Ugoma Adegoke: For the love of arts
UGOMA ADEGOKE, trained as an economist and corporate finance professional is the co-founder Lights Camera Africa!!! Film Festival. Today she is a creative entrepreneur and foremost cultural curator. Ugoma is a community builder, adventurer and creative force. She directs the workings of the award-winning and much-loved design brand, Zebra living. She produces experiential events and programs inspired by Nigeria’s rich cultural and multi-arts heritage under the auspices of The Life House which she founded with her husband, Dayo Adegoke. . .
She is the founding director and chief curator of BLOOM Art through which she has curated and produced art exhibitions with the most exciting and accomplished visual artists including Muraina Oyelami, Rom Isichei, Gerald Chukwuma, Uchay Joel Chima, Lemi Ghariokwu, Tony Nsofor, Gbenga Offo, Victor Ehikhamenor, Ibe Ananaba, Jumoke Sanwo, Marcia Kure and Olu Ajayi. She will curate and co-present a major exhibition of Professor Obiora Udechukwu works in 2017 in Lagos, Nigeria.In this interview with Guardian Woman, she discusses her passion for Nigerian arts and her plans for the 2016 Lights Camera Africa!!! Film Festival.
Who is Ugoma Adegoke?
Ugoma Adegoke is a down-to-earth, happy, passionate, energetic, creative, curious woman who is in love with ART (caps for emphasis please), family, community, comedy, exceedingly good wine, travelling, musicology, dance, chamber music, Lagos, beaches and seafood okro.
Why did you choose arts? What was the attraction, especially when you were trained as an economist?
The arts chose me I would say. Pure passion led me to the arts. My muses growing up were my father (a structural engineer with a very very keen eye and a penchant for design and beautiful objects) and my sister (an industrial and fashion designer who I lived with in London for several years) so I attribute some of the inspiration to go down the creative route to both of them. But the biggest pull towards the arts was the sheer energy and talent that I identified in the various creatives I encountered when I first relocated to Lagos from London to work for a principal investment firm. There was something in the air – a certain magic and artistic alchemy – that I had to be a part of and I have never looked back.
You have a few arts and lifestyle ventures: how do you manage all of them?
Yes, indeed, I do have a few arts and lifestyle ventures and look forward to adding a couple more in the next 3 years. I have interests in Fashion Design & Retail (Zebra Living Ltd); Home Decor Design & Retail (Mara By Zebra) and Visual Arts Curation, Advisory & Sales (Bloom Art). I also direct two major annual festivals – Woman Rising and Lights Camera Africa!!! Film Festival – under the umbrella of The Life House. I consider all my ventures (as you call them), to be interrelated (I call them cousins) and so even though it is a lot of work, I enjoy all and work relatively seamlessly. I have notebooks everywhere and I write a lot of lists to help me prioritise. I have a great assistant and a wonderful continuously trained team of young people hungry for knowledge and experience so they take the edge off. I apportion healthy chunks of time to myself and my physical and mental health and to relaxing with friends and family who are a huge support system. This also helps me manage the pressure and to stay balanced and effective. I love to work under pressure so I am in my element when joggling and managing multiple tasks.
What’s the motivation behind The Life House?
The Life House is a physical turned virtual arts, culture, and lifestyle concept which was started in 2009 to provide a nurturing environment for creative expression, cultural exchange and enhancing essential wellness. My partner and I founded The Life House to actually satisfy our own personal demand for cultural enjoyment and education. We both wanted a place where we could enjoy original music, art, independent cinema, conversation, local food & fresh juices as well as yoga and other wellness regiments. It turned out that our personal interests were also shared by many and it received phenomenal acceptance and followership, becoming arguably Lagos’ foremost multi-arts and lifestyle experience producer and cultural content developer recognized for quality, consistency and social impact.
As a curator, what are the important factors you consider before you choose to exhibit an artist?
As a curator, my job is to convey the expressions and stories of artists as passionately, truthfully and clearly to the ‘receiver’. I exhibit works I adore and works I can wholly testify to. So you could say that my criteria for choosing an artist to exhibit is the same criteria I use as a collector when fortunate enough to experience and acquire a piece of art – love and truth.
Lights, Camera, Africa!!! Film festival which you co-founded is in its 6th edition. How has the journey since its inception?
It has been a wonderful wonderful journey. Starting in 2010 from a small film club of 10-15 people who would gather every week in the yoga room of The Life House and today celebrating 6 years of the festival, with an average daily attendance of 200 people, at a prestigious and historic venue, supported in sponsorship by leading brands and companies and trusted by the best film makers in the world to share their work with our audiences.
What were the initial challenges you faced when you first started the festival and how were you able to solve them?
Starting anything is always challenging (operationally) and this was the case with the festival. Transforming ideas on paper and in your heart to reality always takes some sacrifice and is usually quite painful. In the case of the festival we had issues with very low funding, and reputational hazards as many directors feared for their films being pirated once they heard we were a Nigeria-based festival.
Through a partnership with the African Film Festival Inc, New York who sometimes act as endorsers of our festival we have been able to ease the distrust and are happy to say that today we have more film makers asking to be screened at our festival than we can actually accomodate. The intent of our festival has always been to enable filmic art to thrive and to also celebrate it – and this news about our mantra and raison d’etre has certainly spread so there is now zero reputational hazard. Our film festival exists to celebrate the artist so it is impossible that we would ever dissipate a director’s intellectual property and labour of love.
We take this very seriously! Six years on, I still have challenges with funding – globally the arts are grossly under-funded and the case is even more shameful in Nigeria – but I am blessed with a unique combination of optimism and stubbornness which simply does not consider the lack of funding as a reason not to push the festival forward. I fundraise very very hard – I pitch hard, I beg hard, I task my friends and patrons hard and I also dip into my own personal pocket – because the show must go on. As hard as it is, I must commend the vision of our main sponsor, Union Bank – who are sticking through thick and thin with us and have been for 3 years – investing socially in arts programming. I am also excited about the vision of Lagos State for the culture & entertainment space as evidenced in the One Lagos project, also supporting our festival this year. Remember I spoke about passion earlier – my passion is my succour and it helps me forge through all challenges. Passion is everything to me and I AM my work.
There is no explaining the things that drive me on, I am just blessed to have identified something I am passionate about and am willing to fight for. This applies to all aspects of my work. It is very personal. And the pain is worth it and becomes pleasure when friends like Ebele Mbanugo, founder of Run For A Cure Africa, post publicly on Facebook about the festival and I quote “Thank you Ugoma Adegoke for providing this artistic respite for our minds and bodies. We so need it right now. Friends and Fam, a must attend”
What impacts has the festival have on the Nigerian film culture?
The festival is really as focused on celebrating the films and directors as it is focused on giving the public and unforgettable experience.I would like to think that our festival has raised the bar as far as the enjoyment and the experience of Nigerian cinema culture is concerned. Our signature is and has always been multi-disciplinary. In addition to screening very exciting films from countries as diverse as Madagascar and Rwanda, we offer talks, workshops, family programming, industry parties as well as ancillary music and art showcases – not to mention our very popular festival SOUK which sells books from local publishers, festival memorabilia and keepsakes.
There is also certainly a recognizable and positive impact our festival has on the larger cinema ecosystem in terms of the variety of films that our festival presents to the public every year – animation, documentary, features, experimental film, film art and so much more – the pool of films on show is uniquely diverse. Our festival provides access to rare independent films from the continent which ordinarily would never be seen by local audiences – so in that sense our festival is a complement to the other film projects, festivals and cinemas that make up the Nigerian film scene. We have enhanced and therefore complement the Nigerian film culture – and did I mention our festival is absolutely free to attend.
What are the new things festival goers should expect this year?
I am very excited about this year’s festival which is themed ‘ Music Makes The People…” and will explore the musicality in film and a number of other inspiring notions. There will be a feel-good focus this year. Festival goers can expect to see the acclaimed new film ‘Green White Green’ by Abba Makama for the very first time in Lagos. They can look forward to a total of 23 films from 14 countries over 3 days. They can enjoy a specially designed communal lounge, daily live music showcases, gorgeous merchandise and design objects from the Festival Souk and so much more. AXA Mansard, associate sponsor of the festival, will also provide complimentary health checks to all festival goers. We have a few surprises lined up – an outdoor art & sound installation and also a play corner for the musically inclined – for further details you will just have to come to the festival and experience for yourself.
What are your plans for the future?
By God’s grace and with good health and life, I plan to stay open, keep dreaming and building and to continue connecting storytellers with ‘story listeners’…and have fun doing all.