Friday, December 21, 2007

What Budget has to Do with Culture Production

For a fair share in the budget, artistes brainstorm
By Chuks Nwanne and Jumoke Verissimo
INADEQUATE funding and poor attitude by government at all levels have remained the major headaches of the art and culture sector of the economy. Unlike other sectors, budgetary allocation for the arts is very poor, and even the lean provision is hardly properly distributed by political heads of the culture ministries in both state and federal levels.
The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), took the bull to a slaughter house on Sunday, December 16, 2007, when it constituted a panel of policy makers, art enthusiasts, and those in the private sector to examine the effect of budgetary policies on Arts and Culture in Nigeria.
With the theme, "What Has the Budget Got to Do with Culture Production?" the 75th Art Stampede had on the panel the Director General of National Gallery of Arts, Mr. Joe Musa; Chairman, Nigerian Book Fair Trust, Otunba Yinka Lawal Solarin; notable movie maker and activist Mahmoud Ali-Balogun; the Special Adviser (Special Duties) to Lagos State culture; Folabi Kofo Abayomi and Mr Abdul Bamgbopa of NextZone. The session was moderated by CORA's member, himself a writer and lawyer, Mr Deji Toye.
In his contribution, Folabi Kofo-Abayomi expressed the need for artistes to partner with the private sector by involving them in their programmes. He explains that when the issue of showcasing Art and Culture comes to the fore in government budgetary discourse, dance, drama and such mere performances are what comes into the policy makers' contetion. This he sais, maekes it rather difficult to determine a serious budgetary allocation for the sector. While this seems problematic, the special adviser to Governor Fashola, informed that in other parts of the world; the interaction between the private, non-governmental organisations and government agencies ensure that large money is voted and expended on artistic and cultural projects.
"Whatever we count ourselves to be as a people, it is really the art and the culture that typify what you really are as a nation. Considering the diversity and the interrelationships, we then begin to see that we have a lot to offer."
However, Kofo-Abayomi observed that for the government, issues about responsibilities concerning what it has been elected to do and the overwhelming problems it has to deal with usually come first.
"How do we now prioritize resources and at the same time put Arts and Culture in its proper place? Not just in an allocation of say, 'Let's just give it 1per cent or 2per cent, but the proper way to allocate these resources is a major problem."
Otunba Lawal-Solarin observed that, funding is a major problem in the sector, citing the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, organisers of the International Book Festival as an instance.
"We have not received money from the Federal government as expected, rather the organisation has been faced with as much challenges as other art organizations seeking fund from the government."
He pointed out that the policy for National Arts and Culture does not include anything about budgetary allocation.
"It simply says there should be provision of allocation for infrastructure." In essence, the government from the outset has removed itself from the provision of fund for the sector.
The Director General of the National Gallery of Arts Mr. Joe Musa outlined some challenges being faced by the sector during budgeting, which he described as frustrating. The DG reasoned that there is an urgent need for art organisations to unite in pursuing their agenda. He also frowned at the poor representation of the sector in government.
"At the moment, there is an absence of enough culture workers in government. Culture workers are lacking in the ministries; we don't have them. The artists are not always in the corridors of power to push their agenda. We need more people to come and join us. You are existing in an environment at a time when your contribution is necessary, not when you are dead. The best for the industry would be first and foremost, the art organisations uniting to articulate their needs and desires from the government. This is the opportunity to ask many of us, how we can also be involved in the policy making, " he quips.
Musa, apainter and art journalist himself, informed the gathering of the need for an edifice for the visual arts, which he says, would help in the area of fund raising.
"We don't even have an edifice; the National Gallery of Art does not have an edifice, a proper edifice that can match any international standard gallery. There are international galleries all over the world. There is the Louvres in Paris. Let me give you an example, you need to pay 8 euros to enter the Louvres and they received up to 80,000 visitors a day. That is money. "Since I have been in government, I have been fighting that if we do not achieve anything, we should at least, have an infrastructure on ground. Let's have an edifice on ground first of all in addition to designing other policies that we've been working on, " he said.
In his contribution, Femi Jarret believes that the first step in the struggle is for the artists in government to examine themselves. "We need to examine ourselves. For these guys to succeed, we need to co-operate with them. If we can gang up together, we can make it happen. I remember a few years back, a reporter came to ask me what I think about Nigerian movies, and I said, 'it will thrive'. Whereas, a few weeks back, some of my contemporaries were rubbishing home movie. I told them, 'look, it's true there are some bad movies, but it will sort itself out. Today, Nollywood is number three in the world." Abdul Bamgbopa, from Nextzone, an investment, financial services firm with interest in entertainment, charged artistes to come up will programmes that will improve the current status of the sector. He said that the availability of such programmes and ideas will surely attract investors to the sector.
"Many of the art products are "abstract" to the audience it is directed to. There is the need to involve organisations in our programmes, but first of all, we need to make them marketable."
Mr mahmoud Ali-balogun, an art activist, movie maker and ex-President of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, NANTAP, stressed that unless the artistes themselves primed themselves ready to participate actively in the desire to redeem the abject state of the arts and culture sector, the sector will remain short-changed in the national scheme of things. He was worried that not many artistes even show interest in the affairs of the sector. All they know is just to perform; they do not ask questions from their fellow artistes who have been appointed by government to head the various cultural agencies; so how do they expect to have their voices heard,' he asked. Ali-Balogun also charged the few artistes in government to work for the common god of the sector instead of seeing their current positions as tickets to their personal conveniences and riches.
Meanwhile, CORA has proposed that a communique for the programme will be made available soon. It also promised that some of theme will be examined at a gathering in April.
• Culled from The Guardian, Wednesday december 19, 2007

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