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How zoom saved arts, culture practice in 2020

By Gregory Austin Nwakuor, Arts and Culture Editor
17 January 2021   |   3:00 am
Frederick Oluwatoyin Akinosho, popularly known as ‘Poblisha’, never thought his 60th birthday on May 18, 2020 would be without a gathering. CORA Foundation and Committee of Friends had rolled out a list of activities, which would have ended with a thanksgiving dinner.

Frederick Oluwatoyin Akinosho

Frederick Oluwatoyin Akinosho, popularly known as ‘Poblisha’, never thought his 60th birthday on May 18, 2020 would be without a gathering. CORA Foundation and Committee of Friends had rolled out a list of activities, which would have ended with a thanksgiving dinner.

But the outbreak of Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown of economic and social activities changed everything. Amid a global pandemic that shuttered huge swaths of the economy and drove millions out of work, how would friends now celebrate this geologist by day and journalist by night? How would friends who wanted to see one another’s faces after a long time, do so? How would his memoir be launched?
Many questions begging for answers.

A video call was the next best thing: So the organizing committee chose Zoom — a platform that they, like most of the world, had barely used previously but now seemed to be everywhere.

Akinosho’s birthday was not the only one celebrated via zoom. Many were. Burials now hold on zoom with passcodes written on the invitation cards.
With zoom, they would be able to record the proceedings and stay on for hours for free without technical glitches.

By March 2020, the creative industry had already become vulnerable, with most culture institutions indefinitely closed (or at least with their services radically curtailed). These include, libraries, archives, museums, film and television productions, theatre performances, concert tours, zoos, as well as music — and arts — festivals. Also art shows, events and performances were cancelled or postponed.

With millions of people being forced to stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19, many found zoom as the most creative way to virtually stay social through happy hours, trivia nights and birthday parties.

While noting that there was a lot of pressure on art, culture, entertainment and tourism businesses due to COVID-19, they said chances were that some might never come back up after the pandemic.

How Zoom Saved The ArtsThe year was a 12-month stress for the arts and the culture sector. Many culture workers and stakeholders are of the opinion that very little happened in the sector in 2020 in Nigeria, because of culture administrators’ inability to think outside the box.

In a study conducted by Dr. Florence Ewomazino Nweke (Ph. D.), Dr. Oluwatoyin Olokodana-James (PhD.) and Dr. Chinyere Ndubuisi, titled, The role of the arts during COVID-19, they said the arts became essential in supporting the Nigerian people’s mental and social well being. These sources, therefore, show that the art played a vital role in reducing depression and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of their findings, the researchers noted that the majority of respondents from Nigeria resorted to using different art forms during the lockdown to assuage loneliness, depression, and boredom. These art forms include music, dance aerobics, visual arts expressions such as painting, sculpting, and ceramics.

The National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) embraced zoom in order to function as an agency. Between May and June, hosted over six different Zoom sessions. It was not a surprise that the culture agency was able to execute its principal projects in 2020: NAFEST and INAC.

On Thursday, May 14, 2020, NCAC held a conference to set agenda for the creative industry. Titled, COVID-19: Impact on Nigeria’s creative sector, the virtual conference was convened by the Director-General of NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, and it had Israel Eboh, president of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) as guest speaker.

According to Runsewe, the conference was geared towards repositioning the sector following the manner COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the arts and cultural heritage sectors.

To him, “nothing succeeds in this world without proper planning and effective coordination. This makes the need for agenda setting for the sector imperative, to harness and channel the vast opportunities in the sector to empower our people and strengthen our economy. This online Zoom series Agenda Setting for the Nigerian creative industry as a platform to engage with critical stakeholders in order to aggregate views and opinions of industry players in various sub-sectors to set agenda for the creative industry.”

In compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, NCAC had on Thursday, November 5 and Friday, November 6, 2020 held the 13th International Arts and Crafts (INAC) Expo at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja. Unlike past editions, which held at the FCT Exhibition Pavilion, the 2020 edition was the first drive-through expo in the continent.

NCAC also hosted the 2020 National Festival of Arts and Culture successfully in Jos, Plateau State. Viewers at the two-day INAC expo watched the physical and audio-visual exhibition from their cars while few guests sat beside their vehicles, obeying physical distancing. The drive-in exhibition was a unique initiative employed by NCAC to dovetail into the ‘new normal’ posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chairman, House Committee on Culture and Tourism, Hon. Ogbeide–Ihama Omoregie, urged CEOs of tourism and culture parastatals and agencies to think outside the box in the planning and execution of their programmes.

He said COVID-19 has pushed everyone to the level that it becomes very important to think outside the box, be innovative and creative especially among players in the creative industry.

“We must take advantage of the COVID-19 situation as bad as it is to make the best of it. I use this opportunity to call on Federal Government to give proper attention to the creative sector because the sector is yet untapped. The sector is capable of creating jobs for our teeming youths, empower people, boost our economy and foster unity among us as a people.”

National Theatre
The major news in arts and culture for 2020, however, was the National Theatre, Lagos. For decades, the facility was in the news for the wrong reasons, paramount of which were rot and dilapidation.

On Sunday, July 12, 2020, the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/Bankers Committee took what many considered the most detailed commitment to the facility since 2007 when discussions on concession of the culture edifice was initiated by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) — Handing over the keys of the facility to the Central Bank/Bankers Committee for rehabilitation.

Although those opposing the project agreed that private sector participation in the development and management of the National Theatre through concession remains the only viable alternative to restoring the theatre to its lost glory. They wondered why both the speech by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, did not say much about the financial and commercial aspect of the project, including an outline of the deal covering the fallow area, funding structures and details of the business ecosystem for sustainability.

In his remarks at the event, Emefiele said upon completion in another 18 months, this area would have transformed into Nigeria’s creative industrial centre, comparable to other world-class entertainment and convention centres.

All Hail Virtual Book Fair
On Friday, August 7, 2020, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, sponsors of Nigeria Prize for Literature, announced postponement of the 2020 cycle of the Prize.

According to Mrs. Eyono Fatayi-Williams, General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development, NLNG, “the decision to postpone the three Prizes this year was reached after assessing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on the Prizes’ cycles.”She said submission process was disrupted by the pandemic, therefore, making it “difficult and impossible” to carry on with the adjudication process.

“We had a lot of consultations with the advisory boards and struggled with the decision but the overriding focus of the award was safety.”
She concluded, “the competition, alongside entries submitted for all the prizes this year, will now be carried over to 2021.”

The 2020 Nigeria Book Fair was equally virtual. Tagged Nigeria Virtual Book Fair, it attracted the President of International Publishers Association, Hugo Setzer.

The Aké Arts and Book Festival, reputed to be one of the world’s largest collections of African creative voices on African soil, now in its eighth year, brought artists, writers, poets, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, actors, filmmakers and thinkers together to dialogue and celebrate creativity on the African continent through panel discussions, art exhibitions, workshops, storytelling, book chats, poetry performances, a concert, stage play and unforgettable films online.

The festival hosts some of the most sought-after and innovative voices in black thought. With A State of Flux: Literacy in a Period of Languor, as theme 2020 Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) was a combination of virtual and physical venue namely the Freedom Park, Lagos Island.

In a statement signed by the Programme Coordinator and Convener, LABAF, Jahman Anikulapo, this year’s theme has been inspired “by the deep anxieties in the global political economy.’’

For the first time in its history, ART X Lagos was an all-virtual affair, with exhibitions holding online from December 2 to 9, 2020. The fair’s fifth edition had over 200 artworks from leading galleries across Africa and the Diaspora, who are all united in their commitment to champion African creative expression.

The artworks were displayed on the platform’s website, which was designed as a dynamic digital platform to recreate the breadth and diversity of the fair virtually for a global audience.

The Nike Arts Gallery, Lekki, Lagos, also hosted the Best Art Exhibition. It was organised by Nigerbev Limited, in collaboration with Nike Art Gallery and the aim was to showcase the works of upcoming artists who had participated in the art campaign.

The exhibited artworks, no doubts, revealed how talented and creative, the younger generation of Nigerian artists are. After a long absence from the exhibition circuit, art lovers and collectors will have a taste of new works, courtesy of Alexis Galleries, one of the country’s leading art galleries, from Saturday, September 12, 2020.

Alexis’ ‘exhibition ground’ will be open for a week, as its first virtual group exhibition interrogates wood, as well as canonise the Holy Grail by Chris Milk, in 2015, that virtual reality could someday become the ‘ultimate empathy machine’.

From Knock on Wood II to Meet the Dudus’ II and Phases of Reflection, the Alexis Galleries kept the circuit busy since September when it had its maiden show after COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.