The Art Business Is Quite Challenging
MOST Indonesians may not see Nigeria as a country with a rich art scene, especially cinema. But the country’s art world is flourishing, with the number of films produced annually only second to India’s Bollywood, even exceeding Hollywood. On average, as many as 1,500 films are produced each year, earning Nigeria’s film industry the title ‘Nollywood’.
“A lot more people are beginning to learn and care about Nigerian art. We’re engaging the world, so I think it’s getting better,” founder and CEO of Terra Kulture Bolanle Austen-Peters told Tempo journalist Purwani Diyah Prabandari sometime ago.
The story told by the 49-year-old woman amazed the thousands that crowded Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center’s main hall at the Creative Econmy Agency event: World Conference on Creative Economy. She inspired new perceptions about Nigeria’s art world.
Austen-Peters did not begin her career in the arts. She had worked for a law firm and several UN institutions in Geneva. But she decided to switch gears and return to Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. In 2003, she founded Terra Kulture, an art, culture and educational center. To deepen her involvement in the arts, she founded the Bolanle Austen-Peters Production (BAP) in 2013. BAP’s first production was the musical Saro the Musical (2014). Since then, she has made over five theater productions, among others, a Broadway-style musical titled Wakaa the Musical, Nigeria’s first musical to be performed at the West End, London, and at the Shaw Theatre, in July 2016.
Austen-Peters did not stop at theater and has also contributed to cinema. In 2015, along with Steve Gukas, Dotun Olakunri and Pemon Rami, she produced 93 Days, starring Danny Glover, a Hollywood actor who has often contributed to African films and is also known as an activist.
The thriller directed by Steve Gukas was inspired by individuals who risked their lives to prevent the Ebola virus carried into Nigeria by a Liberian-American from spreading. The film is dedicated to Ameyo Adadevoh, a doctor who helped supress the spread of Ebola in Nigeria. Several names in the film are, in fact, the names of real people. The film was also shot in real life locations connected with the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The title 93 Days comes from the length of time Nigeria had to fight the 2014 Ebola outbreak, from the time ‘patient zero’ arrived in Nigeria until the country was announced as Ebola free by the World Health Organization.
Besides Nigeria, Bolanle’s first film production was also screened at various international film festivals, among others the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Chicago Film Festival, and the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. The film received the 2017 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards for lighting.
Austen-Peters continues to expand her strides in the arts. She built the Terra Kultura Arena theater, which opened in March 2018. She also produced Saro the Musical, which premiered in London in 2017, as well as Fela and the Kalakuta Queens. At this moment, Austen-Peters is in the process of producing a new film. “The Bling Lagosians,” she said, revealing the title. “It’s about living large, like Crazy Rich Asians.”
How have the arts, including film, come to flourish in Nigeria?
It began in the 1960s. At the time, many old directors and producers thought the [art scene] would end. But we began to change. Several independent producers and directors used their own money and their passion to create.
What caused the rapid progress?
People started investing more money into production. Parents used to tell their children to go to college and join arts gatherings. People came to Nigeria from abroad, people with university degrees. They all started to get involved. Today the industry is changing.
How big is the Nigerian film industry?
The film industry is now the second employer of people, and number one is agriculture. Interestingly, people are starting to realize that it’s very vital and critical to our economic structure.
What is the annual value of the Nigerian cinema?
I’m sure if you Google it, you’ll find it there. But the problem is we don’t have a lot of cinemas in Nigeria.
So how do the people watch films?
Mostly through piracy, they get [pirated] DVDs and watch them. A lot of people are now developing more cinemas and community cinemas.
How does the government help improve the situation?
They’re talking about [stopping the piracy], but in reality nothing has been done yet. Rules are just rules. So the movie makers, the content creators, they are the first pirates [due to] the lack of infrastructure.
Does the situation only occur in the film industry or also in other art sectors, such as visual arts and music?
Music is very well-structured. In Nigeria, music producers know how to protect copyrights. The Internet has actually helped music producers. And because it’s so popular now, a lot of them make great earnings from performances in other parts of Africa, Europe, and America.
What about art infrastructure in Lagos?
I think we have 30 galleries, but we don’t have a lot of movie cinemas. So I think this is the challenge. Because it’s a very big city of 20-25 million people, so we need a lot more cinemas. Hopefully it’ll get better as we go along.
How did you end up in the art world?
When I went back to Nigeria. I loved art and culture. It was one of the things I really enjoyed in school, so I wanted to bring this thing where people would come, relax, eat, and look at art. When we started years ago it wasn’t a cool thing to do. But now it has taken a different turn. It’s now a cool thing to have an art space, to be Afro-centric. Everything now is focused on what we can bring to the table from Africa. There has been a shift.
So you began with theater?
Yes. When we started about eight years ago, it was sort of dead. But now it has come back, with theater festivals [being held in the country].
Can you make a living from the arts?
We are one of the few that have been able to make art a business in Nigeria. We’ve created this thing with about five different things going on, so it’s multi-purpose. We have a gallery, a bookstore, a theater. Every single unit generates money. So we’re very fortunate.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Funding. Not a lot of businesses support the arts, so it’s not easy. The second thing would be getting the right people for the industry. The business of art is a bit challenging.
How have you overcome this challenge?
We just go on and keep pushing. Just don’t give up. Sometimes you question yourself while you’re doing it and sometimes you see results when people come to you and say “Thank you so much for what you’re doing.” And when you see young people who have become stars from your platform. When you see people come with no skills and then they become skilled in that area. It gives us encouragement.
What dreams for the arts have you not achieved?
My dream is to build a really, really nice theater with stage, lighting, with proper equipment. And to have a proper film studio that has everything. That would be really cool.