Cultural promotion and programming

Different aesthetics with Tope Babayemi

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In 2007, the British Council, which has had a long history of collaboration with the Royal Court Theatre London, supported the New Writing in Drama Project working with 12 writers from different parts of Nigeria with the objective of developing their skills as dramatists and producing new work for the theatre.

According to the Introduction to the book New Writing in Drama Project – (An Anthology), edited by Leo Butler and published by the British Council in 2007, “the British Council is Britain’s leading national company dedicated to new work by innovative writers from the UK and around the world….writers such as Wole Soyinka, Christopher Hampton, Howard Brenton, David Hare, Ann Jellicoe and David Edgar, have all at one time worked at the Royal Court.

I was contracted by the British Council to facilitate contact with young Nigerian writers and directors and I organised a meet and greet session for Elyse Dodgson the Director for International Development and her team. Elyse was surprised to see that none of the state institutions had any record of new writers and directors in Nigeria and told me that the Royal Court was proud to have discovered Wole Soyinka at age 23 when he wrote The Lion and the Jewel, long before he became the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Elyse’s surprise was not out of place and it said a lot about the level of professionalism in many of our cultural institutions.

In Nigeria, we have a National Theatre in Lagos with excellent facilities but a dire lack of requisite skill in cultural programming. This has had a negative knock-on effect on programming all over the country where halls and facilities in state councils for arts and culture are lying dormant and unused. The National Theatre which ought to be a catalyst organisation in terms of the propagation of national culture is unable to catalyse a touring circuit in the country thereby leaving many Nigerians “culturally deprived”. The reason for the situation is a very poor level of arts administration at many levels and a great lack of specialised cultural management skills on the part of the civil servants to effectively run our cultural institutions.

At the non-state level, cultural programming is the way and manner in which cultural production is promoted in venues dedicated to the promotion of arts and cultural products. It is important to establish here that there are two types of “promoter” namely, the independent promoter and the venue- based promoter. The independent promoter puts together a programme and goes to the venue-based promoter to hire his space or facility to exhibit the product. He is responsible for budget items such as venue hire, equipment hire, artists’ fees and promotions (including publicity). He expects to make a profit at the end of the venture. The venue-based promoter on the other hand does not share in the risks of the independent promoter. He owns or controls the building. He collects a fee from the independent promoter for use of the facility for a specified period to showcase cultural activities and products such as performances, films and exhibitions.

In Nigeria, the difference between arts /cultural centres and event centres has become blurred such that Lagos, the cultural capital, can only boast of no more than two or three arts centres with recognisable programmes. In the main, the business of Cultural promotion takes place in beer parlours and pepper soup joints. Event centres cater for all types of functions and venues dedicated to the promotion of the arts and culture are hard to come by.

We cannot discuss cultural programming without touching on special events such as festivals. By definition, festivals are a celebration of community and offer great opportunity not just for the development of enterprise but also for the building of social cohesion. The challenge is finding the political will, leadership and policies that will help to transform our festivals from local folk activities to world class.