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Bringing art to life through collaborative interventions

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British-Nigerian artist, Sir Yinka Shonibare.

Freedom Park is a beehive of activities on a sunny Friday afternoon, a place that has become the hub of everything art in the last few years since it was renovated by Lagos State Government.

The former old colonial prison in the heart of Lagos has become the hotspot where the intelligentsia hangout in the afternoons and evenings to share ideas, watch a stage play or poetry performance over steaming bowls of pepper soup or nkwobi with a drink or two.

Freedom Park is one of the few places in Lagos experiencing a rebirth of live theatre.

MUSON centre, located at Onikan and more recently, Terra Kulture Arena on Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, are bringing a new era of contemporary theatre to audiences.

More than a decade ago, the Nigerian theatre experienced a downturn which critics attributed to lack of professionalism, poor infrastructure, unemployment, insecurity and general poor development of the theatre.

Today, places like Freedom Park, Terra Kulture Arena and, recently, efforts by Lagos State Government to build new theatres across the five divisions of the state, are filling the gaps in the infrastructure deficits.

Terra Kulture Arena, for instance, has played host to some interesting productions like Saro The Musical, Fela and the Kalakuta Queens amongst others.

CEO, Terra Kulture, Bolanle Austen-Peters, said at the opening of the Arena in 2017 that Terra Kulture has been known as a one-stop centre for everything arts, noting, “We built the space to serve an important need in the theatre industry.

There are a few places in the country that provide the right setting for Nigerians and foreigners alike to experience Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and theatre.”

Insecurity has been another major impediment to the growth and development of the arts. Banke Adeoye, who lives in Gbagada, said she used to be skeptical about hanging out with friends on the Island till late.

However, that perception has changed as most part of the Island is well-lit and police are usually on patrol on Third Mainland Bridge and most parts of her area.

“I feel safe hanging out till late on Friday nights at Freedom park,” she explained. “Before now it was difficult to do that. I enjoy hanging out after work on Friday evenings.”

Furthermore, there is no doubt the renaissance sweeping across the arts industry has created more employment opportunities. Organizations, like the British Council, have been lending a helping hand to capacity developments in the industry.

The arts and the creative industry have enjoyed tremendously from the magnanimity of British Council, especially among creative young Nigerians, who have limited opportunities, but have continually yearned for platforms to showcase their talents.

The British Council has found new ways of connecting with them and understanding these youngsters through the arts by developing stronger creative sectors around the world that are better connected with the U.K. The programmes of British Council in Nigeria support the strengthening of formal and informal networks and communities of young artists and creatives and these have given them credence for and within their communities.

For instance, Lagos Theatre Festival has been a major boost to the development of theatre in the country. British Council introduced the Lagos Theatre Festival in 2013, in a bid to build capacity in the Nigerian theatre sector by sorting the lack of performance spaces through the use of nonconventional spaces like open spaces, cars parks, restaurants, etc, and turning them into a stage, not by remodeling them to look like conventional theatres, but by adapting the performances to them the way they are.

Five years after having hosted four festivals, Lagos Theatre Festival has become a landmark event in Nigeria’s yearly art calendar and has become the vehicle through which many artists have achieved their dreams of performing to an appreciative audience and going on to build solid careers in the field.

From just four theatre companies hosted at one venue when it started in 2013, through a significant expansion in 2016 through the UK/Nigeria 2015-2016 programme, which saw the addition of an open source, fringe element to the festival, by 2017 the Lagos Theatre Festival was averaging over 70 performances in 16 venues across Lagos.

Beyond the theatre performances, through Lagos Theatre Festival, capacity has been built in the Nigerian theatre sector through the various workshops that have given hundreds of young people the opportunity to get training on various aspects of theatre.

Set designers, sound engineers, scriptwriters, and many others, have been able to learn from world class teachers and are now practicing their craft and contributing to the growth of the sector.

Also in November 2017, British Council unveiled ‘Go Woman Go!’ it was a product of two exhibitions resulting from collaboration between British Artist, Laura Aldridge, and women in Abuja. The year-long project was part of their major arts season UK/Nigeria 2015–2016. It aimed to showcase British art and strengthen the Nigerian textile design, ceramics and printmaking industries through a series of collaborative workshops.

‘Go Woman Go!’ culminated in two public exhibitions: a building wrap of the headquarters of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in Abuja, with a unique pattern inspired by the textile workshops, and an installation of ceramic vessels at House 33, Abuja, commissioned from local ceramicists in Giri.

During UK/Nigeria 2015–2016 season, British Council partnered with more than 90 Nigerian and British artists, institutions and organisations to develop skills and capacity across the creative industries. Participants from the workshops have gone on to use skills acquired through the project as a source of income.

One of the beneficiaries, Doofan Kwaghol, has started selling her textile designs and she teaches skills acquired through the programme to other artists and craftspeople.

According to her, “Through the workshop, I learnt how to make tie-dye, batik, adire eleko and how to package these products for sale. In the school where I teach art, I have been able to teach people how to make tie-dye. I also make some for myself and wear them and, as a result, I have gotten offers to teach some other people.”

“Now somewhat neglected, the textile industry was a major source of income and development in Northern Nigeria,” said Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture. “In a bid to rekindle it, we have signed an MoU with British Council to promote Nigerian culture.”

Another interesting arty event organised by British Council in 2017, was the unveiling of ‘Wind Sculpture VI,’ the first ever public work in Nigeria by British-Nigerian artist, Sir Yinka Shonibare, at Ndubuisi Kanu Park, Ikeja, Lagos.

The sculpture was the climax of UK/Nigeria 2015–16 Season. It was designed to create new collaborations and strengthen relationships between the two countries. ‘Wind Sculpture VI’ was supported by GTBank, in collaboration with the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery.

More than 400 people visited ‘Wind Sculpture VI’ in the opening weekend, where Shonibare held a series of talks and workshops with local students. He also outlined details of his plan to open up a space in Lagos to support young artists in their professional development.

Over 115,075 people visited the sculpture over two months and the project trended on Twitter in Nigeria, reaching more than one million people.

According to Shonibare, “The importance of such an exchange can never be underestimated as it forms the basis for our mutual peace and prosperity through art.”

With all the successes recorded so far in the arts industry in the last decade, the question is how to expand the successes garnered in a city like Lagos to other cities in other parts of the country.”


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