In spite of recession, art community kept date with NAFEST 2016

Pottery stand at NAFEST

Pottery stand at NAFEST

The 2016 edition of National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) has ended in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, with another call to give priority to Nigeria’s creative industry for alternative revenue generation. In spite of the prevailing socio-economic situation, culture ambassadors were determined to save the sector from further relegation as they kept date with the annual cultural fiesta.
Beginning from the official opening ceremony, which took place on Tuesday, October 4, the nation’s diverse cultures were on display, as states filed out colourfully in their unique cultural expressions. Although most states, especially those of the South East zone could not make it to the festival, available states ensured that the festival did not lose its appeal.
Declaring the festival opened, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, beckoned on culture and tourism promoters and investors to take advantage of Nigeria’s unparalleled potentials to invest in the country.
His words: We are richly blessed with massive culture and tourism potentials. With a rich history as the home to the reputed missionary, Mary Slessor, the creative wealth of raffia arts and crafts from Ikot Ekpene, the cane crafts of Itu, the pottery works from Nsit Ubium, the rich wild life reserves in Uruan, the great beaches of Ibeno and several other attractions, Akwa Ibom remains the preferred destination of global tourism and culture”.  
For accepting to host the festival at such challenging economic moment in Nigeria, the governor said he had reasons to be happy that the festival was coming back to Akwa Ibom six years after it hosted it in 2010.
According to him, this year’s outing was coming a day after the state celebrated the 29th anniversary of its creation Describing the theme of this year’s festival, ‘Exploring the Goldmine Inherent in Nigeria’s Creative Industry’ as very thought-provoking, Emmanuel added that it challenged the nation’s collective resourcefulness to provide alternative road-maps out of the current national economic recession.
While commenting on the year’s syllabus, he stated that the inclusion of children’s programmes such as essay writing, poetry and drama was commendable, as they would add an intellectual dimension to the event.
In her address, Director General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), organisers of NAFEST, Mrs. Dayo Keshi, noted that the festival, which started as a unity forum, has consistently promoted national integration, peace and unity.
“This has been demonstrated in the level of participation which cuts across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Also participating in the festival are non-governmental organisations, community-based groups, professional associations as well as schools.
“Such a gathering from the different segments of the Nigerian society would no doubt encourage healthy interactions that will lead to building bridges of understanding, harmony and peace, which are imperative in the country now.”
The DG did not end her address without thanking the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Emannuel and the people of the state for hosting the culture ambassadors.
According to her, the success of 2016 outing was a culmination of efforts of stakeholders who were unanimous in their observations that cultural sector needed to play its role in the nation’s quest to create a strong economy that is not dependent on oil.
“Therefore, the chief executives of culture of the federation agreed that considering the prevailing economic situation in Nigeria, exploring the goldmine inherent in Nigeria’s creative industry should be adopted as theme of the festival. This is for redirecting the nation to pay attention to using our various indigenous cultural products and expressions to develop a creative economy.”

FOR the cultural content of this year’s outing, Keshi stated that the festival has leveraged on traditions, indigenous knowledge as well as the creative capital of the people.
“The festival’s capacity to mobilize the grassroots, who are custodians of our various traditions, is one of its defining characteristics. This gives the festival the peculiar flavour of being a platform to directly engage with greater percentage of rural dwellers and producers of the art, crafts and other creative products exhibited at the festival.
“The capacity of such a large gathering of vibrant, productive Nigerians to impact directly on the economy of a host state can be determined by the brisk trading, direct exchange of products such as souvenirs, indigenous fabrics and patronage of such services as transportation, hotel accommodation, feeding and allied culinary services.”
While admitting that the nation’s cultural assets abound, Keshi, however noted that converting the potentials to direct economic benefits has remained a serious challenge to the sector.
She, however, hoped that through such forum as NAFEST, the private sector would see the culture sector as a viable and profitable area for investment.
She also charged culture administrators, intellectuals and professionals in the sector to come up with practical roadmap towards exploiting the positive dynamics of the country’s collective heritage.
“For a nation with a population and culture as large and diverse as ours, one festival per zone is not in any way superfluous,” she added.She also canvassed, among others, a deliberate and structural investment in the creative industry, an economic structure that would engineer demand for the sector’s products, provision of soft loans for art vendors to increase the sale of art works as well as establishment of arts and crafts’ villages or clusters in each state capital of the federation to serve as marketing outlets for artistic products.

BEYOND the speeches, states had swung into action with both competitive and non-competitive events, most of them holding at the popular Ibom Hall. The intellectual segment of the festival held a day after the opening, as it was the tradition. This time however, the gathering was more of members of the town than the gown.
Resources persons were brought from among entrepreneurs while the audience was majorly students of tertiary institutions from across the country. The idea was to stimulate the creative consciousness of the youths and it was, indeed, an opportunity for the young ones to bare their minds on some of the challenges encountered in determining a career path. Beyond these, there were other programmes for the younger ones such as essay writing and visual art competitions.
The fourth day saw the official opening of the cultural market, which has consistently formed the economic basis of the festival.Festival boss, who toured all the states’ pavilions and the vibrant cultural market, maintained that the market covered all aspects of Nigerian culture, adding, “I also have a strong feeling that this particular arts and crafts market is what will keep on sustaining the soul of NAFEST. And moving forward, there is no doubt that we will continue to improve both in the quality of the products and the number of participants.
“One fact is clear about this festival: the recession in the country is not seriously affecting the sales as the artists are here showing their wares. Again, it is one aspect of our economy that touches every Nigerian, especially at the grassroots, and we must begin to empower them in a bottom-to-top approach.

“We should continue to make arts and crafts industry a strong one because it will reduce employment at the grassroots level. I am glad at this edition but I am aiming that next year will be much better in terms of sales, exhibitions and participation because we will start planning much earlier to have the festival more projected and ensure every part of Nigeria participates.”
While comparing last edition with this year’s in terms of state participation, Keshi said: “There is no doubt that recession has taken its toll on it. Recall that in the past, a state will send up to 200 contingents but this year, such states could send only 20 people. The size of state contingents has gone down considerably because of recession. However, we must not take this as a failure of any source. It only shows the signs of time.
“I do believe that in future, once we show the few artists that took part in the current edition that there is money to be made, many artists will, on their òwn, sponsor themselves to the festival.”

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