“My parents never wanted me to do art,” Abiodun Omolayo, the CEO, Omolayo Gallery disclosed. His story is not different from what many artists have to tell. Omolayo, after graduating from the Department of Performing art, University of Ilorin, secured a lucrative banking job but not his personal fulfilment. He rose to a managerial position but one day, he resigned and returned to study Fine Art at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Friends and relatives were concerned. Former colleagues found it worrisome.
The road to success after leaving the banking job was difficult. But the cheering news is that the first time he would sell his art works, he was paid an equivalent of two month’s salaries in one day. That was a turning point for him.
Today, as a full time artist, he is a creative entrepreneur that is addressing the problem of unemployment through the Summer Children Creative Workshop. The workshop which is in its 16th edition was not designed as a proper school at first. It was created to nurture creativity in children.
In a rare encounter with Omolayo at his gallery in Onikan, he recounted the experiences that snowballed into this creative institution that many parents now look forward to in July.
“We need to let their parents know that when children are art-oriented, it doesn’t mean that they are not intelligent or smart. It simply means that the child is gifted in a particular area.Instead of bullying the creativity out of the child, we need to encourage the child. The child can still go ahead and study law or engineering but don’t stifle that creativity. That is why we have Young at Art. So, we groom talents for the future,” he said.
The founder started the programme with his three children in Ikeja , teaching them the principles and elements of art. Later, he extended the invitation to other young children.
“I wasn’t charging anything. But while the class was going on, some parents would just come and interrupt the class, saying ‘Olu, Ayo, we are going somewhere. Let’s go.’ I felt pained. A friend told me that if only the parents had been made to pay for the classes, they would not have withdrawn their children like that. So I began charging,” he recounted.
Subsequently, his friend brought his children and was the first to pay. Later, other parents brought their children while others were curious as to the syllabus and time table.
“The parents wanted to know who the facilitators are and their educational qualifications. They even went to the extent of asking what the vision of the project. What do we hope to achieve in future. That was how I sat down and wrote the vision and mission of Young At Art. And so it became an annual workshop,” Omolayo said.
Meanwhile, Omolayo didn’t kill the spirit of giving back to his community. Every Children’s Day, he organises ‘Free Young At Art’ which is extended to orphanages.
“We provide free drinks and food for those. We’d invite some celebrities to spend time with them as well. My vision is to create a creative village that will attract young artists and children to Nigeria. It’s a place for children to develop their creativity.
“When the children are travelling outside the country, we help them prepare their portfolios. We have had a lot of success stories. For instance, the best graduating student in Architecture in 2015 at the University of Lagos was an alumnus of Young At Art”, he revealed.
From previous workshops and exhibitions, children are allowed to sell their works and earn some money. More importantly, they are trained to use their works to solve problems.
“Last year, we had a show titled, “Plastic Emergency”. We are using plastic to make art pieces. This year, we wish to continue the topic because the problem is still there. For the less privileged children, we may have just 20 slots. Last year, we invited girls from Eko Akete Junior School. Their attendance was free and they had free lunch.
The workshop also teach children to be good public speakersso that they can speak freely about their works anytime they are required to do.
“There is a saying in yoruba that “Ai lesoro ni ibereoriburuku” which means misfortune starts from the inability to express self. Once, you have done your work, talk about it.You are the owner of that product. You are the originator. That also builds confidence in the child as well. Once you put your work in an exhibition, your work becomes a public material. So you must be ready to talk about it. We also teach them to meditate so as to think creatively.”
This Summer Children Creative Workshop runs till August in Onikan featuring dance, drama, creative writing, drawing, painting, drumming, singing, French class amongst others.
WALKING IN MY SHOES
If you can climb without panting,
And you can sing without breaking,
If you can see without squinting,
You have got to walk in my shoes.
If your best friends are dying,
And your best meals are taboo,
And your best days are behind you,
You have got to be in my shoes.
If your hindsight is cherished,
And your cloth’s size is shrinking,
And your bedside is busy,
You must be walking in my shoes
If I look through the window seat
And you nudge me back to the aisle seat,
And it breeds tonnes of angry tweets,
You must be hanging my shoes