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A long walk to arts regulation bill

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Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi


Eleven years after the National Gallery of Art (NGA) Bill was first mooted, the document, whose aim is to rejig art regulation in Nigeria, is still awaiting consideration. The bill, in fact, may not get attention of the eight Assembly, which is set to end in three weeks time.Sponsored by Honourable Tunde Akogun of the Federal House of Representatives, in 2008, the bill’s fate seems foreclosed. Its first reading/public hearing was on November 16, 2010.

Basically, the proposed laws, according to its promoters, aim to “repeal and re-enact the NGA Act, Cap. N41 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other related matters.”Among areas the bill seeks to legislate on – for the first time in the history of Nigeria – is art contents for public buildings. Currently, architectural designs of most public buildings across the country hardly have art contents. 

The proposed bill says: “Every public building and structure of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be embellished with contemporary visual work of art.” The bill goes further to explain that such artworks “shall depict the purpose for which the building or structure was built or reasonably relevant thereof.And to democratise the process of defining contents of art for public buildings, the proposed law recommends that: “Embellishment Committee be established under this Act.”

Also, included in the bill, among others, is the definition of resale rights for an art piece across primary and secondary markets. Currently, one of the most contentious issues in art appreciation is the commercial value accrued to artist when their work move from one collector to another in resale context.

When the bill had its last public reading in 2010, there were areas of conflict between NGA and representatives of artists. Among such grey areas were, an artist must hold the office of Director General of the NGA, artists’ representation on various board and committee of NGA and exportations of contemporary artworks.Over the years, the bill has passed through three D-Gs of NGA. The current acting D-G, Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi, who was appointed last month, has been with the government agency since its creation over 20 years ago.

What exactly is the current state of the proposed NGA Bill?
“The bill was re-submitted to the eight National Assembly,” Ikpakronyi responded when he visited Lagos few weeks after his new appointment. “We hope that the ninth Assembly will continue deliberation on it after being re-submitted as executive bill.”

Ikpakronyi’s attention was drawn to the heated debate between artists and representatives of the then Federal Ministry of Information, Tourism, Culture and National Orientation when the last public reading of the bill held in 2010. The contents of the bill that is now waiting for the ninth Assembly, Ikpakronyi said, “is still the same.”
 
Details of the bill on staff of NGA says: “The Director General shall be a person with not less than 15 years experience in professional art practice or culture administration.”Oliver Enwonwu, the President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), was then chairman, Lagos State chapter. Enwonwu was among other artists from across the country present during the public hearing in Abuja. And as the proposed-bill is heading back to the legislators, hopefully in the next Assembly, how much of inputs have artists made into the documents? Enwonwu, during a separate chat on phone said irrespective of the differences between representatives of artists and government during last public reading of the bill, “the two positions have been harmonised.” 

Enwonwu, who lamented the delay that has followed passing of the bill into act, argued that the bill would benefit artists and government in the areas of job creation. He cited art contents in public building, saying, “this means more works for artists and aesthetics value to the environment.”

And if financing such embellishment of public buildings would be an issue, the bill seems to have taken care of possible funding crisis. It recommends that “every contractor engaged to build public building or structure shall pay five per cent of the gross contract sum to the embellishment Fund established under this Act.”

The proposed document states further: “Any public building or structure on commencement not complying with the foregoing sections commits an offence, which on conviction shall attract one year imprisonment or a fine of 10 per cent of the gross contract sum or both. Non-compliance shall not be complete unless there is: Evidence of embellishment from the National Gallery of Art Act, endorsed by the Chairman of the Embellishment Committee.”

In its over two decades existence, NGA’s challenges keep growing. Decree No 86 created the NGA in 1993, which was later, amended in 2004. While the bill is pivotal to solving quite a lot of issues, the government agency seems to be operating, so far, without a befitting gallery space.

As the new boss at NGA, Ikpakronyi said, his priorities include, the building of gallery for NGA and ensuring that the proposed bill is passed into law. However, waiting for a permanent gallery space to be built to have artworks display, he agreed, would not meet the urgent attention required. A temporary space in Lagos, he disclosed, “is being worked out.”

He noted that even in Abuja, “a temporary gallery space is important” before the permanent edifice. Ikpakronyi was Director, Planning and Research, NGA before his new appointment. He had also served as Director, Planning and Documentation as well as the Director, Educational Services.


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