Busy culture boosts tourism
By Tajudeen Sowole
Tuesday, 28 June 2011 00:00
Gradually, the culture sector, in the past few years – perhaps more than any other sector of the economy – is boosting the in-flow of tourists to Nigeria through regular international events organized by groups in the creative industry, despite government’s apathy for the ArtsWITH such visual arts events organised at Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Yaba, Lagos; last year’s maiden edition of African Artists Foundation’s (AAF) photography exhibtion tagged Lagos Photo; the yearly music fiesta, Felabration; African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), the arts has continued to prove that the impetus of tourism is culture.
In nearly all the events, the foreign participants, according to sources, fund their visits. This implies that foreign exchange transacted in such arrears as transport, hotel and visits to several places of interests while the visitors were here.
Perhaps, one of the most active organisers of events involving foreign artists in Nigeria is CCA, Lagos, an independent non-profit making visual art group set up almost four years ago, for the development of art and culture. Since its opening in 2007, some of the big events involving Nigerian and foreign artists have been prospectus in the tourism drive context as these gatherings were more regular, compared to the annual confinement of most other events. Most of the CCA’s events were art exhibitions laced with workshops and discussions involving artists, art historians and curators from across the world.
The director of the centre, Bisi Silva noted that, “we have about five to ten foreign participants in a year for our specific programmes.” However, that figure could be four times or more in a particular year based on the nature of the project, she added. Last year, for example, the project tagged On Independence and The Ambivalence of Promise, which started from 2009 and ended late last year as the centre’s contribution to the celebration of 50 years independence of 17 African countries had over 40 foreign participants. Artists and other resource professionals who participated in the programme came from such countries as Ghana, Cameroon, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, U.S. and the Republic of Slovenia, at different periods, over a span of one year. One of the programmes for the independence project, which involved workshops, discussion, exhibitions and residencies tagged Towards a Double Consciousness: NSK Passport Project, had about five participants visiting.
Most of the visitors, Silva explained were “not funded by CCA, Lagos but by the arts organisations or sponsors from their own country - whether it is Finland or Brazil or America or Norway.” For last year alone, “we had about 40 visitors because of the nature of our programme.” In addition to these, she noted that there were “more visitors passing through that were not attached to our programme.
These participants, Silva said, also had the opportunity to visit places such as museum, art galleries, musical events, beach, cinemas and other places of interest in Lagos and other parts of the country.
Also, late last year, the debut edition of AAF’s Lagos Photo, a festival of photography, had works of 25 photographers from Nigeria, African and European countries on display at Eko Hotel and Suites and four centres in Lagos. More than half of the exhibited artists were from abroad. Although not all the foreign artists were in Nigeria, about ten of them attended the show and stayed here for at least three days of the one-month long show. Lagos Photo, according to AAF, will continue this year with more foreign artists. The director of AAF, Azu Nwagbogu, explained that the Lagos Photo festival was aimed at making Lagos a destination for tourists as well as a must see event for lovers of good photography from across the world, every year.
These visual arts events and others such as Felabration, a celebration of Afro beat as well as the AMAA movie awards that drew foreign participants to the country have proven that all the culture sector needs from the government is a platform to aid input of other private sectors into the arts and not loan scheme such as the $200m intervention fund announced by President Goodluck Jonathan last year. In other climes, governments invest in the culture sector through grants for artists and not loan.
For example, the Arts Council England set up in 1994 from a former body Arts Council of Great Britain created in 1945 distributes grants to visual, performing and literary artists for projects of English contents. The body is largely funded from the country’s national lottery and partly from corporate inputs. Although such grants appear like a free lunch, but the government, eventually and indirectly, creates jobs, boosts creativity and assists the culture sector in contributing to the economy as the CCA, Lagos, Lagos Photo, Felabration and AMAA movie awards examples have shown. And with the $200m intervention fund – a step labeled as presidential “stunt” by some critics – the much earlier proposed National Endowment for the Arts appears buried as politician-artists are favoured to benefit from the presidential fund, which sources disclosed has been “invested” with the Bank of Industry (BOI). President Jonathan may have good intention, and not a stunt as perceived by some observers, but the reality is that the creative community should not be bogged with loans to produce works that stimulate and promote domestic as well as international tourism. Grants create a period of gestation or moratorium after when government benefits, perhaps through tax on such outlets as cinemas, art auctions, art galleries and musical concerts.
Although the federal government in its little way, through the National Gallery of Arts (NGA) seemed to have contributed to this growing pool of tourists, empowering the artists with grants would offer more of similar events, independent of government. While the Nigeria International Art Expo, in its third edition, last year, was yet to make any significant impact involving more foreign artists or gallery owners, the other event of the government agency, African Regional Summit on Visual Arst and Exhibition (ARESUVA), which held twice as an annual event had participants from across Africa and the Diaspora.
Expected to start as a biennale this year, the event could just be another outlet to boost the nation’s tourism prospect through visual arts.