Arts access

Different aesthetics with Tope Babayemi

Twitter: afinjuadaba

Twitter I am delighted to be asked by the Management of to contribute the column Different Aesthetics to their mould-breaking online newspaper. It is important to establish the philosophical and contextual underpinning of the articles from the beginning in order to encourage understanding of the developmental thrust of the column. I will therefore dwell a little on the rationale for and the benefits of effective management of the arts and culture although the title of this piece is Arts Access

I once had the privilege of having a conversation with one of the brightest legal minds in Nigeria and upon learning that I had returned from the United Kingdom with that country’s first M.Phil.; Black Performing Arts, specialising in Management, this eminent senior citizen advised that I return abroad to obtain a more profitable Graduate Qualification. Using a piece of sculpture on his table as example, he professed that the Arts did not need managing. According to him, he saw the piece, liked it and bought it. So what was there to manage?

Of course I had an appropriate response but Baba was at the time my mother-in-law’s lawyer and my wife who trained abroad and had just finished the requisite two-year Nigerian Law School training was about to start her pupillage in his Chambers. More importantly, as a virtuous Yoruba man, respect for age and experience required that I made no response, more so because it was a rare privilege anyway to have been granted audience by Baba in the first place. All I could do in the circumstances therefore was to bite my lower lip and offer a silent prayer to God to give me an opportunity to prove Baba wrong. My prayer was answered 10 years later when one of his children decided to go full time into arts promotion and development and came to me to seek advice. That person has today turned out to be one of the leading lights on the Nigeria cultural scene.

The bottom line is that good cultural management promotes social and community cohesion, provides opportunities for inclusion of local talent and creativity but most importantly creates a basis for a vibrant creative economy.

Arts Access can be discussed at two levels. The first is at the level of education and the second at the level of public policy and provision of infrastructure. Of course it must be emphasised that in our environment and circumstances, it is pertinent that we continually build the capacity and capability of politicians and political office holders to understand the importance of putting the arts and culture in their right places in the processes of governance and nation building.

At the level of education, we need to improve on the current state of the ‘Arts in Education’ in the country to aid appropriate orientation of young people who are the leaders of tomorrow and need to be rounded and confident citizens. The last I heard, History and the Arts have been removed from the curriculum at public primary and maybe secondary school level. We need an education system that can detect creative and intellectual potential in our young for future nurturing.

also with regard to ‘arts education’, i have always maintained that the current curriculum in our arts training institutions is deficient and dysfunctional in that subjects such as marketing, proposal writing, budgeting, the areas that arm the artist with the requisite skills that will enable him or her to compete effectively as a professional in the challenging Nigerian economy are not taught. Subject for another day.

In nations where citizens live to work, the Arts, Culture and Tourism are seen as an “add on” in policy making and resource allocation because most people neither have the time nor the resources to engage in leisure activities and recreation.  In those environments, culture is perceived mainly in folk and traditional terms with States’ Councils for Arts and Culture promoting ‘Airport Art’ that produce ‘grass skirts and War Dances’ for visiting dignitaries and the like whilst Leisure and Entertainment  tend to be in bars and recreation in parties and other celebrations that engage artists in ‘Entertainment’, blurring the lines between serious Art and Entertainment.

The above characteristics are synonymous with underdevelopment and underscore the reason why people who live in ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘developing economies’ have shorter life spans than those who live in more ‘developed’ climes. Our elderly citizens are particularly disenfranchised in the Nigerian cultural environment.

In contrast, in places where the citizens work to live, the arts, culture and tourism are vibrant because they touch every segment of society, culture and cultural production is buoyant and the public and private sectors actively involved in the funding and propagation of culture because there are cultural constituencies whose needs have to be met in organised society.

The concept of the arts and culture as human right has currency in development. We must begin to deal seriously with issues of inclusion and access as we embark on the arduous tasks of ensuring good governance and sustainable development.