By Tajudeen Sowole
Whatever becomes the fate of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in the proposed-merger of some federal parastatals, the management is still going ahead with its scheduled projects, just as a scorecard of the agency has been released.
Among the leading projects of NGA is a proposed-Abuja Biennial, which has been on the table of the government agency since 2013. Also on the priority list of NGA is a proposed-bill to repeal and reenact the Act that set up the agency over 20 years ago.
According to the Director-General of NGA, Abdullahi Muku who was in Lagos few days ago, Abuja Biennial is an event, which the agency would continue to push for as it has a lot of economic benefits for Nigeria. “The Abuja Biennial is a programme we are committed to, both for its economic benefits to the country generally and the artists in particular,” Muku told select guests at Aina Onabolu Building, Lagos. “For 14 days, renowned artists from Nigeria, Africa, the Diaspora and the world would gather in Abuja to showcase the best of the best of the their works with art collectors, art dealers and art lovers buying these works.” Earlier scheduled for this year, the event has been reschedule to hold in 2017.
Muku noted that the event was informed by the experience of NGA’s participation at similar events within Africa and overseas. He cited the Dak’Art, in Dakar, Senegal as an example of a biennale that inspired the event. “Having participated in the Dakar Biennale almost from inception, we discovered that they have been able to make good money from organising the event compared to what they spend. We are hoping to do the same by getting the private sector fully involved and other key stakeholders.”
Reminded that Nigeria, and indeed, NGA was never short of ideas as regards international events in recent years, such as ARESUVA and Art Expo, which were not sustained for ‘lack of fund.’ And held for one edition and four respectively. Was there anything in the civil service structure that always prevent government agencies like NGA to source fund from private sector in sustaining arts and culture events? “We are opened to the input of the private sector,” Muku stated. In fact, the coming in of Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN), he recalled, was meant to “promote government’s policy of Public Private Partnership (PPP).” AGAN was a partner in the now rested Art Expo.
On the economic viability of the proposed Abuja Biennale, Muku stressed the project’s potential. “The Abuja Biennial is an art market that will bring together artists, art and culture administrators, art collectors/connoisseurs, political leaders and administrators, tourists and tourism practitioners. It is so named to identify with the world standard as every biennial is named after its host city. Abuja being the capital city of Nigeria is chosen for its economic vantage position and is keying into Mr. President’s vision of diversifying the economy.”
About three years ago, an Act aimed at promoting embellishment and artist royalty could not go beyond the first reading at the seventh National Assembly. But Muku disclosed that NGA is hoping to reopen the bill through private sponsorship. “This is a dream we are hoping to realise with this 8th Assembly. The Act if enacted will make it mandatory for every public building as well as bridges in Nigeria to have some kind of embellishment especially art works with a percentage of the construction cost set aside for this purpose. When this happens, you will agree with me that our artists would never lack. Apart from the fact that the pool of money set aside is going to be available to the artists to access through the sale of their works, it would make them sit up and bring out the best in them. With the Artist Royalty entrenched in the Act, if an artist sells his work to somebody and that person resells it, a percentage of it will go to the artist or his/her family. This is a residual income that will benefit artists just like royalty that performing artists enjoy for the playing of their musical works in any medium!”
Speaking on the scorecard of NGA, the D-G listed Nupe Art Conference/Exhibition, Art of Friendship, Children Funfair, Children Funfair, Art Fair, andNational Visual Arts Competition. Muku commended the NGA for holding the events despite what he described as “inadequacy of fund.” He however listed the benefits of each of the events. “Nupe Art Conference/Exhibition, which took place in the ancient city of Bida, Niger State interrogated the place of Nupe Art in Nigeria. It had in attendance traditional artists from the nooks and crannies of the old Nupe kingdom who displayed different works ranging from paintings, sculptures and textiles.”