00:00
 Tomorrow’s maiden edition of International ArtExpo Nigeria Awards at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, being packaged by the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN), is yet another landmark to the country’s contemporary art scene
INDEED, AGAIN, with this event, will be experimenting on the possibility of organising the parent event, the yearly International ArtExpo Nigeria without its major partner, National Gallery of Art (NGA). Even a few days ago, the NGA claimed it was not aware of the AGAN award project.
Int'l ArtExpo Nigeria 2009
The event, as first of its kind in the visual arts sector, is attracting every segment of the creative industry as individuals, groups and the corporate organisations will be rewarded for their contributions to the development of Nigerian art in the last one year.
The award package is promoted as a realisation of AGAN’s dream of injecting fresh ideals into the affairs of the visual arts sector as, articulated at the birth of the association in 2008 during the tenure of former NGA Director-General, Joe Musa. The Head, Event Planning Committee of AGAN, Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce, described the event as a celebration of artists and other stakeholders.  “We want to celebrate the artists who produce the works as well as appreciate the patrons, collectors and sponsors for their consistent patronage and funding of our exhibitions and events.”
The lack of input of NGA in the event notwithstanding, the partnership between AGAN and the government agency would continue, president of the galleries owners, Chief Frank Okonta insisted. While commenting on the claim of NGA’s non-involvement, Okonta said, last week, he was yet to get the full details of preparation for the event because he had been out of the country for medical attention abroad and just “came back four days ago.”  He assured that before the event on Saturday, NGA would have been properly briefed. “NGA has been our major sponsors and partner, we are still working together, and can’t do this without informing them,” Okonta noted.
However, indications from office of the Director-General of NGA, Muku Abdullahi suggested that the partnership, especially on ArtExpo programmes, with AGAN, this year, is not as strong as in the previous editions. He stated: “I am not aware of the award as nobody has told me.” And quite unusual; added that “none of the Gallery (NGA)’s programmes including ArtExpo was captured in this year’s budget.”  The D-G however said that NGA was “trying to see how we can do ArtExpo and one other programme,” this year.
But even the NGA was still not sure if the 2011 edition of International ArtExpo Nigeria would hold, Ezenwa-Pearce said that it would kick off on August 23 and run till the end of the month.
Among the 20 categories of the Awards are: Bank of the Year, Art Patron of the Year, Art Collector of the Year, Art Dealer of the Year, Artist of the Year, Art Journalist of the Year, Art Editor of the Year, Newspaper of the Year, Photographer of the Year and Art Foundation of the Year.
Announced in 2008 as a franchise from ArtExpo New York, it started as ArtExpo Nigeria and inspired the  birth of AGAN. The last two editions were held as International Art Expo Nigeria.
However, the partnership has been struggling to find alternative to government’s persistent delay of budget by enlisting corporate supports. The plan of a partnership with the communication company, MTN Nigeria, seemed to have been suspended as last year’s edition missed such corporate support. In 2009, a brighter future was anticipated when Okonta hinted that MTN was proposing a five-year partnership. In the past editions, preparations would not start until middle of every year because the NGA, which was the main source of funding, had to wait form its share of federal government allocation.
A source in the galleries association explained that AGAN lost the opportunity of corporate input when the NGA was embroiled in financial misappropriation allegation, which affected top government officials, including its former boss, Joe Musa. Contrary to the argument of some stakeholders that one of the accused later influenced MTN to back out of the deal, the source noted that the transparency crisis of NGA then was the reason the planned input of MTN could not materialise. “No company like to invest in a project that has transparency issue hanging over its leadership,” the source said.
With the International Art Expo Nigeria Awards, AGAN and NGA have the opportunity of regaining confidence of the corporate sector to justify the Public Private Partnership (PPP) colour of the event.
For a section of the culture sector like the visual arts, which, through formal transactions such as art exhibitions and art auctions, is worth several billions of naira, annually, its contribution to the growth of the economy cannot be ignored. For example, shortly before galleries closed shops for the last general elections, a member of AGAN, proprietor and curator of Tribesart Gallery, Lekki, Rodney Askia estimated “the cost of shutting all galleries to as much as N155m to N300m,” for just three weekends.
However, artists are worried that the art galleries association, being the major outlets and link with the public, need to have more central events. AGAN, Ezenwa-Pearce explained, was working on other events. In fact, an “International Art Fair is in our plans,” she revealed.
For these gallery owners, majority of who are artists, to convince corporate citizens and other stakeholders that, indeed, the association has all it takes to explore the huge potential of Nigeria’s visual arts, the issue of properly run professional body has to be addressed. For instance, observers were not happy that AGAN was yet to have its first congress, three years after it came into existence. Ezenwa-Pearce argued that it was a consensus among members to retain the pioneer executive council for this long, for continuity. “We had a congress, not election though, where it was agreed that, it was important to have continuity, so we had to keep the current executive till now.” She agreed, however, that change in the leadership of AGAN could no longer be postponed. The first election of the association, she assured, “will hold during the week of the Art Expo in August.”
The pioneer and current chairman, Okonta also agreed on the change in leadership as he promised not to contest for any office in the forthcoming election.

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