Former Governor Donald Duke confirmed acceptance to chair this year’s gala and award night of the LIMCAF (Life in My City Art Festival) is being cheered as a morale-booster for the 11-year-old art festival cum competition, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Here is one long success story, which unfurls with each passing year. When a huddle of like-minds first mooted the idea of LIMCAF – acronym for Life in My City Art Festival – sometime in 2007, hope was virtually all they had. For Enugu, the chosen venue of its annual gala and award night, is not the first-choice city for the cognoscenti.

More than a decade after, the annual festival has evolved into the country’s biggest art festival. Thanks to the goodwill of the visual arts community’s pooh-bahs and corporate sponsors, it rose spectacularly up the ladder-rungs of reckoning.

This year, its organisers are gratified by the fact that the art-loving former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, has accepted to chair its gala and award night this year. The news of Mr Duke’s acceptance to chair the event, which holds on Saturday, October 28, “was received with great excitement” at the LIMCAF’s recent board meeting. This was disclosed in a release issued by LIMCAF’s executive director, Kevin Ejiofor, who marked his 80th birthday last Sunday.

The LIMCAF board had every reason to cheer Mr Duke’s interest in the festival. For this was a former governor, who gave Nigeria its first truly international culture fiesta, which has now morphed into the annual Calabar Festival. Also, the highly personable ex-governor is known to be proficient with the saxophone.

Only last year, the festival’s gala and award night was chaired by one of Nigeria’s foremost industrialists and banking mogul Dr. Oba Otudeko. Dr Otudeko, who is the chairman of First Bank Holdings and chairman and CEO of the Honeywell Group had on that occasion commended LIMCAF in very glowing terms. This was in appreciation of the festival’s sustained role as a national incubator of young talents in art. This was also an occasion to pledge the continued support of First Bank for the project.

Ejiofor further disclosed a richer package for this year’s festival’s week, which climaxes into the gala and award night. There will be off events, which include art exhibitions by different groups in various centres in Enugu, a photo workshop for aspiring art photographers from around the country and a multimedia workshop by the acclaimed France-based international digital magazine of pop art and culture, CLAM. The CLAM workshop will be facilitated by its founder and film-maker Andy Okoroafor, who has been collaborating with LIMCAF since 2015. Yet another off event to look forward to is the night of live music by the Music Society of Enugu and the Enugu-based Sound House.

Now stomping into its 11th year, LIMCAF proudly wears the badge of honour as the only festival of its kind in the country. Its annual October gathering in Enugu leaves the erroneous impression that it is a regional festival. But a close-up of its profile confirms its national outlook. Its call for entries go out to artists below the age of 30 in Nigeria’s six geo-political zones. But if Abuja, Auchi, Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna, Lafia, Lagos, Owerri, Port Harcourt and Uyo are named its collection centres, it is because they the country’s most vibrant cultural hubs.

This could be why Professor Jerry Buhari – the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-based leading Nigerian visual artist – spoke glowingly of the event in his recent written tribute. “LIMCAF symbolises a quiet cultural revival that would one day give birth to a mega art festival like Documenta,” he enthused.

Meanwhile, this year’s call for entries – which for the first time required works to be submitted online – closed at midnight on Friday, August 7. The growing enthusiasm for the festival seems to rub off not only on its participants but also on the sponsors. Professor Buhari observed that the sponsors’ page of the festival’s brochure featured20 sponsors during the ninth edition held in 2015. “By a crude statistical analysis, the success story of the sponsorship of this festival shows that approval rating of both public and art patrons have doubled [in 2016],” he continued. “This is very important because private institutions are not sentimental about where they put their money. Therefore this positive support shows that the organisers of the festival have made a success of the project. The increasing number of sponsors also spells a good omen for the future of the visual art in Nigeria.
This should keep our hope on the future of the visual arts in the country alive. What makes LIMCAF unique is that it is competition-based.”

Ironically, it is just the issue of inadequate funding that has become an existential threat to the festival. The prizes, though modest in monetary terms, are still heavy enough for the organisers. Fortunately though, there are also the category prizes – endowed by several donors – have sustained its the-more-the-merrier ambience.
The organisers also deserve the thumbs-up for the uninterrupted annual outings despite the obvious challenges. In this creativity-stifling environment, this is a feat. Or, call it a classic tale of resilience. It is indeed this can-do spirit that has attracted the crème de la crème of the contemporary Nigerian art scene as well as a handful of high-profile international art personalities to the festival.

LIMCAF has indeed come a long way since its modest launch at the Enugu Press Centre in 2007. Initially bankrolled during its first four years by Chief Orji’s advertising and printing firm Rocana Nigeria Limited, the festival also had both the financial and administrative support of the Alliance Française Network and the French Embassy significant.

Then, there are its lofty aims and objectives, which orbit around the promotion of “pan-Nigeria art through an annual competition that offers young people an avenue to showcase and commercialise their productions, win handsome prizes and interact with the larger art community on a national and progressively international platform and, in so doing create, a notable national and international art tourism destination in the country.”

LIMCAF also owes a debt of gratitude to the Pan African Circle of Artists – better know by its acronym PACA – then represented by Dr Krydz Ikwuemesi and Ayo Adewunmi. Also two Rocana staff members, Esona Onuoha and Onyinye Igbo, were among its first administrative pillars.

But could Chief Orji have imagined that his passion for art-collection would had morphed into a national art festival, which though at first funded by his firm Rocana was buoyed by the recognition of the French Government and its agency. Without the French support, comprising the Embassy in Abuja and the Alliance Française Network throughout the country, this festival could never have become the national event, let alone aspire to become the international event.

Thanks also to LIMCAF, Enugu has become a mecca for artists from all over the country and beyond.