By Lari Williams
It’s exactly 30 years this month since the artistic expression “Overview on Nigerian Arts” was established in the Vanguard Newspaper, under the umbrella “STAGE AND SCREEN”.
I hasten to thank my publisher, Mr. Sam Amuka (Uncle Sam) for the wonderful opportunity of this expression which has afforded me a platform to reach my numerous readers, satisfy my quest as a journalist and keep my writing prowess exercised. I recall when Stage and Screen turned 21 years. I received a 21-inch colour television set from Uncle Sam. Now, Stage and Screen is 30 years, and I wonder what to expect.
My first article on this column in April 1987 was 10 years after FESTAC 77′ in which I said “the bubbling of Nigerian arts form since FESTAC 77′ has simmered down like the effervescence of frying pan soup”. This statement is still true in quality today. FESTAC 77′ was a big time Jamboree of the arts, especially the performing arts, which promised the establishment of the likes of London Westend, the American Broadway, and much more.
Stage and Screen overview on the Nigerian performing arts has over the years remained a repeated story of a call for improvement in creativity, innovation, and a move away from mediocrity. The column commented on the good fortune of the arts with the coming into power of President Goodluck Jonathan (GCFR), when I wrote an Open letter to the President which was published in the Vanguard and other newspapers, thanking him for the dedicated funds he offered to the arts industry and consequently offered advice to His Excellency to invest in establishing a HALL OF FAME to immortalise arts practitioners, past and present, who have excelled in practice.
It is regrettable that our first boxing champion (Hogan Bassey), first professional actor (Orlando Martins), first professional pop musician (Ambrose Campbell), the great sculptor; Ben Enwonwu and many more greats – the Ogundes, the Felas, the Duro Ladipos, the Bala Millers, Dan Maraya Jos, Hajia Ladi Kwali, Nelly Uchendu, Afi Usuah are dead and forgotten. Should they be forgotten?
How can we keep our culture alive? How can we encourage our FUTURE when our past arts practitioners are not remembered and the present ones are not encouraged? Stage and Screen in her May 20, 2009 edition wrote: “we refine crude oil for sale, we build aerodrome for planes, seaport harbors for ships and sea transport, but forget to invest in art by building theaters, Parkview cinemas (to watch from the car) and generally encourage theater culture.”
In the past, Stage and Screen had advocated that every local government council in Nigeria should build at least a 500-seater auditorium. It is therefore welcome news that the amiable Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, has decided to renovate the National Theatre, build additional theatre across the state and the new ‘Museum of All Possibilities’.
Stage and Screen wrote a lot about the commercialization of arts, tourism and culture. In its October 2008 edition, it wrote: “it is not enough for arts councils to be given pittance to run the arts, pay salaries and provide money for anniversaries such as Independence, Labour Day or Children Day.”
It is time for a strategic stakeholders partnership investment so that the arts can have a broad based foundation to grow professionally and commercially to enhance the creativity and sophistication Nigeria requires to propel her into the league of cultured nations. And the arts can do the magic to place our arts on the level of the British Westend and American Broadway.
Putting square pegs in round roles in the administration of the arts will not enhance the growth of the arts in Nigeria. We have had good sparks of improvement with the likes of Sally Mbanefo in tourism, Jahman Anikulapo in arts promotion, and Donald Duke in State tourism infrastructure. We need more of such persons to manage art, tourism and culture at the national level.
A total recall from Stage and Screen of the overview of Nigeria’s arts in a book form will soon be made available to aid research and study of Nigeria’s art life so far (1977-2017).