The dearth of suitable performance venues has always been a major challenge to the growth of the arts and culture sector – and, indeed, the creative industry – in Nigeria, especially in Abuja, the capital city. The cultural industry has been yearning for a very long time the private sector involvement, particularly the need for the private sector, individuals, to also make some inputs into that sector.
Abuja is set to witness a new lease of life, with the coming of the Heritage Africa Village Square, a sprawling facility located in the Jabi area of the city. For stakeholders, the centre offers fresh breadth for thriving vibrant arts and culture sector and harnessing of the talents that abound in the city and its environs.
This was quite evident from the array of breathtaking and inspiring performances, ranging from dance ensemble to drama, musical, spoken word, and displays of talents at a preview unveiling of the sprawling facility. It was, indeed, an evening rich, colourful theatrical performances that got the audience asking for more.
Introducing journalists to the facility, renowned set designer, scholar and former director general of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), and chair Board of Trustees of Heritage Africa, Prof. Duro Oni, commended the initiative.
“There is no better time than now. The creativity industry, the cultural industry has been yearning for a very long time the private sector involvement. What you get to hear, apart from Terra Kulture in Lagos, would be the Abuja Arts Council, the National Troupe, and the National Theatre. There is a need for private sector, individuals, to also make some inputs into that sector. A few years back, there was the talk of a National Endowment for the Arts, which is yet to take off. But in trying to put some of these into some perspectives, I think it is important that we are able to state very clearly what the mission of this centre is.
“In terms of the strategic thinking that had gone into this is the mission as it is stated here: “It is to be the leading pan-African Arts and Culture organisation in Africa, offering quality programmes to entertain and educate consumers of the arts, and empower arts practitioners. That is a very concise mission of Heritage Africa, and this mission was propelled by the founder, entrepreneur creative man, Mr. Moses Ayom. And he assembled a team of eggheads and practitioners in the industry, to come and spend quite some time in Abuja, going through what has happened in Nigeria, and where we should be going. And after having that broad mission statement, we then carved out what we considered will be the aims and the objectives,” he said.
According to him, aims and the objectives of the centre includes, “to empower arts practitioners to contribute to the creative economy in ways that will also create value and wealth for them; to facilitate the use of the arts as a tool for impacting values and empowering and developing young people; to develop and showcase quality programmes that preserve and showcase African arts, culture and languages.”
Prof. Oni further stated that there would be performances from Nigeria, including puppetry and others. There would be exhibition of arts, photography, and multimedia, and there would also be culinary services, cinema, training facilities for arts and crafts.
Throwing more light on the idea behind facility, the Creativity Entrepreneur of Heritage Africa Village Square Centre, Moses Ayon, said Heritage Africa is a platform to empower the youths. “It should be able also drive in our culture that is fast running out. It identifies with the Federal Government’s vision for the Creative Industry as articulated in the statements by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo:
‘The creative industry represents everything about Nigeria: It is diverse, it is universal, non-religious, non-tribal and this is one of the strength of the industry. Government will provide tax relief for those who are ready to venture into the creative industry.
‘The creative industry in Nigeria is a significant player in the economy. It is an industry that represents 1.42 of our GDP and has a huge export earnings and in its own right employs millions of people. This is an extremely important sector. The government needs to take note on how stakeholders have achieved that much for the industry without significant support from the government.’
Ayom, who is from Benue State, further stated his personal experience has shown that the sector is one through which one can touch the lives of millions. He recalled how he his experience about two decades ago when he commissioned a visual artist to produce the portrait of a deputy governor. He paid the artist N300. And, against all odds, he was able to eventually got the opportunity to present the work to the then Deputy Governor, who was very impressed and paid him N10,000.
“Through arts, I secured a base to employ people. So, whatever I am doing now is a way of giving back. We have talents in Maiduguri, Kebbi, Cross River and in many other parts. Some of them can produce paintings better than what we hang in Lagos and sell for millions a piece. So, with this centre, we can bring them to exhibit their works and even take some of the works to the international market.”
According to him, he was a good dancer while in school, and he participated in dramatic shows.
“I have also realised that any time I touch creativity, I feel like jumping up. Of course, through the Heritage Africa Village Square, we will be able to bring back aspects of our dying culture. I have discovered that the only way we can unite and advance Africa is by developing its arts, crafts, foods and all.
“This project is also a way of giving back to the society. Creativity is priceless. Art is business, and I saw the business aspect of art. I discovered that the only way this nation, and even Africa, can grow in unity, is through arts, creativity. That is the only thing that can bind us together. It is only through cre ativity that we all be able to bring Africa together, as one and two in one. So, I want to use creativity, arts and culture, first, as tool to bring us together as a body.”
Also speaking at the event, Prof. David Ker, who is a former vice chancellor of Benue State University, and one of the scholars behind the facility, commended Ayom. “We must appreciate the privilege he has given us. I remember telling him that art is business — though he keeps saying he wants to give back to society,” he said.
Commenting on the facility, Lead consultant to the project, said: “It is an amazing enterprise. Heritage will bring a soul to Abuja. Nigeria has a lot of talents waiting to be celebrated and projected to the world. It is time Africa got its own voice heard outside there. But we want to make Heritage experience sustainable. So, we are looking at the enterprise side too.”
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