Saturday 10 March 2012

‘Culture, tourism are not benefitting from economic growth’

Tajudeen Sowole
 The purported growth of the Nigerian economy in the last few years, has not impacted culture and tourism sector, claimed the proprietor of one of Nigeria’s leading art and culture centres.

Local and international observers have noted improvement in the economy, recording a GDP growth of 8.7 percent in 2010. Although dropped to 6.9 last year, the growth rate, according to economists, showed bigger prospects.  
  At a gathering in Lagos, organised to appraise last year’s arts and culture activities of Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, and prepare artists for the 2012 events, the Managing Director, Mrs Bolanle Austen-Peters noted that culture and tourism were yet to be built into the Nigerian economy.
  Responding to a question on the impact of the country’s economic ‘growth’, on the culture and tourism sector, she stated, “tourism is not something you stumble on. There must be concerted efforts from everybody; from government to the common people on the streets who may have contact with visitors.”
  She cautioned that the influx of foreigners into Nigeria – who are on business travels – should not be misunderstood to mean tourism is benefiting from the growth of the economy.
  “I have not seen the impact.” She insisted. 
  Government, she stressed, should allow art to grow by “creating more art venues and renovate the museums.”
  Although, she admitted that Terra Kulture enjoys patronage of domestic and foreign visitors, “but there should be more art and culture venues; we can’t do it alone.”  
Sahelian Mask by Bruce Onobtakpeya sold at Terra Kulture auction last year

  Having made impact as one of the most active cultural centres, particularly with its art gallery section, in the past five years — running at least two shows a month — the drop to less than 10 in a year, lately, was one of the areas of concern to observers.
 Austen-Peters explained that it was important to reduce the number of exhibitions because “there was attendance and collectors-fatigue.” Art shows, she argued, are best done with spacing and in longer duration such as three months, even more.” 
  And as the art exhibitions are being scaled down, the vacuum is being filled Terra Kulture art auctions, which hold twice in a year, yielding higher revenue compared to the regular art shows.
  In fact, the Abuja debut held last November also proved that there exists a huge potential in the auction outlets. Auction, perhaps, appears like a better challenge and an alternative to confront the “fatigue” created by choked gallery dates. “Not exactly,” she disagreed.     
   Neither auction nor exhibition can replace one another, Austen-Peters stressed. “Each complement the other,” she insisted while arguing that, “the easiest option is to do a few art exhibitions and two auctions in a year.” Exhibition, she explained, “is value added; promotion for artists, particularly young ones and encourage collections in diversity.”
  However, she assured that windows are still opened to continue assisting artists who may choose to organise their own shows, independent of Terra Kulture. This will involve giving out the space for a discounted fee.
  She however noted that artists hardly separate giving out space from what would have been a Terra Kulture event. “Even when they know that it is not our show, you still here complaints that Terra did not help in inviting people.”
  Given the reality of few venues such as regular art galleries and converted spaces, younger artists seem to have a tough year ahead. And rather than stick to solo exhibitions, which seem to be the trend, artists are advised to do more of joint and group shows. “There is strength in having group shows,” she argued.
  However observers noted that when artists are involved in group shows, their commitment to the success of the show is not always strong. Reason: The fear is that they might lose their collectors to other artists, hence the caution in inviting people to group exhibitions. In fact, some of them would rather contribute their weaker works to a group show, a gallery owner disclosed late last year.
  These and other issues appear to have been discussed when, at a separate forum on the same day, Austen-Peters led the Terra Kulture management team in a meeting with some artists.
MD / CEO, Terra Kulture, Lagos, Nigeria, Bolanle Austen-Peters

MEANWHILE, the schedule of Terra Kulture for the 2012, according to the list, indicates a reduction in the number of art exhibitions. This list includes solo shows of Mike Omoighe, Gbenga Orimoloye,  Chuks Okoye, Bimbo Adenugba, Emenike Ogwo, Chike Onuorah, Peter Akinwunmi and Olu Amoda, all spread across the year. Within the same period, only three group shows will be staged.
  With the Abuja experience, Terra’s auction house, Austen-Peters disclosed “will go back in November, better prepared.” This time, there would be “a stronger corporate support.”
   Despite the seeming drop in exhibitions, she insisted that art is still strong in the agenda of Terra Kulture.
  It will be recalled that Terra, with the support of Ford Foundation used to organise talent-support show, which had over 100 entries from across the country. The result brought two young artists, Titus Agbara and Tayo Olayode into the public glare after their residency in Ghana with the master painter, Ablade Glover. Also, the project produced a group exhibition of the grantees titled Celebration of Talents from which most of the participating artists had their first public exposure.
  Although the centre has been consistent with its performing art brand, Theatre @ Terra, there is need for what Austen-peters described as “more visibility for theatre artistes.”
  She disclosed that so far Theatre @ Terra is “our exclusive sponsor in contributing to the growth of performing art.”    
   With Theatre @ Terra, the culture of theatre and indoor musical concerts is gradually being brought back into the culture and tourism space of Lagos.

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