Published On: Tue, Jan 12th, 2016

Using the environment to sustain the arts

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FROM THE LIVE STAGE with Patrick-Jude Oteh

0803 700 0496, 0805 953 5215 (SMS only)

The environment is critical to the arts. By the environment I do not mean the green revolution or green theories about warming and all its attendant debate. I mean the physical locale of where we live. The geographical location of our existence. If the country is peaceful then the arts are bound to prosper but if the country is volatile and drifting from one crisis to the other, this will reflect in the arts.

An environmental analysis is critical to the survival of the arts in any given community. Can you imagine going to attend a theatre performance at 7pm in Maiduguri?. It will be foolhardy within a dangerous situation to call for a performance during the normal theatre hours of 7pm – 10pm because we will end up being both the actors and the audience. It will not be wise to invite a touring company to visit us and share their talents and style with our own audiences and fellow artistes. It is either they will not come or we will hold the performance in the early evening. This is not good as it will simply remove from the ambience of the performance as well as its dynamics.

Take the economic aspects of our environment – the arts have never been known to thrive in an environment where there is material poverty. In an environment where people struggle month to month for the bare basics of a daily existence watching a performance or going to the theatre will be the least of his/her worries because the list of basics is extremely long and this is perfectly legitimate. You cannot ask someone struggling to pay the children’s school fees or rent to come the theatre. We are not yet in that comfort zone where people save and save because they want to watch a particular artiste perform or because they want to go and listen to classical music! Have the loud speakers stopped blaring free music on the streets?

Take the issue of the lingering cases of kidnapping which is tied to security. I will not go to the theatre if I know that I stand the risk of being kidnapped before, during or after the performance or that I might not get home after the performance because there is a high likelihood that I would be attacked by armed robbers on my way back home. A friend shared a story recently with me – they wanted to go and watch a music performance on Victoria Island from Ikeja. They were advised not to go but if they must they should look for a hotel to sleep after the performance. If the cost of the ticket was N2,000, add the new bill from the hotel – it has simply been raised to N12,000. They ended up not going.

Ultimately the society is the loser. We forget or we have not been able to make the connection that a play that trills has the power to bring the community closer together. The arts can be a place where families come to spend time together, where friends can meet to reconnect giving people the opportunity to rejuvenate and relax amidst the challenges we face daily. Through the arts, we value our diversity as a nation, we help to unite our communities be it neighbourhood or village and at the end we all create shared experiences which in turn can inspire excellence which also tells us who we are as a society.

Above all this, the arts allow us to endure and triumph in difficult times – our lives and the arts are inseparable.

The above is our message to our new government. They must explore the use of the arts to rejuvenate the society and our lives. They must stop the daily and unending stories of why the national arts theatre should be sold or given out in a concessional arrangement. Make it functional and make a destination that people will be proud to go. The usefulness of the arts must be explored to make us more responsive to change. We do not know who will likely end up as our new Minister of Tourism and Culture. It should not be jamboree as usual and going to visit countries that contribute nothing to our well being. This is not to say that cultural diplomacy should be done away with but it must be backed by a solid plan that will project us a people with a vibrant environment, resilient and a people with a purpose. The arts must be utilized to explain ourselves to each other. So much damage has been done to our collective psyche. We must use the power of the soft diplomacy that the arts provide to re-evaluate ourselves to each other. The arts should not be business as usual.

The arts in a nation and for a particular people has more focus and more purpose. We must seek these out and use them. It is not late. It is the beginning of a new era and we must use the arts to explore our wonderful mission.

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