Sunday 31 May 2020

Art business inactive in Lagos despite ease of lockdown

Waheed Ariyo’s Dignities of African Woman.
(wood, 21 x 13 in.), scheduled to show in now postponed Next of Kin art exhibition at Thought  Pyramid, Lagos.
As Nigeria's economic hubs, the Lagos and Victoria Islands central business districts are incomplete without the flavour of art over the two axis. In fact, the thriving art business in Lagos and Victoria Islands represent an important hub in Africa.

However, regular exhibitions, as main sustenance of the many art galleries in the two central business districts have been halted for the past two months. Reason: lockdown in Lagos declared by government to stop the spread of covid-19. Despite the ease of lockdown, currently being observed, in the past two weeks, art business in Lagos and Victoria Islands central business districts have not taken off.

Apart from the effect of the lockdown, generally, on economic activities, the demography of covid-19 in Lagos state, indicated that the Lagos and Victoria Islands have the highest number of infected persons. Sadly, Nigeria's art hub exists in the two Islands axis, with the largest number of galleries.

Arguably, the oldest in the business of art, in Lagos, Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, traditionally, opens in the last week of January or early February after the Christmas and New Year holidays. The director, Mrs Sinmidele Adesanya said, specifically, the loss caused by covid-19 lockdown to Mydrim, in financial cost has not been calculated. However, the distruption to the gallery's takeoff in the year, she said, is unbearable.

"The world is on hold at the moment," Adeaanya noted. "The lockdown has adversely affected the Gallery’s sales; all exhibitions and events in the gallery’s calendar have been postponed indefinitely." She explained how the effect has also been "a big disappointment for artists who have invested so much preparing" for the art exhibition events.
Perhaps, the ease of lockdown in the last one week has offered hope for Mydrim. The situation, she said, still requires caution.

"With the uncertainty, anxiety and fear all around, people are not inclined to make non-essential purchases," she assessed the art market. "Even with the partial resumption of business, the gallery is devoid of the normal buzz generated from the interaction of artists and art lovers."

Adesanya disclosed that Mydrim, currently, is exploring the online window "to connect with our clients." As much as the business of the gallery has been affected by the lockdown, she urged all to be concerned with finding cure for covid-19 "so that everyone can be safe and we can all get on with our lives."

Curator at Terra Kulture, in Victoria Island, Tife Adedeji said the covid-19 lockdown in the city, has affected the entire commercial activities of the culture facility. "As Terra Kulture closed its doors to the public, so did its renowned art gallery." Even in the first quarter of the year, the lockdown has claimed scheduled exhibitions of the gallery as casualties.

"Two exhibitions were cancelled due to the covid-19 pandemic, as we readjust to the uncertainty of the virus spread and anticipate a steep change in daily operations in the future," Adedeji lamented. "Though we understand nothing will replace the thrill of walking into our space to see art, we continue to check in on our artists, as we work on virtual collections, exhibitions, and activities to promote artists and their works virtually, and to entertain and engage the audience."

 Either in commercial or critical values, Alexis Galleries, also within the Victoria Island central business district, described the situation as "total loss." Apart from selling art, Alexis always engages with art residency for emerging artists.

 "We have become obsolete in this time and day and do not exist in the mind of the people," stated  curator and founder, Patsy Chiddiac- Mastrogiannis.

Selling art in an axis such as highbrow Lagos and Victoria Islands, no doubt, comes with high cost of doing business, including tax. For the art and culture sectors, perhaps a tax holiday longer than whatever the Lagos State Government may be planning for other sectors should be given to the art galleries. Tax, Chdiac-Mastrogianni pleaded, "should be waved off."  She added that "the tax for April and May, even beyond, should be deleted from the taxable calendar." She argued that "the government can afford" the tax wave-off.

Outside the Lagos art hub, other galleries have also caught the  covid-19 lockdown economic shock. Win Arch Gallery, which is one of the oldest galleries on the Mainland, was set for a fresh start at its new location in Ipaja when the covid-19 lockdown descended on Lagos. "We just moved from our Ikeja location to Peace Estate, Ipaja, and about to start full operation when the lockdown came and halted our business," Godwin Archie-abia, proprietor of Win Arch lamented.
The gallery, he explained, has been winning new collectors and selling works of young artists right from its Ikeja location till date. In fact, he said, the Ipaja axis has potentials for the gallery to expose new artists and win fresh collectors. "We have been networking with the community here, doing our groundworking with hope that this year will be the time to start reaping the gains."

Going forward, he hoped that the situation improves ahead of schools' long holidays. "Our programmes this year include Summer art Class for Schools themed Catch Them Young to stimulate children consciousness in art and craft engaged them in practical experience of different media of arts." He however, hoped that the ease of lockdown going on now "will open up the economy for art to pick up again."

GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, led by artist, Princess Iyase-Odozi also has a commercial gallery along its and youth skill facility outside Lagos, specifically, in Ogun State border town, Alagbole. "This catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic definitely took all unawares," Iyase-Odozi noted. "We at the GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, had plans to organize visual arts training sessions in 2020, where various artistic skills  were to be taught for the benefit of people in our host community, particularly the youth, women and the girl children. However, following the outbreak of this virus in Nigeria, we were obliged to postpone our plans indefinitely."

She has no doubt that art galleries, like other businesses, are seriously feeling the impact. However, she suggested the need to review "business models and modus operandi in light of social distancing and other public health preventive measures and the concomitant lifestyle changes."

Various options, she advised, are open to galleries, including rationalising operations in a "modest scale in order to manage costs and survive as well as exploring creative forms of exhibitions." Iyase-Odozi listed such options as virtual, operating as philanthropic organisations and finding ways of getting funding to support not-for-profit activities." She hoped for government and corporate supports in rescuing art business.

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