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Bolanle Austen-Peters: Transforming the Creative Industry in Nigeria through Education, Empowerment
In 2021, Terra Kulture established its premier creative academy – Terra Academy For The Arts to provide world-class creative education, career, and entrepreneurial opportunities. The sought-after academy has trained over 1000 students on relevant skills across key sub-sectors in theatre and business. Recently, The Terra Academy for The Arts, TAFTA, announced the reopening of its admissions portal in anticipation of its second Cohort. Scheduled to resume in February 2023, in this chat with Bolanle Austen-Peters, the brain and force behind TAFTA, shared the inspiration for its establishment and the intended impact on Africa’s creative industry, economy, and society. Uzoma Mba brings excerpts
In 2003, you founded Terra Kulture with the mission to promote the richness and diversity of Nigerian languages, arts, and culture. Why was this an important initiative or mission to fulfill?
Prior to founding Terra Kulture, I had a thriving career as a lawyer and worked for the United Nations. Whilst doing so, I had the opportunity to travel a lot where I realized that every country had a cultural centre where tourists could learn more about their history and culture, deepening their appreciation of it. The sad thing was that we didn’t have that in Nigeria at the time. I believe that it is important that when people visit Nigeria, there is a place where they can be exposed to and explore the richness, beauty, and diversity of our cultures.
Terra Kulture recently established a creative academy called Terra Academy for the Arts (TAFTA). Please share more information about TAFTA.
We established TAFTA as a creative academy with the vision of building and empowering a community of young Nigerians who will impact society and the economy by transforming the creative industry. Primarily an e-learning academy, TAFTA will impart requisite entrepreneurial and technical skills to young women and men across select areas of theatre and business. It will also work to connect them with employment opportunities and enterprise support needed after the program.
The essence is to create a domino effect that will result in socio-economic independence amongst Nigerian youth, especially females, whilst also increasing competency and overall productivity in the creative industry. We will achieve this by providing training, mentoring, support, internships, and career opportunities to participants. Currently, our program offers an innovative and comprehensive curriculum with specialized modules in sound design, stage lighting, animation, and scriptwriting. All modules have also been incorporated with business and entrepreneurship courses.
The academy urges interested parties to submit their application for the free program on their website www.terraacademyforthearts.com.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of TAFTA and how was the journey from conceptualisation to the establishment?
In the nineteen years since its opening, Terra Kulture has been home to and trained many creatives from Nigeria and West Africa. Our doors have been open to a multitude of creatives from every part of the industry including actors, costume designers, hair stylists, makeup artists, and dancers; a lot of whom were in the early stages of their careers at the time. Whilst working with them, we saw that for many of them, their skills dramatically improve. A number of them have gone on to start their own businesses based on things they learned at Terra Kulture and the experience garnered. Experience is a great teacher but education is invaluable. TAFTA was created to formalise the structure of our already ongoing activities.
A legend in the industry, you have had the opportunity to observe the growth of the creative industry. How has the industry evolved regarding talent and skills, and how can TAFTA contribute to this?
As Nigeria expanded its boundaries and we became part of a globalized market, it was clear that we had to level up to meet global standards. There is now a greater emphasis on the technical elements of the process and the need for a better understanding of creative elements as well. As we recognised this and worked towards it, the growth has been reflected in the improved quality of our work. Although, we still have a long way to go. TAFTA is contributing to this growth by building and empowering the talents who will revolutionize the industry and elevate the quality of the creative and technical aspects of our work.
The internet penetration rate in Nigeria is one of the challenges that may limit students from completing the program. What opportunities are available to support the students in the academy?
Currently, the program is active in three Nigerian states – Lagos, Ogun, and Kano. In each of these states, we have established two physical learning centres to support our students who lack access to the internet, electricity, and compatible devices. These centres are free to use by all students and also allow them to build stronger communities with themselves and with the centre managers. It was important for us to have these physical locations because it expands the accessibility of the program to the marginalized communities for which the academy was designed.
The TAFTA program runs for six weeks, after which the students will be engaged in a hands-on workshop for two weeks. What other support programs does TAFTA have for the students following the eight-week program?
We are currently developing an app that will connect students with potential employers and internship opportunities available in the industry. This way once they have completed the program, they gain access to necessary employment opportunities. On the other hand, for our students who are on the entrepreneurial route, we also provide advantageous enterprise support. They are connected with organizations that provide the necessary corporate/business services needed to run one’s business. They are guided on the step-by-step process of business registration, legal, and accounting requirements.
The empowerment of Nigerian youth is a core concern of the nation. How can like-minded communities and organisations support TAFTA and its mission?
TAFTA’s program goes beyond training our students on necessary skills but also provides access to a community-like support system of mentors who can guide our students in the early stages of their careers. As such, we have explored how we could expand our offerings to include access to relevant financial and corporate services for graduates of the programs that intend to start their own businesses. We have already ventured into multiple partnerships with key organizations, associations, and businesses that can grow the capacities of our students including the Young Lawyers of Nigeria, a law firm in Kano, an accounting firm, and two business branding consultancies.
Also, we recently signed an MoU with the Screenwriters Guild of Nigeria that strengthens the support offered to students of the academy by easing the admission process into the professional guild. Outstanding students will be eligible for eased and discounted admission into the guild at the end of the program.
Lastly, in what ways will TAFTA help in preserving Nigeria’s culture and improving the creative industry?
TAFTA aims to be the number one creative academy in Africa and ultimately the world. With our plans to expand our curriculum beyond its current scope, we will continue to empower African storytellers and support the industry by training future crews with the technical skills needed to actualise those stories. Through TAFTA, the richness and diversity of Nigeria’s culture will be preserved, transformed, and presented to the world for appreciation. The world should brace itself for richer and more enchanting stories and theatre performances that will come from Africa!
Through TAFTA, the richness and diversity of Nigeria’s culture will be preserved, transformed, and presented to the world for appreciation. The world should brace itself for richer and more enchanting stories and theatre performances that will come from Africa