By Temitayo Olofinlua
VENTURES AFRICA - In 1999, the creative industries were said to have accounted for around 4 percent of the world’s economic output. The creative industry is service driven, mostly knowledge based. Advertising, Architecture, Arts and antique markets, Crafts, Design, Film, video and photography, Software, computer games and electronic publishing, Music and the visual and performing arts, Publishing, Television, Radio, belong to the creative industry, also known as cultural industry.
Just like in the rest of the world, the creative industry contributes to the development of the nation. Nollywood for instance is said to contribute a lot to national wealth, though there are no records to show. A trip to Alaba and Ebinpejo Lane, Lagos Island will say something. A small research of the movie houses; the cinema houses will show you interesting discoveries. Study the rate at which new movies are released. Google Nollywood and see the number of searches you will find in seconds. Now, imagine adding the other sectors. Yet, the creative sector is one of the least recognized sectors in the country. Why is this so? There are many reasons, diverse perspectives.
Blessings of a Suit or Curse of Creativity?
The easiest way to attract attention to yourself is this. Tell your father that you want to be a musician. Tell your mother that you want to start acting. Tell your relatives that you want to start painting. Then, start spotting dreadlocks. Initially, they would think that you are joking, that you are in a dream from which you would wake. When they realize that it is no dream, that you will not change your mind, the trouble begins, your trouble begins. Many parents are still stuck with the illusions of white collar jobs for their children. The disciplines in professional Nigeria are triplets: doctors, lawyers or accountants. This is changing, however slow. “Most parents are not open to their children developing their creative abilities, and so don’t encourage them,” says fashion designer, Ejiro Amos Tafiri. Many parents don’t give their children the needed support to follow their passions, and do what they really love.
This explains why many creative entrepreneurs study courses they do not intend to practice. Adebola Rayo is a freelance writer who just finished her LLB, she says “the end to living for others, doing things because they want you too; that was existing; now let living begin.” She is first a short story writer. She writes movie scripts and also freelances as a content consultant with Wordsmithy Media. Before she finally followed her passion, she had to follow parents’ dream, the dream of having a barrister daughter. They are still trying to get her a regular 9-5 job, the normal kind of work for normal people.
Wana Udobang is the CEO of Guerilla Basement; she also works with Inspiration FM in Nigeria and loves to write. She studied Creative Arts in the University “I had the opportunity to study journalism in a highly creative and experimental atmosphere…this exposed me to art in an intense environment. In a weird way, if you didn’t know about certain things or kinds of people in that world, you were forced to find out and that was a huge enlightening process in itself.” A background in the arts and a supporting environment encourages creativity.
Every day, there are many young Nigerians who desire to follow their passions; many of them with a need for an academic background for their art. This leads to the next question of unavailable educational infrastructure.
“I am a lawyer in my country, everybody knows me well, if you look at me up and down, you will know that it’s true!” Many young Nigerians who schooled in the country know this song. Many times, the lawyer is replaced by doctor and “its sibling profession,” accountant, hardly were children encouraged to sing “I am a painter…” The educational sector is guilty.
The average senior secondary school is divided into: Sciences, Arts and Commercial. It is generally assumed that it was the unintelligent students that ended up in Arts classes. As Arts students, the subjects are limited in scope. In many public secondary schools, the so-called arts subjects are subjects that all the students in the school should be made to offer generic subjects: History, Government, Literature and Religious Studies. The question is: how many secondary schools focus on the arts truly? Why is there not specific emphasis on entrepreneurship and arts even in its simplest form? Why are there no basic courses in fashion design, painting, writing, for instance?
Fast forward to the University, the system of entrance into Universities is also biased. The Arts courses have the low entrance cutoffs compared to the Sciences. This is a subtle comment, that it takes more efforts to be a science student than an Arts student. Usually, many students are stuck with few choices from the beginning, it’s either you end up in the Faculty of Law or Humanities which subsumes departments like English, Literature, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Creative Arts and Languages. Many students want to study Law, the professional course; the Humanities is more like a dumping ground for those not accepted into the Faculty of Law.
There are few options. There is no Nigerian University that offers a course in Creative Writing for instance; neither are there courses in Computer Programming like 3D, many of their Departments of Computer Science are still stuck in the past, studying Fortran, a software programming that has lost relevance in contemporary times. There is a need for courses relevant in our time like New Media, the Business of Arts, among others; and with practical hands-on curriculum, not just theory.
Ejiro Amos Tafiri studied Fashion Design and Clothing Technology at Yaba College of Technology. Those days of impossible deadlines, tough lectures and even tougher competition have a positive influence on her career “it prepared me for the challenges of being a fashion designer in an unfavorable condition, and being successful at it out of nothing. I have cultivated this die hard attitude from school, so now when things are tough, and I apply the same attitude. When my staff are stressing I get in there and get the job done.” Ejiro can do all the aspects of fashion because I had an all-round grounded education. “I illustrate, pattern draft, and sew,” says the proud fashion designer who was part of the ARISE Fashion Week in Lagos.
A quick look at scholarships available to students in tertiary institutions; there is less emphasis on the Arts or Humanities. There are more organisations willing to give scholarship to the Sciences and Commercial Students compared to Humanities. There equally is no government support for the faculties; there are no arts grants for artists. There should be in the form of a sincere interest in creative education, organizing trainings for qualified. They could also help with the establishment of arts focused school. We have enough universities, however under-funded.
Each sector of the creative industry in Nigeria is besieged by its own challenges. Nollywood and the music industry battle piracy. Many artists deal with accessibility and availability of credible exhibition space. Fashion designers face the power challenge and lack of an organized sector. Publishing deals with a lack of a distribution network.
Segun Adefila, theatre practitioner thinks it has a lot to do with the government’s lack of interest in the sector “Every great nation especially one populated by enlightened people give their art and culture, prominence. Here, we are besieged by bad leadership, oil doom, mistaken for oil boom. Where was the arts before its discovery, what have we achieved after its discovery, how are we faring with these wealth? Why haven’t we had a ‘sell-able’ culture and arts? If some societies find our art works valuable enough to loot and keep them in their museums, why haven’t we been able to export similar works for foreign exchange? These are some questions to ponder about.
There are different unions in the different sectors. This could lead to a dilution of efforts. There seems to be little getting done. If one wants to be an actor, how does it start after a degree; well asides hustling for auditions? If one wants to be a voice-over artist, what does it take? More can be done when a united front is presented.
As an individual, before going into the sector, it is important to be aware of what obtains. If you want to be a writer, ask yourself, what kind of writer: fiction, features, screenwriting, writing for stage? What are the challenges I will face? How do I hope to overcome them? Who are the game players in my sector? What has worked for them? If you are not versatile in the business aspect of the business, do some self-education, if that does not work; hire someone who knows your industry well to manage you.
There is a Ministry in charge of Arts and Culture but one wonders exactly what they do. There are different unions responsible for different sectors. There seems to be little done in small patches. Maybe when there is a united front with an organized solution for each sector, maybe something can change.
In 2011, Communicating for Change (CFC) an NGO celebrated leading acts in the Nigerian creative industry with the premiere of a new five-part documentary film series, featuring some of the best acts of Nigerian music, film, visual and performing arts sectors. With the support of Ford Foundation, RedHOT, the title of the series is an exciting feature on selected veterans as well as an expose on the very bright, established and authoritatively budding talents in the country.
The closest academic interest in the arts can be found with brief courses organized by independent organisations. The Lagos Business School organizes short course in Writing and independent schools of drama like the Emem Isong-led Royal Arts Academy and Joke Jacobs-led Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts. British Council also organizes Creative Lives, a training in creative enterprise. Future Nigeria organizes yearly workshops for writers and media practitioners. In 2011, MTN also partnered with Style House Files and Lagos State, to launch the MTN Lagos Fashion & Design Week 2011, a platform for Nigeria’s innovative designers and entrepreneurs to present their work to a focused target audience. The Africa Movie Academy Awards organizes Movie in a Box, a month long training to equip people interested in the movie industry with basic skills. There is also the Del-York international School organised by Nollywood actress Stephanie Okereke, a training session for people interested in the film industry; they are taught by practitioners from the New York Film Academy. Affordability of these programmes and credibility of certification by the Ministry of Education becomes the next issue. However, these are efforts that can be complemented with more proper management and organization of the industry.
The Business of Creativity: Creatives Talk
Like many other enterprises, the creative sector is also business inclined. There is a demand and there is a supply. However, the items of trade are different. Many creatives lack the knowledge of business. They are just fine with the fact that they can make a living. For an industry to take its proper place on the world map, all hands have to be on deck, everyone has something to get done.
We spoke with some people on the challenges of the industry and what should be done to earn the right of place that it deserves; they also give advice to prospective creative entrepreneurs.
Wana Udobang, CEO, Guerilla Basement
What’s the biggest mistake creative people make?
Thinking that you can’t get anything done without the adequate amount of support that you think you need. I think the best part of the creative business for me is that if you want to get something done, as long as you are determined, you can always do it. You want to take photographs, go on the internet, read, look at as many images, borrow a camera if you don’t have one and start building your collection of images. If you want to write, go to your laptop and write. If you want to make a television show, you will be surprised how many of your friends have a D7 camera and you can create 13 episodes of a show. Collaborate with someone who is an editor and the next thing to worry about is marketing it. So I think the biggest problem is sitting on the ideas, not doing anything about it until it becomes a dread dream.
Who should help: government, corporate sector, individuals?
They all have a role. Thanks to Nigerian Breweries, the Farafina Writers workshop still happens every year and I have been a benefactor. GTB sponsored Yinka Shonibare’s piece that was commissioned for the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square. They also supported the Chris Ofili’s exhibition. The same goes with Theatre at Terra. So everyone has a role to play in keeping art alive. But the government needs to do more. At least an overhaul of our National Theatre, art competitions and institute residencies.
What advice would you give someone interested in going into your sector?
Brace yourself; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Don’t expect a manual but whatever happens, just keep creating something.
Where do you see your company in five years?
To be realistic, in five years, I would say producing and staging plays, promoting fantastic literature and photography, and creating content in cutting-edge newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. Hopefully project-managing and curating a few exhibitions as well.
Ejiro Amos-Tafiri, Designer
What’s the major challenge facing your sector? How do you think it can be tackled?
Finance and Skilled labour. If the government can make available finance in form of accessible loans or build production houses that we can all tap into, and build skill acquisition centres where people that work in fashion can horn their skills, the industry will change a great deal.
Who should help: government, corporate sector, individuals? What roles do they have?
Everyone should help because this industry has huge potential – clothing is a basic need of man. The government should sort out basic infrastructure and pass laws and bills that encourage the growth of our industry at least. The corporate sector should partner on fashion projects and the individuals so in the very least should buy Nigeria and support our local industry.
What advice would you give someone interested in going into your sector?
Be focused, strong and undaunted by the challenges, they will pass and you will be victorious. Get an education in your chosen area, it grounds you properly.
Where do you see your company in five years?
Soaring high among the stars, institutionalized here in Nigeria and with a strong international presence.
Segun Adefila, Theatre Director, Crown Troupe Africa
What is the biggest mistake creative people make?
Most creative people are so engrossed in their calling that the business part suffers. I am a culprit too. My art is more important to me than my stomach. In an ideal situation, the artist should remain an artist and then create employment for sellers of such arts. When I said to one of my mentors that I am finding it difficult to mix my art and business together, he responded by saying Shakespeare was a dramatist who also managed his own (Globe) theatre. Our own Ogunde also managed his art and the business of that art. He’s reputed to have been the first to advertise for paid artists. Having said that, I personally think art opens doors. Great art will become great business if artists themselves pay more attention to honing their skills.
Challenges of being an entrepreneur in the Creative Industry
Like every other sector in Nigeria, it’s been a challenge but then the opportunities are there if you work hard and open your ‘senses’ enough. I concentrate on my product. I search for my unique selling point and do my best to be as ‘juicy’ as I can be when I am engaged so as to ensure devoted patronage. It’s competitive but the best bet goes to the best.
What government could do? Create the right structures and environment for a fledgling industry like ours.
If I could change things: I would put square pegs in square hole and round pegs in round holes.