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An Art School for the Future

10 Mar 2013

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An ambitious school for the arts and design has been established in Lagos with a mission to improve the level of art appreciation, Ayodeji Rotinwa reports

Located on Raymond Njoku Street, South-West Ikoyi, is a nondescript white building called the White Space, which is curiously decorated with bamboo seats, seemingly growing out of the ground in the veranda, suggesting an attempt to transplant the tropics to stone-cold industrialisation.

Inside the building are white walls in half-empty rooms, waiting patiently for engaging activity, plush, butter-soft cushions upholstered in bright, cheerful indigenous fabric, a projector screen and a projector. This is the Modern Day School of Arts, a training institution where a diverse range of individuals from children to professionals are trained and prepared for careers in art and design.

The institution was birthed by way of perquisition. After having plied the somewhat customary route of acceding to parents’ career wishes, studying and working as an accountant for four unfulfilling years, founder, Adenrele Sonariwo decided that her love for the arts could no longer be kept at bay. Invigorated by this newly-earthed conviction, while in the U.S.A. (where she had been living and working) she commenced an exhaustive search for schools of reputable, world-class standards in Nigeria, where she could study in-depth, the arts and hone her passions.

Months after, she came up short. There wasn’t a single establishment across the length and breadth of Nigeria of high standing, wholly committed to imparting education in the arts. This revelation jolted Sonariwo into undertaking a venture she had never previously considered nor fathomed. Thus Modern Day School of Arts was born.

Modern Day School of Arts, according to its autobiography online, is a “training institution dedicated to providing high-quality professional education to its trainees.’’ Education within its walls, “aims to liberate creativity, exploration and expansion of talents.” Divided into two sub-schools: School of Performance Arts and School of Creative Arts, training is offered at a basic, beginner level of difficulty, in six fields, namely: Creative Writing, Photography, Fashion Design, Visual Arts, Multi-Platform Communications, Web Design and Development; and is largely aimed at freshly-minted secondary school graduates in a bid to “catch them young”, harness their gifts and talents in their formative years, so they may be better finished products in the future. The school also boasts of a painstakingly-designed curriculum that mirrors what obtains on the international landscape, keeping in line with world-best practices and standards and is flexible enough to keep in touch, at all times, as a matter of policy almost, with technological advancements.

Admirable, though the institution’s mandate may seem, it did not receive fair, commensurate support or reception in its early days and still struggles with some niggling challenges at present. ‘’The perception of the arts currently in the country is not encouraging. A lot of people are yet to realise that one can make a decent living solely off the arts. The employment opportunities are endless if you have focus and position yourself accordingly,’’ Sonariwo stated.

She also pointed out that the school suffers the early problems of most start-up ventures- finance. ‘’I don’t know that people trust it so much to invest in it. People are yet to build trust in such a unique establishment and spend sizeable sums on education and training in fields such as creative writing, fashion design.’’ The school’s shortcomings don’t stop there. All its activities take place in the rented quarters of White Space, which is a really a chameleon-like facility, with rooms of requirement, that can be turned into anything the user wishes, in this case, classrooms.

However, it is not adequate. The makeshift chairs used, for instance, are something of an inconvenience, making steely concentration needed, while in class, difficult. (This interview took place on one of these and this reporter found sitting up straight a herculean task. Alternative sitting positions resulted in moderately sharp back pains) Any plans for a permanent site? That could be  a reality in another five years.

This is not to say there are no silver linings. The school has, as core of its faculty, an impressive line-up of seasoned, accomplished, well-renowned, industry experts, artists and professionals such as Omoyemi Akerele, Don Barber, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, and Ituen Basi who are highly regarded and respected in their various fields. They have so far set a very high bar in their lessons, so high that Sonariwo herself was and remains stunned at their supersonic progress. The school also offers its students employment, publicity opportunities that would most likely, not be available anywhere else. It periodically holds exhibitions, open to the general public, for its students, is affiliated with several bodies with regard to internship provisions and has set about, aggressively, aligning itself with the Corporate Social Responsibility programs of a host of blue-chip companies. It also hopes to provide grants to students who may not be able to honour its (probably) steep financial requirements.

These offerings, however, will not be available to all, come September, of this year. That is when the school kicks off its two-semester session, full-fledged programme. Then, Sonariwo stated emphatically, only the exceptionally talented who must have scaled a rigorous admission process will have access to these opportunities. ‘’One needs to be able to place value on things. In Nigeria, people don’t appreciate anything that comes cheaply. We need to be able to see not only the talent but the desire to put in the work required because it is never easy to be the best at what you do.’’

All things considered, Sonariwo projects a bright future for the school and is fiercely optimistic about it. ‘’I expect, over time, that Modern Day School of Arts will be a beacon of excellence, produce the very best when it comes to the arts and design and will be heavily involved the improvement of Nigeria’s creative economy.’’

Her sentiments are shared by a number of highly-placed stakeholders in the arts industry but only time will tell if the school will stay the course…

Tags: Life and Style, Arts and Review, Featured

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