The setting was inventive and tastefully ingenious. The ambience of the Paintbox Art Academy in Kano spoke to the creativity needed to support the Nigerian economy. There were children aged four and above utilizing their paint brush to create murals of varying proportions. There were also pottery, poetry and raffia weaving among others. Hitherto fringe demographics in the arts space such as young females and artisans mixed with creative minds at the British Council Creative Economy Showcase Programme.
Replica events emerged simultaneously in other parts of the country such as Port Harcourt and Lagos. The Port Harcourt event, themed Rivers of Art, featured visual and digital arts, animation, stage plays, comedy and music. There were stage performances with eclectic choreography, soliloquy and small talks. In Lagos, popular rapper M I Abaga conducted sessions headlined by sundry musical acts and comedies.
Though the British Council initiative is aimed at assisting performance artists and art exhibitors in recovering from the economic challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic, the bigger picture is to use the creative industries as part of the building blocks for the national economy.
In 2013 that Nigeria’s GDP was rebased, the creative industries and the telecoms were part of the matrix used to move the size of the economy from USD 270 billion to USD 510 billion, effectively catapulting the country to top of the ladder in Africa. It overtook South Africa which had held the position. The economic mainstay, oil, contributes about 83% to the economy but contributes mere 9% to the GDP. With a huge population of 200 million supported by a paltry GDP from its major revenue class, the Nigerian economy can still be considered weak. Experts believe rebasing the economy would not lead to economic prosperity because while the statistics changed, the reality remains the same.
According to the World Bank, lack of job opportunities is at the core of the current high poverty levels, regional inequality, and social and political unrest. High inflation has also taken a toll on households’ welfare and high prices in 2020-2022 were likely to have pushed an additional 8 million Nigerians into poverty.
The creative industries are receiving attention as a future link to economic prosperity. Weighing the importance of Africa’s largest economy and the world’s most populous Black nation to the UK, the Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, said: “Nigeria is at the forefront of change in Africa. Its thriving film and music scene, tech innovation and multiple opportunities for investment, there is much to admire and value. The enthusiasm of the Diaspora here in the UK is infectious and remains untapped.”
The British Council is providing the platform for a thriving clan of creatives, not just for their livelihoods but to support a struggling national economy. It is believed that the creative industries in Nigeria are rapidly growing economic powerhouses that are increasingly being recognised as pathways for sustainable livelihoods for young people across art forms. This prospect is, however, facing daunting challenges of weak policy support, lack of infrastructure, low levels of awareness of the livelihood opportunities that exist within the art sectors and limited opportunities especially for networking, collaborations, and skill-sharing.
Besides, this sector was highly impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic and its attendant economic compaction.
The British Council Creative Economy Showcase Programme which started in November runs through March 2023. It aims to stimulate links among Nigerian creatives by providing them access to the British Council exhibition spaces, for displays, showcases and performances in prime locations in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos and Kano states.
Lucy Pearson, British Council Nigeria’s Country Director, said: “This initiative by the British Council is assisting performance artists and art exhibitors, many of whom were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant economic challenges. Many creative businesses, particularly those involving art forms that require live performances, are still recovering from the long-term harmful effects of the crisis,”
The British Council appointed four curators to review submissions from artists and creative entrepreneurs following a widely advertised call for applications that ended in July 2022. The curators for the four venues in the different states were Creative Arts and Visual Imagery Centre (CAVIC) in Abuja, TASCK in Lagos, StartUp South in Port Harcourt and StartUp Kano in Kano. The curators selected the best entries for venue support and work with the exhibitors to deliver their work and draw audiences to attend. All profits made through the sale of tickets or other financial rewards, including sponsorships, would go to the exhibitors.
British Council Head of Arts West Africa and Creative Economy Lead SSA, Brenda Fashugba, said the intervention would stimulate creative entrepreneurship. “The Creative Economy Showcase Programme helps resolve several challenges for creative entrepreneurs, such as offsetting the massive cost of renting a premium venue space, providing communication support through publicity for the programme, offering exhibitors access to the British Council network of art enthusiasts and stakeholders as well as affording exhibitors access to our organisational knowledge of event management, programme management and planning.”
One of the most memorable art showcases curated by TASCK in Lagos combined the Red Button Fashion Showcase and African Beer with Oma Soft spot music, dance and poetry performances. Red Button, a fashion design house whose designs focus on African stories, powerful women and sustainability, displayed their new fashion collection: green cover. At the same event, Sir Dauda performed some of his hit songs together with ten other performers, including Winny, Emaxee, Mani Lapussh, Phaemous, Phola Preye, and others who also took the stage.
Nigerians are renowned for their creative expressions; vibrant energy expressed through diverse creative demonstrations. Being a country with one of the largest youth populations, Nigeria is positioned to harness this potential for economic growth. There is urgent need to raise awareness among key Nigerian Arts stakeholders and policymakers about this initiative.
Reviewing the Rivers of Art creative performances in Port Harcourt, The Paintbox Experience in Kano and the Incredible Sessions music performances in Lagos that featured Nigerian rapper and record producer MI Abaga, indicates that the Creative industries could truly be an elixir to national economic prosperity.
Sanya Onayoade is Media Consultant to British Council.