Art Expo Nigeria beckonsBy Tajudeen Sowole
(First published in March 2008)
UNFOLDING events in the next few months would see a rapid repositioning of Nigeria's art gallery business as two major art landmarks lie ahead.
While artists, gallery operators and curators gathered at the Aina Onabolu Building, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos to organise an art expo, the news came that a process was being put in place by the federal government to ensure that art is always part of architectural designs of all public buildings.
The gathering held on Thursday, March 13, 2008 was called by the National Gallery of Art (NGA) to get stakeholders deliberate on what it called Visual Art Expo, a proposed event expected to hold before the end of the year.
In his response to the issue of poorly executed public arts, the Director-General of NGA, Joe Musa, disclosed that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja is to ensure that, at least, fifteen percent of budget for every public building goes into art.
The FCT, he said, already has a committee on public art in place, adding that the members of the committee include himself and President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Kolade Oshinowo. The committee, Musa explained, has recommended that "every public building in the FCT takes art into consideration before construction, and not after. Architects, engineers and others working on any public building must therefore have, at least, fifteen to twenty-five percent of the cost of such building for art."
If the recommendation of the committee is accepted, Musa hoped that the FCT would have set a good example for other states to emulate.
Commending the effort of the FCT in setting up such committee, Oshinowo stated that such development is capable of checking incompetence in the execution of public art. While noting that most public arts are commissioned to artists based on personal relationship of such artists with the some people in government, he urged every state to apply due process and give such jobs to capable artists.
On its part, the NGA, according to Musa, is also set to get one thousand artists online as part of the agency's repositioning of the art gallery.
And if there is any medium the art community needs, currently, to sell art to the people beyond the status quo, a gathering such as the proposed Visual Art Expo, according to Musa, is more appropriate. He however stated that the expo is for the art galleries.
Stressing that it is the responsibility of government to create the enabling environment for artists and other stakeholders to move the sector forward, Musa added that the NGA is already in partnership with some banks in the country to support several projects of the agency, including the Visual Art Expo. Funding, he stressed, cannot be the problem this time around as experienced in past projects.
"There is a subvention from the federal government to execute our projects. And in addition, the NGA is in partnership with two banks to ensure the success of our mission," Musa asured.
But the government and the corporate sector partners of the NGA need to be assured that the art gallery scene is well organised, the D-G warned. In support of whatever fear investors may have for the sector, Musa noted that among the various groups of the art community, only the SNA and Pan African Circle of Artists (PACA) are officially recognised by the NGA.
And if the government has to work successfully with the artists on the art expo or any other project, it will only recognise and work with one umbrella body, director of research and education, NGA, Kwaku Tandoh also stressed.
But before anyone could justify the fears of the government by raising issues out of the various professional bodies of art springing up, Oshinowo intervened. The SNA president while commending the NGA for emphasizing that it recognised the SNA as the only umbrella body for visual artists in the country, however was quick to add: "Though people are free to form as many professional bodies as possible, but the SNA remains the only umbrella body".
As the NGA stated that the art expo is art gallery owners/operators' event, the irony of this, as at the period of the meeting, was that no group or any association was in place under which the operators and owners of art galleries associate. Even though one of the leading art patrons in the country and a gallery owner, Chief Frank Okonta, was said to have started gathering some of the galleries to form an association, it was found to be too sketchy to be recognised by the NGA.
However, this skeletal and unregistered group known as Gallery Owners Association of Nigeria, GALOAN was used as a springboard to get all the operators represented at the meeting to form a common front, at least for the purpose of the Art Expo.
If the recommendation of the chairman, Lagos State SNA, Olu Ajayi is taken by the gallery owners, some artists may find themselves out of circulation. As part of the "sanitisation" of the art busniness, Ajayi urged the gallery owners not to collect work of artists not recognized by the NGA and SNA.
As the meeting came to a close with plan to reconvene soon on the dates and venue of the art expo, issues such as which gallery exhibits whose works and on what terms, among others remained inconclusive.