Africa: Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja in urgent need of more infrastructures to accommodate growing number of artists and art works


A Nigerian columnist, and member Thisday Editorial Board, Aisha Shuaibu has canvassed for a conducive environment where artists can ply their trade in the Federal capital territory, Abuja.

In a write published in Thisday Newspaper, she said, the city is in dire need of more infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of artists and their art works scattered all over the capital.

Read the full article below…

As the modern city it was designed to be, the Federal Capital does well in recognising and promoting African artists, particularly local ones. The city is filled with art lovers who regularize exhibitions, festivals, and creative spaces where they socialise, celebrate and support African art.

It has become a culture within the creative community to seek out the best and experience their work together. These local artists and artisans are majorly made up of low-income earning Nigerians, reliant on their work to earn a living. They do this through commissioned work or the sale of their sculptures, paintings, woven baskets, beadworks, precious gems, tie-dye clothing attires, and a variety of other artefacts.

More than often, the spaces these local artists work in are temporary structures that are a moving target for regulatory boards and agencies who rightly do their job in clearing illegal structures in the city. Arts and crafts villages are loved and frequently visited by Abuja art lovers, however, there seem to be more artists than there are art villages to house them. Artists with no permanent spaces to work in are displaced every few years, posing an issue to their sustainable growth. The potential of these artists to grow into more established businesses can only be achieved through proper regulation and management by the responsible MDAs.

The National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) is one of the 21 departments and agencies under the Ministry of Information and Culture, founded for the preservation and promotion of the creative arts for sustainable growth and development in Nigeria.

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Agencies with related mandates are the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and the Center for Blacks and African Arts and Culture (CBAAC). Although these bodies all exist under the regulation and management of the Ministry, the creative community continues to experience setbacks such as access to infrastructure to accommodate the vast and versatile artists and artisans, a database and regulatory formula to ensure that they are operating credible and tax compliant businesses, and access to funding to harness, empower and develop their crafts.

The impact of the preservation of our local artists and artisans on the community that enjoys and supports them is the overall development of the creative industry as a whole. Structure is key in fixing the ecosystem of any industry.

The most recent incident reported out of the Abuja creative community was the demolition of the Jabi Art Village, which was awkwardly located along the airport road of the Jabi / Lifecamp district.

The art village showcased a collection of locally produced, mostly handmade artefacts of fine quality and attracted customers including foreigners to its space made up of what some called “ideal souvenirs from Nigeria”. Some of the benefits of an art village are its contribution to culture and tourism, and the exposure it gives to the quality of our local raw materials.

These artists have produced unique artefacts for commercial spaces, eco-friendly materials for homes, customised sculptures and paintings, and a range of other exquisite works. An art village is a place of expression and adventure for those who enjoy creating. The Jabi Art Village demolition sparked outrage that resulted in many calling out the Ministry of FCT for not doing enough towards the preservation of these spaces. The truth, however, is that art village in particular was illegally operating on premises that belonged to a real estate company.

The company had allegedly spent two years giving notice to the artists to relocate, which landed on deaf ears. Unfortunately, in the afternoon of October 4th, 2022, the art village was demolished and the artists became instantly displaced.

Accountability must be taken by both the artists and artisans who worked at the village as well as the responsible agencies under the Ministry of FCT and the Ministry of Information and Culture in ensuring that these situations do not become a trend. To reduce public outrage and curb the spread of fake news, clear information should be passed between the relevant agencies and the general public in addressing such situations.

There is also a need for the Ministry to educate local artists on the processes involved in benefiting from the provisions of its agencies. Should they be unable to support them for whatever reasons, that should be clearly communicated as well. The destruction of artefacts during the demolition of the Jabi Art Village was unfortunate but avoidable. It is indeed disheartening to the arts community of Abuja to lose a place that was loved and treasured. It is also an opportunity for the Ministry of Information and Culture to recognise the demand for such services and develop a means of generating revenue through these local artists, towards their own growth and development.

During a parliamentary session with the House of Representatives Committee on Culture and Tourism in 2021, the Minister of Information and Culture said that the Ministry has had limitations and called on the Federal Government to allocate more funding to its development. The sum of N79,407,056,161 was approved in the 2022 budget and allocated to the Ministry. Looking at the broader picture, the development of culture and tourism still has a long way to go. There is work to be done by the federal government and the Ministry in closely examining the allocation of those funds.

Inactive agencies, incompetent personnel, and dated methods must be dissolved and replaced with more competent individuals and modern methods. Sustainable development through the creative industry will require innovative and forward-thinking leadership that understands the value of African art to the world and how Nigeria can leverage the global demand.

For arts infrastructure, there is a need for permanent sites to be built and regulated to accommodate local artists and artisans, while the artists themselves can form incorporated associations to redevelop some of their illegal structures into more permanent spaces that they could own jointly or as tenants-in-common, in accordance with the guidelines of the Ministry of Information and Culture and the FCTA. For displaced artists, there are idle spaces under the Ministry of FCT such as the Exhibition Pavilion in the Garki district donated to the city by Nigerian construction company, Julius Berger, that can serve as a housing ground.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pavilion was taken over by a medical laboratory, which does not serve the purpose the facility was donated for. The Cyprian Ekwensi Center for Arts and Culture is also an old building in dire need of rehabilitation as its structure has worn out and artefacts affected by the lack of proper maintenance.

It is shameful to all who have neglected their duties in the preservation of our local art when the global community continues to support and hold African art in very high regard.
Aisha Shuaibu

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