For CORA, 25 hearty cheers from culture enthusiasts
For Committee for Relevant Art’s (CORA) 25 years of active intervention in the culture sector in charting proper directions for the sector’s many sub-categories, cultural workers, academics, critics and enthusiasts gathered recently at Freedom Park, Lagos, in celebration.
The feast was as retrospective of an agency that has carved for itself the cultural landscapist niche as well as a roadmap for its future engagements in mediating Nigeria’s cultural offerings. The celebration took the form of the usual Art Stampede that CORA has become renowned.
In giving background to the formation of CORA back in 1991, its Secretary, Mr. Toyin Akinosho, painted the gloom picture of a military era that had its jackboot on the necks of culture producers with the result that it stifled artistic engagements. According to him, “We were seeking questions as to how art was happening back in 1991. Our interventions were on how to revive Nigeria’s art life.”
Those stampeded to examine the journey of CORA in its 25 years’ march included Dr. Reuben Abati, Toni Kan, Francis Nwochei, Dr. Tunji Azeez, Victor Nwokocha, with Molara Wood moderating the session. The session started after elder artsman, Mr. Ben Tomoloju, had given his goodwill message that gave pioneering impetus to the phenomenon known as CORA.
According to Tomoloju, “CORA has been a catalyst of the cultural landscape, the unchanged changer of culture. Then system could not do without a statement from CORA, as an alternative platform very vehemently standing boldly with all the courage to engage government. CORA was really stampeding the system into wakefulness, especially the Cultural Policy that was not working in spite of the system trying to resist culture.
As an agent of enlightenment, we must commend CORA. We must thank CORA for continuing to propel us to the realm of positivity. We must support them because in supporting CORA, we are supporting ourselves. CORA discovered Fatai Rolling Dollar and made his star to shine.”
For Nwokocha, there has never been “a more formidable, more incisive organization in Nigeria than CORA in terms of giving voices to the voiceless for anything they have to offer – artists, writers, filmmakers, thespians – CORA provides the platform free of charge. CORA has achieved more than can be said here today. CORA has been a pain in the necks of those who are afraid of the truth; it has been a watchdog with fangs.”
Although he preferred to dwell on the next level he expects the organization to get to after its 25 years of existence, Azeez said one of the major achievements of CORA is bringing together people of various backgrounds into a space for interaction. He added that CORA’s interventionist role has been apt, adding, “It intervenes in artists’ rights. CORA needs its own place to relive its activities.
CORA depends on the diversity of people who direct its activities. How do we make the young generation take over CORA for vibrancy of ideas and programming? CORA needs to lay a foundation for the future. It needs a space for artists to just talk to themselves.”
“CORA has been for me a gift that keeps on giving,” was how Kan made his submission, but said, however, that CORA had not been able to harness the content it has produced over the years into a tidy bunch for people to access and benefit its rich ideas. As he put it, “The ideas that have been shaped are numerous. CORA has to make a case for itself, be a bit more official to take it to the next stage, more standard to document what it has.”
Abati reminisced about CORA’s early beginning and how it has evolved in shaping the country’s cultural landscape. He noted, “In those days, we used to go to Toyin’s house in Festac Town. There used to be a big band stand and those who performed there went on to make it big locally and internationally.
CORA is a platform for encouraging talent, both young and old. Artists were discovered, showcased and encouraged. Artists back then were regarded as dregs of society. We can only praise the courage and commitment of Toyin and the others. Toyin is a good example of giving back to society. Along with Jahman Anikulapo, they were trying to create a cultural landscape for Festac Town.
“CORA became a meeting point for the international society and the local people. It did its advocacy well, a lack of understanding of the role of culture in society – the struggle is something that continues. CORA has also benefited from being close to the media. The objective condition is still there – reading culture still low – people are not encouraged to think, for artists to think and engage policy establishment”.
Abati also enjoined the CORA to partner with similar agencies “for many voices to rise above the hubbub – it’s one thing to have cultural policy and another the political will to drive it, which we don’t have here. No effort is sustainable.”
He also canvased for budget advocacy among cultural workers since not much is usually budgeted for culture in the country. He maintained that the state governments should not be spared as they were bigger defaulters in terms of budgeting for culture in the states.
Nwochei commended CORA for having done well so far in terms of interface; “my interface in TV and film came about from discourses by CORA. At every CORA, there used to be a communiqué; it doesn’t happen anymore. It’s such a tough environment to continue to sustain things.”
Dance expert Mr. Muyiwa Osinaike submitted that but for CORA, “there wouldn’t have been a dance organization in Nigeria. The beginning of professionalism in dance is from CORA discourses back then, now, dance is very big; dancers now travel round the world to ply their trade.”
University of Lagos don, Prof. Duro Oni, said a lot had been achieved in the culture sector, adding, “Very serious issues have been interrogated. It was such a massive onslaught to sell the National Theatre, but CORA rose up and countered that idea. The effort of CORA cannot be taken out of Nollywood – all the reviews, previews helped.”
For Dr. Tolu Ajayi, CORA has taken steps in the right direction, but insisted it was still a work in progress, adding, “Now it’s a liberal, democratic set up; it wasn’t always so in the military when CORA started.”
Some in the audience called for a revival of CORA, arguing that its Quarterly Art Stampede should be brought back and that it should engage more with government in its advocacy efforts so government pays the right attention to the culture sector. Wood proposed ‘Friends of CORA’ that can make financial contributions for its sustenance.Toyin Osinaike and Sam Olota and Biodun Batik entertained the audience with short performances.