10 years on, youth empowerment, artistic enterprise, tourism promotion find expression in LIMCA

Mr. Chuka Orji (left) representing of the founder of LIMCAF, Chief Robert Orji; CEO Artsaels Ltd, Mr. Tayo Adenaike; Chairman, Enugu State Council for Arts and Culture, Dr. Obiora Anidi; Ifeoma Igboji; Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Chairman, Board of Trustee, LIMCAF, Elder K. U. Kalu; Chief Loretta Aniagolu of FIT Consult; Executive Director of the Festival, Mr Kevin Ejiofor; and Art Director, LIMCAF, Ayo Adewunmi during a visit to the Governor on June 7, 2016

Mr. Chuka Orji (left) representing of the founder of LIMCAF, Chief Robert Orji; CEO Artsaels Ltd, Mr. Tayo Adenaike; Chairman, Enugu State Council for Arts and Culture, Dr. Obiora Anidi; Ifeoma Igboji; Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Chairman, Board of Trustee, LIMCAF, Elder K. U. Kalu; Chief Loretta Aniagolu of FIT Consult; Executive Director of the Festival, Mr Kevin Ejiofor; and Art Director, LIMCAF, Ayo Adewunmi during a visit to the Governor on June 7, 2016

Life In My City Art Festival (LIMCAF) clocks one decade this year. And activities that will culminate in the grand award presentation ceremony of the 10th edition, as well as one-decade anniversary on October 29, 2016 began last weekend with the opening of Enugu zone exhibition. In this chat with KABIR ALABI GARBA, Art Director, LIMCAF, Mr. Ayo Adewunmi, reflects on the trajectory of the festival, highlighting its low and high points, while peeping into the future with hope and optimism

Looking back to when this initiative started, how much impact has it made so far?
THE aim of Life In My City Art Festival (LIMCAF) is to reposition art for social development through youth empowerment, thereby promoting art as a resource for national development and create a sustainable national and international art tourism destination in Nigeria. To a certain degree we have achieved much. Going to ten years now, LIMCAF has really impacted on the development of visual art in Nigeria. I must admit the progress has been gradual due to funding difficulties. However, we can say that in sustaining this project consistently for nine years, hundreds of young artists have been provided the platform to showcase their talents, to network with their colleagues and senior professionals; within that period. With the prizes that have been won, a number of the young people have used the platform to lunch themselves into the limelight, either through being helped to finish their education to graduate levels, establishing their own businesses, as well as being encouraged to aim higher to win recognition in line here in Nigeria and beyond our shores.

What would you consider the biggest achievement of LIMCAF? Is the achievement with the aims and objectives?
Part of the achievements is the ability of the organisers to sustain the annual festival and keep focus on the development of contemporary art among young people. Today it is the most consistent and arguably the biggest visual art event in Nigeria. The second major achievement is that through LIMCAF, many young artists have been discovered, through participation in LIMCAF some of them have had the courage and found opportunity to hold solo exhibitions. I remember for example, Kemi Nibosun exhibited under the auspices of Alliance Francaise network nationwide for the first time in her career, same with Alashe Monsuru. These achievements are in consonance with the aims and objects of LIMCAF

The dream was to make LIMCAF a national event, how far has that gone?
LIMCAF is truly a national event, with collection and exhibition centres across the nation: Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Kaduna, Auchi, Calabar, Uyo, Port Harcourt, Nasarawa, Eniugu and Owerri. LIMCAF receives an average of 400 to 500 entries annually at the first entry level, I am not aware of any other national art competition that receives so many annually. From these entries an average of 100 best works are selected for the Grand finale in Enugu; what we call the “Top 100”. These works represent to a large extent the best visual art from young Nigerian artists and most importantly the standard keeps rising.

Has the initiative in any way helped to increase appreciation of the arts?
Yes, it has to some extent. Gradually LIMCAF is drawing the attention of the public to the importance of visual art to national development. The network of people connecting to the festival is on the increase. More individuals, including prominent Nigerian families are endowing prizes to immortalize prominent persons and demonstrate support, publicity about the event helps to create awareness about art given the ever growing number of persons who attend the Award Night and the gradually increasing number of persons who donate what you can call their widow’s mite as members of the LIMCAF Family of supporters. So, we are making significant progress, although our target has not been met. The response from the government and art agencies has not been as encouraging as we would have wished, but we must persist.

What’s the level of government participation in this project?
For the past nine years we did not enjoy any significant support from either the State or the Federal Government. Some people say that without the backing of the government of the state it will be difficult to realise the dream of making LIMCAF a reputable international festival. That remains to be seen for as I have said, we persist. But I cannot deny the disappointment that I personally have felt that in nine years no meaningful support came from the state government, not even the personal presence of the governor! However, we are hopeful that this year the new government in Enugu State will support the festival. Just recently, the Board of Trustees paid a courtesy call on His Excellency, Rt. Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and he graciously asked that we keep him informed of our progress as we approach the Grand Finale. It gave me great joy.

Have you been able to get corporate organisations involved in the area of sponsorship?
Yes is the truthful answer even though as far as I can see it certainly can be much more. I am aware that people say that getting corporate organisations to support visual art in Nigeria is like trying to squeeze water from rock! But having said that, we are grateful to remember that it was a corporate organisation, Rocana Nigeria Ltd., which not only founded LIMCAF, but also bore the greater part of LIMCAF’s financial and logistic burden for the first four years (2007 – 2010). I personally must give to Chief Robert Oji, Founder and MD of Rocana the great credit he deserves for founding and investing without an eye on profit in this project. There are not many people like him who invested so much in visual art in Nigeria. By 2008, we had a small support from then Celtel, now Airtel; in 2012 we had part sponsorship from Diamond Bank, Access Bank and First Bank, in 2013 and 2014, Diamond Bank alone and in 2015 First Bank. We have had support also from some partner companies and Institutions, including: the French Embassy, the Alliance Francaise Network in Nigeria, and Institute Francaise who supported us from inception. Then there is, Nike Lake Resort Hotel, LOCC Metals and FIT Consult, Tachi Studio all in Enugu, Digital Dreams Enugu, CLAM, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Funding has always been a major challenge to LIMCAF, how have you been able to sustain the project over the years?
I must say here that in addition to the corporate support already mentioned, what have kept LIMCAF going are the commitment and determination as well as the contributions of time, money and personal effort of individual members of the BOT and the Organising Committee, the invaluable contributions of the Network of Alliance Francaise across Nigeria, the support of LIMCAF Family members and volunteer services of senior professional artists who served as jury members. If we are to quantify these free services in monetary value it will worth more than 50 percent of the total cost of the project.

This is the 10th edition. are we expecting new additions? Have the rules changed?
We plan a big celebration for this 10th anniversary; this is a decade of the festival. The modality and the process of the competition have not changed. There will be new additions to the Grand Finale events; there will be Hall of Fame exhibition featuring the past winning artworks. It will be a major attraction as all the past winning works will be on display. We expect some of those winners to be around. The Director of CLAM, Andy Okoroafor plans to expand his Multimedia Workshop; we are thinking of introducing a new photography workshop and some other art groups have shown interest in planning other Off Exhibitions during the Grand Finale week.

How do you plan to celebrate the 10th anniversary?
Big! But again, it depends on availability of funds. We are very hopeful anyway. 10 years is not 10 days; it is not 10 months. Therefore, it deserves a big celebration. We want to invite past winners, past jury members, indeed, as many past participants as we can afford to. There are suggestions within the Board that we should have several other exhibitions and workshops beside the Grand Finale and Hall of Fame exhibitions and it would be nice to have Honorary Awards for individuals and organisations who have distinguished themselves or been supportive of the growth in the field of art.

From when you started to now, what’s your take on the quality of artworks received?
Good question! There are two ways in which one may assess the quality of artworks received. One is assessing the quality of art based on the reports submitted by the each grand jury annually. Members of the jury are of course, usually highly placed professionals selected from higher institutions and high level studio artists from all over the country. Their reports, submitted at the end of each year’s competition attest to the high quality of artworks selected for the Grand Finale. Remember that the participants aim at winning awards, so they submit their best. The second assessment is the general assessments based on observations over the period. Studies have revealed a gradual shift in stylistic and conceptual approaches of entries over a period. This is expected in view of the trend in global art practices and also with the fact that when the artists attend the Grand Finale, they are challenged by the creativity of their colleagues and are inspired by the quality of art, so they go back and return with better quality works for the following year’s competition. So, there is a competitive spirit, which has helped the quality of art in general and which studies have also noted impacted on the quality of art in tertiary institutions across the country from which most of the entries come anyway.

In nine editions, the festival has produced many winners. How is LIMCAF monitoring the performance of the winners outside the competition?
We keep a tab on some of the past winners as I indicated earlier; wherever we can and as a teacher of art myself I maintain constant interest and monitor their progress indirectly. Some of them are now renowned and well-established studio artists. For example, Maduka Chukwum, Ngozi Omeje, Ogbami Alenosi and Sen Sor are now renowned for their styles. Some others like Okechukwu Eze now own art galleries and are therefore now employers of labour in the field of art. Henry Eghosa, Kemi Nibosun, Clara Okhide, Candidus Onyishi and Erasmus Onyishi are doing very well. Kelani Abas, Samuel Palmtree are now lecturing in tertiary institutions. And recently Kelani Abas our first overall prize winner, then a student of YabaTech in 2007, was featured on the CNN.

Exhibition of LIMCAF was held in Lagos several years back. When next is the event coming to Lagos?
First of all, please understand that the Lagos Exhibition and others such as Ibadan and Abuja and Kaduna and Auchi, etc, are zone exhibitions held to select finalists for the Grand Finale in Enugu. Exhibiting in Lagos has been a major challenge, owing to availability of space, budgetary concerns and logistic constraints. Lagos as a zone and as what you may call the art capital of Nigeria is naturally a most important venue for exhibition on whatever scale so it has been a painful experience not being able to afford the best of venues in Lagos. We are thankful that at least for two years the National Commission for Museums and Monuments gave us support for the Lagos Exhibition, but they obviously have their own problems and our major problem is the funds to access the best venues in Lagos. The plan has been mooted several times to also find sponsors so that after the Grand Finale Exhibition in Enugu it can also be shown in Abuja and Lagos, but for now, any interested person will have to come to Enugu to view the best 100 new works by Nigerian youth every year.

Big personalities who had made their marks outside arts threw their support behind LIMCAF. What is the motivation?
I think some of them have noticed the extreme levels of commitment of the individual members of BOT and the Organising Committee, as well as, the potential of the project for the future of contemporary art development in Nigeria. I also believe they have also seen the quality of artworks and the prospects for the participating artists and the joy that the festival gives them. I mean you have been there yourself to see the great outpouring of joy among the young winners and their friends who come from all over the country. As you know the big winners have come in different years from Lagos, Uyo, Abuja, Enugu, Auchi, Kaduna and all over. So we have quite a number of people now endowing prizes. Starting from the Vin Martins Iloh Prize for Enugu Zone and Art Is Everywhere Prize for waste to Art in the very first year and later, the Justice Anthony Aniagolu. Prize for Originality in the early years, followed now by the Mfon Usoro Prize for Uyo/Calabar Zone, Dr, Pius Okigbo’s Prize for Outstanding Innovation), Bisi Silva’s CCA (Centre for Contemporary Art), Lagos Prize for Lagos zone, Jeff Ajueshi’s Thought Pyramid Prizes for Benin/Auchi Zone and Abuja Abuja, Dr. Ellis Oyekola Prize for Ibadan Zone, Enugu State Council for Art and culture Prize for Enugu zone also. There are other individuals like Chief Emma Egbunike (Odua Ngu of Onitsha), who make monthly or periodic donations to LIMCAF. I believe that most of these people have seen not just the commitment of the organisers, but also the integrity of the process of choosing the winning works, in addition to the fact of the empowerment for young people, which LIMCAF also represents through the medium of visual art.

What are the organisers looking at to make the project self-sustaining?
A very important question because LIMCAF requires adequate funding to keep the dream going. For now the available funds barely sustain the project. Services, which make up to 50 percent of the total cost of organising the festival are offered gratis – from the BOT, the Organising Committee, the Alliance Franciase network, the corporate bodies (mainly the banks I have mentioned) art professionals and so on. We run a secretariat, where only two staff are on salaries, all other operators such as myself as Art Director, the Executive Director and members of the BOT and Organising Committee give their services January to December without any remuneration or expense reimbursement of any kind. For the festival to be self-sustaining there must be adequate fund so cover all these routine expenses. We realise also that so far we have not been able to meet all the necessary logistics of travel in order to support the zones and ensure an evenness of standards and routine operations at that level of the festival. Therefore, please permit me to make this appeal from the bottom of my heart.

We are engaged in something that has a huge potential and benefit for Nigeria and the Nigerian youth, all Nigerian youth not just youth from Enugu State or any part of the country. LIMCAF with its aim of positioning art for social development can help, along with other similar initiatives in other parts of the country, can help put Nigeria more positively on the world art and culture map. So please, beginning with the State Government to corporate organisations and art personalities, including collectors and scholars who have international recognition and connections, please come and help us! We have a big dream for Nigeria, for Nigerian youth and this is an area of investment, which will certainly, mature and yield great benefit for the future. We need help. Please don’t look away when you see our appeal. This is a worthy course.

As a follow up to the BOT meeting with Governor Ugwuanyi recently, what are the specific interventions LIMCAF ask from the state government?
The BOT in that meeting raised certain issues, which at the appropriate time will be made public by the Chairman Elder K. U. Kalu, former Chair of Union Bank, if necessary. More importantly, however, we have been struggling over the years to get the State Government to support the festival and this is the first time anyone has looked our way. So I particularly very strongly commend the current Governor, His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for that very encouraging act of agreeing to see us at all and expressing the positive sentiments he offered on that occasion about LIMCAF. As I said, that was the first time in all of nine years! For me it was a big gesture and when he now went on to ask that we keep him informed of progress I really felt very good, very good indeed.

In this article:
Ayo AdewunmiLIMCAF
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