By Tajudeen Sowole
THE impact of the Internet on how art is communicated across various outlets takes corporate texture as one of Africa's leading financial groups, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), connects artists with art enthusiasts and collectors, virtually. It’s not exactly a new medium; artists have always been on digital space, either as individual efforts or represented by virtual outlets. But the GTB initiative, known as Art635, appears like the largest gathering of artists in recent times in one pool for Nigerians and other participants of African descent.
Inside a packed hall, the unveiling of Art635 was witnessed by a large turn out of artists. "It's a digital platform to find new markets, new ground for artists," General Manager, GTB e-Business, Mr. Bolaji Lawal, told guests as the opening of Art635's website. "This is just the starting point, and we expect feedback from the stakeholders."
Lawal assured that the platform would be "a win-win one," for participants. He, however, said, "It's not all about GTB, but the artists."
Modalities for participation, it was explained, include username login by each participating artist, leading to uploading of one work per artist in a week, onto the site. While artists have the freedom to create contents of choice, there is, however, a gatekeeper for Art635. Photo artist, Mr. Uche Okpa Iroha, who is the curator of the platform, advised intending participants to be "provocative" in concepts and contribute to the Nigerian leadership issue via visual narratives.
On the recurring issue of artists and business attitude to their career, a gallery owner and artist, Mr. Biodun Omolayo, shared his experiences as a guest speaker at the unveiling event. "Every artist is a businessman, potentially; maybe most of us do not know this," Omolayo noted. He advised that despite the "emperor" status of collectors, "artists must not come cheap" in getting the best from their creativity.
In a press statement that accompanied the unveiling, GTB described Art635 as a foremost online repository of African art with a mission to serve as a leading platform for the promotion of indigenous artists across the continent. While noting that art is one of the four pillars of GTBank’s corporate social responsibility policy, the bank recalled that its support for arts over the years ranges from collecting Nigerian artists to partnering with foreign outlets like Tate Gallery, London, and other arts institutions.
"With Art635, the bank aims to further its support for African arts by helping African artworks become not just seen and appreciated, but also to turn them into a much more profitable and commercially viable venture for indigenous artists, who currently earn very little from their works,” the statement stated. "This is in line with the bank’s initiative to go beyond the tradition of understanding corporate social responsibility as corporate philanthropy by intervening in the economic sector to strengthen small businesses through capacity building initiatives to boast their expertise, exposure and business growth."
The bank’s Managing Director, Mr. Segun Agbaje, was quoted as saying: "At GTBank we see arts as an avenue for unlocking people’s creative potential and by creating Art635, we aim to expand the opportunities for art education as well as broaden the reach and viewership of the works of indigenous artists.”
He noted that despite Africa’s centuries-old art, the continent's art "is still young and largely untapped and we hope with Art635, we can drive its evolution into a lucrative and vibrant economic sector.”