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Banks lead corporate Nigeria in sponsorship of artistic, cultural expressions in 2019

By Anote Ajeluorou
15 December 2019   |   4:15 am
Gradually, Nigerian banks have continued to retain the lead in the sponsorship of artistic and cultural expressions among corporate Nigerian establishments.

MD/CEO, Sterling Bank Plc, Abubakar Suleiman

• As Nigeria’s Youth Talent Getting Bankable
Gradually, Nigerian banks have continued to retain the lead in the sponsorship of artistic and cultural expressions among corporate Nigerian establishments. The year 2019 that is winding down is no different, as the culture community in Lagos has continued to enjoy the support of banks for the different artistic offerings. While the telcos have made spirited efforts to also support artistic offerings, banks seem consistent in their support and have proven to be the staying power of cultural expressions.

Indeed, in distressed economy like Nigeria’s, these banks are the real winners, which make things happens in the creative sector and which deserves accolades in terms of the jobs they indirectly facilitate with their unrelenting support for culture.

From Lola Shoneyin’s Ake Book and Arts Festival, to Tokini Peterside’s Art X Lagos, to Bikiya Graham-Douglas’ Beeta Universal Arts Foundation’s playwriting contest, Bolanle Austin-Peter’s Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta’s Queens, and Graduate Art Exhibition, the banks have shown leadership in supporting Nigeria’s teeming youth talent.

Indeed, at the heart of all this support is the passion to identify with Nigeria’s abundant youth talent that is bursting at the seams for platforms of expression. In the five platforms of creativity enumerated above, youth talent is at their core of activities. In a sense, this is recognition of youth, where the market truly is, and placing banking at its service. In fact, statements from these banks’ executives and personnel reveal what is driving towards cultural offerings as avenues of also expressing their own core services.

At the opening of the 7th Ake festival that enjoys the support of Sterling Bank Plc in October, its Chief Executive Officer, Abubakar Suleiman, urged African writers to contribute to ending poverty. He also tasked African writers to write stories that would inspire Africa to be all it can be. The festival had ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter,’ as its theme.

In Suleiman’s goodwill message to creatives drawn from across Africa and the diaspora, he stressed the importance of storytelling, saying its outcome is the reason people do the things they do, and the reason they live the way they live. Sterling Bank’s helmsman advised African writers not to write stories to entertain people only, but rather to write stories that create contexts that could lift Africans out of poverty to prosperity, stories that would make Africa become all it can be.He had issues with the notion that works of art are what people do when they have done everything else or what they do when every other thing has failed.

“All that we know about ourselves and history are the works of artists, even the things that are backed by data,” he said. “All that we do is to understand them in context and that context is the work of artists. If you take away the context, the story would change completely.”

In commending the festival’s lead sponsor, Shoneyin stated, “I’m very proud to say that Ake Arts and Book Festival is now one of the few festivals on the African continent that has an indigenous company as its main partner. Sterling Bank has taken the step of partnering with Ake Festival for the foreseeable future. This partnership gives me so much hope. I sincerely hope more players in the private sector follow their lead and start to support, develop and promote creativity and the arts on the African continent.”  

The festival examined the physical, mental and violent acts that have and are being inflicted on black bodies, particularly those of women through conflict, colonialism, patriarchy, cultural practices and attitudes. Ake Arts and Book Festival explored the link between the mental and the physical as well as specific phenomena such as scarification, body image, tattoos, stereotyping, gender non-conformity and colourism as well as the mental health of people on the African continent.

Also, Group Managing Director/CEO of Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, stated at Peterside’s Art X Lagos exhibition that it has helped in harnessing and grooming local talents needed to change the African narrative in a positive manner. Wigwe spoke at this year’s West Africa’s premier international art fair, which had as theme ‘More Than An Art Fair.

Wigwe commended the founder of Art X Lagos and stressed the importance, contribution and relevance of Art X to Africa, saying, “Art X Lagos is establishing itself as the premier art fair in Africa and not only West-Africa, because it is making a difference, speaking to inclusiveness and speaking to the beauty of all parts of Africa.”He further stated that Art X Lagos shows that as Africans, “We can begin to harness the very best of talent on the continent so that we can begin to change the narrative of not just Nigeria, but of Africa. The whole world must begin to focus on our continent and the quality of skills that we have.”

Graham-Douglas’ Beeta Universal Arts Foundation’s playwriting contest is another youth-based platform Union Bank Plc is making impact. With its N1 million prize money for the winning play, the bank has continued to boost BUAF’s efforts at deepening the drama category of the creative sub-sector. Beside the prize money, the winning plays also gets published, staged and taken on tour in campuses outreaches.

Head Corporate Communication and Marketing of Union Bank, Ogochukwu Ekezie-Ekaidem, has repeatedly stated the bank’s commitment to developing Nigeria’s youth talent, adding, “Union Bank is pleased to partner with Beeta Universal Arts Foundation to deliver this worthy competition. As a bank that has been around for 100 years, we recognise how invaluable the arts are to preserving and showcasing our culture and history, which is why we remain committed to developing the talent in the creative industry.

“One area of focus for us is talent development. It’s a way we can really empower our youths. We are glad to be part of this relationship. The country is rich in art and culture, but there is a gap and we need to help tell our own stories. We believe telling our own stories is important. There are many platforms through which we can tell our stories. We commend your the contestants’ talent.”

Ecobank Plc is the lead sponsor of the musical theatre, Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens, produced by Austin-Peters’ BAP Production. An official of the bank, Mr. Aderemi Sanusi, commended the initiative as another milestone in the showcase of Nigerian culture and youth engagement.

“Ecobank has passion and love for African culture, to promote African culture and take it to the global arena,” Sanusi said. “We believe that youths are important and this production (Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens) has a lot of youths and we believe it will impact society. BAP is a known brand for showcasing culture. We’re also very passionate as a brand about culture. We’re alive to the vision of building culture and creativity and things that will build our youths.”Another banking entrant in the promotion of Nigerian art is South Africa’s Rank Merchant Bank of Nigeria (RMBN), which has initiated and supported what its calls RMBN Graduate Arts Exhibition two years now.

According to its Chief Executive Officer for Nigeria and Regional Head for West Africa, Mr. Michael Larbie, RMB supports artists and organisations to develop the creative economy, noting, “We support the arts because we have always believed that the creative economy has the potential to generate economic growth, employment, and trade. And we believe that the growth of this sector will enable many more Nigerians to engage effectively and profitably in the broader economy.”

Although support for the arts sector is not as buoyant as it should be, when it comes it is usually salutary for art promoters and the sector, even as there is need to do more. A major artist, Mr. Duke Asidere expressed excitement at the idea of a foreign bank like RMBN supporting local artists to blossom, he noted that more corporate bodies should buy into promoting the country’s vibrant arts and cultural expressions.

According to Asidere, “I’m so impressed that a non-Nigerian bank (RMBN) will pick six artists and mentor them. It’s very commendable. It’s a major plus for the bank. Everything was top range at the event, from the artists to the event management; it was very successful.”

However, while advising Nigerians banks and corporate Nigeria to emulate RMBN, Asidere enjoined the organisation to also consider acquiring at least two works from each artist every year, which could form the bank’s gallery or museum. He tasked the bank to also hold seminar for artists and teach them money management skills so they better deploy their earnings for now and future use. While applauding the idea as a fantastic one, Asidere said the bank could also diversity the programme to artists outside Lagos, who also need the exposure the six artists got.