Thursday, August 31, 2006

Badejo Arts

The Nigerian dance company I used to chair in my London days has a new website. African dance has suffered from dwindling support in the UK, for which the Arts Council is almost entirely to blame. Badejo Arts is one of the few remaining companies left. Peter needs to come back home.


Shango,  3:31 pm  

Ha! Of course you used to chair a dance company ... one more block come stumbling into place. :-)

What I find incredulous (but should I really? Jeremy's a dye-in-the-wool Socialist eternally affixed to the government teat) is why you think the Arts Council--assumed a government institution--is to blame for dwindling "support".

If people don't want to see African Dance, why should it be "supported" anymore than say, Kabuki? If there are enough people who want to see it thrive, I'm sure they'll find a way, preferably through private means; if they're really good, they'll take off. If not, it will die the good death.

You know how fickle government allotments are (even in the UK) and should be relied on as little as possible if at all.

Jeremy 5:59 pm  

Some interesting points Shango (by the way, Badejo Arts' focus is on the dance of your namesake - Bata). But what you should know is how much the Arts Council supports other 'high' arts - opera, theatre etc. which themselves could not remain solvent without this support (you should go to their website and let yourself be shocked by the numbers). The fact is, a UK govt-funded institution exists to support the arts, and the way it conducts its business should in a democracy be open to critique. Where 10 years ago there was a thriving black/African dance and theatre scene in London, its all but disappeared.. I smell something that went badly wrong.

Nonetheless, the Arts Council plays a significant role in supporting the arts culture of London and the provinces - it's part of what makes London for example such an attractive place to live. Nigeria should set up an Arts Council to fund the rebirth of the National Theatre and the Museums - this would lead to an increase in tourism that would more than compensate initial outlay. I can't see this happening however because the mentality here is ruthlessly market-forces privatise-everything.

Leaving arts purely to private means is not a recipe for success anywhere in the world. The UK's diverse artistic output would suffer if it were not for public funding bodies - not only funding the big institutions and the small niche companies, but also funding struggling writers and artists. Your 'pure-capitalist' model for the arts would lead to a popcorn and bubble gum approach to the arts, where everything is dummed down to bums-on-seats entertainment..

St Antonym 6:47 pm  

I don't see people insisting that the military should be privately funded. Or that private donors should pay for road constructions.

After all, if defence is important enough to people, they'll voluntarily give money to ensure its continued existence.

Shango,  7:23 pm  

While I'm loathe to admit there is a legitimate part to be played by government in promoting the Arts, I look askance at any attempt beyond the very basics. This means if there is no yen for African Dance, let it walk into that good night.

Remember, government is in the business (alas) of giving the people what they want, n'est-ce pas? If bubble gun and popcorn is what they want, then by Jove, that's what they'll get. Or, in a Democracy, the powers-that-be will soon become the powers-that-were and no self-respectin' a-hole politician wants that.

The obverse is a Hitlerite "forced support" of the arts he liked. That's what happens when you have government "in charge" of the arts you see.

Shango,  7:28 pm  

@stantonym: I don't see people insisting that the military should be privately funded. Or that private donors should pay for road constructions.

Yes, yes, I know. Like I said in my riposte, I acknowledge government's role in society. I just don't like too much of it.

If the government gives you money, they get to decide what you do with it. "No," some bureaucratic a-hole will say, "I don't like the Bata danced quite that way" and you can't do shit; after all, he's paying for it, no? Don't say it doesn't work that way, because that's exactly how it works.

Shango,  7:59 pm  

Like this

Anonymous,  9:00 pm  

It's all pretentious nonsense! Why should govt support the arts, go back to the days of patrons I say.
Besides, very few artistes can survive on the piddly amounts organisations give them, they are funded to fail and are not viable on their own. let the masses decide if something deserves their support and cash.

Jeremy 9:15 pm  

anonymous I don't think you've thought this through. Without public-funding there would be huge holes in the culture of a city like London. In fact, you might end up with a city like Lagos, full of talented souls who are lucky if they end up as bankers or lawyers.. I'm not sure either if you actually know any beneficiaries of artistic grants - if you did, you know how grateful many are to receive support (however small) to enable them to continue with their passions.

A society that does not publicly fund the arts ends up with a void at its centre, precisely where the dialogue about what constitutes a national culture should be.

Jeremy 9:19 pm  

And of course the logic of your argument entails you'd rather all the museums of London reverted to demanding an entrance fee too? So only those who can afford it can take their children to the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum... Most Londoners would never want that to happen again..

Anonymous,  9:33 pm  

I get what you say about museums and kids, but there has to be a limit.
If artistes cannot make a profitable business out of their art, then they need to find a day job like the rest of us!
How long can they hold their begging bowl out for, all funding is short term anyway, the Arts Council is not there to provide a life time salary to struggling artists, but they seem to forget that.
Besides the Arts Council just pisses me off with their colonialist attitude to Black Arts. I was once invited to an Arts Council do in London. They wanted to find out how we 'ethnics' can suggest better strategies to get Black bums on British Theatre seats. They got really exasperated about it all and were determined to find an answer. I finally pointed out that maybe 'us ethnics' don't go to the theatre and organised arts because it's just not our culture. Well you could have heard a pin drop in the room.

Elias,  9:38 pm  

Well said jeremy.

I think arts and culture needs a mixture of govt and corporate sponsorship. Think of places like the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and all the other gloriously wonderful museums that many enjoy for free in London. Any arts administrator will tell you that while private sponsorship is always welcome, what they can offer can be quite limited. What organisations like the Arts Council and the now defunct London Arts and the other regional Arts board offer is funding to explore ideas and many artists appreciate that opportunity.

What would you rather have, a situation in Nigeria where govt do not fund arts and private corporations and individuals rarely ever sponsor arts?

Jeremy 9:46 pm  

Well I agree with you about the ACE being patronising and colonialist - in meetings with them I felt a strong impulse to physical violence..

That said, the idea that theatre and organised art is not 'our culture' is a bit of a silly thing to say. I'm not sure many lovers of various Nigerian theatre traditions would agree. Isn't one of the issues with Nigerians in London is that so many families are insular in relation to the wider culture - never taking their children to the zillions of things that are going on in the city? Arguments about 'our culture' or not are really just masks for phillistinism.

But what I take most issue with is your statement:

"If artistes cannot make a profitable business out of their art, then they need to find a day job like the rest of us!"

If this statement were somehow imposed retroactively on the history of the arts, again we would end up with chasm-like voids where Mozart and Beethoven and Van Gogh and thousands of other poor-till-death artists used to be. Wtf has art got to do with profit? You've got your values all tangled up mate (or matess)..

Shango,  9:50 pm  

Jeremy:If this statement were somehow imposed retroactively on the history of the arts, again we would end up with chasm-like voids where Mozart and Beethoven and Van Gogh and thousands of other poor-till-death artists used to be.

And just LOOK what great things they did! Methinks there's something to this starving artist thing, engenders great art.

Anonymous,  2:35 am  

What Nigerian Theatre traditions? Last I knew the average Nigerian didn't attend formalized, Western entertainment such as dance performances and art exhibitions because they find their cultural entertainment elsewhere in more casual settings not associated with white, western traditions. Badejo may do well to return home in the hopes that staunch public art funding supporters like yourself can encourage govt subsidy. He may even be lucky enough to attract the attention and naira of some monied ogas eager to show off his latest 'London Import'. And I still stand by my point that if you either cannot support yourself in your art/craft, then no matter how 'passionate' you are in it, it remains just that, a passion.

Anonymous,  9:32 am  

Jeremy, have you found out from the Arts Coucil if the said reduction in funding of African Dance is due to dwindling demand for that sort of arts?

If thats the case(as i think it is), surely thats an indication that people don't wanna see african dance no more? The question then should be, why arent people interested any more? How can African dance be made contemporarily relevant to the mordern tourist, etc?


Anonymous,  10:07 am  

To anon,

You asked the question what Nigerian Theatre traditions?

We can start by naming the practitioners to remind us how theatre traditions come into existence. This is not an exhaustive list, but its a start: Herbert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, Ola Rotimi, Soyinka, Kole Omotosho, JP Clerk, Zulu Sofola,Tess Onwueme, Femi Osofisan, Bode Sowande, Tunde Fatanyde and Olu Obafemi etc. Many of these writers works are still been performed to a full house all over the country. Don't forget that Nigeria, especially amongst the Yorubas have a long history of travelling theatres.

I still have fresh memories of going to the national theatre back Ain the 80s to watch Ogunde's performances and to a packed audience. I remember travelling with my granny to Ibadan for some trading and we arrived at the UI and Ola Rotimi's The Gods was in full swing. We went in and it was jammed packed. I didn't really understand the play at the time and neither did my granny, but the point I am trying to say is that the theatre was packed. I remember my gran saying that she prefered the likes of duro Ladipo and Ogunde and whenever they were in town they will all dress up in their best outfit to watch them. She mentioned another group that use to perform in Ijebu Ode. From what she described, the whole production was very organised and formalised and her own mother and their friends would cook and house some of these artists whenever they were in town.

So please, before you go shooting off about lack of theatre traditions or the formalisation of entertainment, you wil do well to do some historical research about the importances of formal theatre to different Nigeria cultures, especially those with monarchical structures.

As I read some of the response to jeremy's statement, I am reminded of a line in fela's song: 'a bi a gbe po,without me your city go smell like shit, i dey sing, i dey dance without me you no go happy'...something to that effect.

Only the highest form of philistanism will say that if artists 'cannot make a profitable business out of their art, then they need to find day job like the rest of us'. So what day job will suggest to doctors, lawyers, engineers, lecturers who are just merely surviving on their salary in Nigeria? If you don't answer any other question,pls answer this one for me.

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