Culture and Lifestyle

Virtual Space: The Nigerian Creative Sector in a Time of Global Pandemic

Given the declaration on January 23 and 30, 2020 by the World Health Organisation’s International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee on COVID-19,  ‘all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of COVID-19 infection, and to share full data with WHO,’ it is clear that the future of creative arts in the country would need to re-purposed to suit the times.

In the observation of Stuart Waplington, the CEO, Creative Hub, ‘There have been some positives in terms of reflecting on our values, solidarity, creativity, and how artists and photographers can share and teach each other just by sharing their experiences.’ More than before, the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has called for re-inventing and re-channeling of creative skills towards profitable ends. Such efforts would require learning new skills, experimentation of dogged approaches and partnering in developing projects along the ‘social distance’ borderlines.

Following a Presidential broadcast declaring that the country was to undergo a month of total lockdown on the eve of April 1, 2020, there was a halt of all major economic activities including the ever-blooming Nigerian Creative Sector. There was anxiety in the air as practitioners within the Nigerian creative sector tried to relevant in the face of a global pandemic situation.

It is often said that ‘necessity is the mother of all inventions.’ The virtual space which considerably accommodates nearly a half of the world’s population through news and information sharing, personal avalanche, engagements on different social media platforms, brands promotion and sundry affairs have been winged to serve as the platform for cultural engagements, festivals and art programmes.

All thanks to the ‘Social Distance’ rule. The success recorded by the virtual space has become unprecedented going by the available statistics on the use of social media in Nigeria by Caritas, showing that 84% of young people of ages 21-45 stayed attached to the internet, especially social media devices, to keep themselves abreast of the happenings in the world on national discourse, to kill boredom or to learn a new skill. While the research focused more on social media use, streaming platforms like Zoom were used to provide masterclasses, workshops and counselling during the lockdown and the ease of lockdown.

Read Also: COVID-19: Will Nigerians Give Locally Made Vaccines the Chance to Succeed?

The Creative economy was one of the worst hit by the lockdown and has not recovered from coma by the ease of lockdown. Theatre, music film, visual arts, creative writing, events, advertising, fashion suffered in more ways than one. Oluwaseunfunmi Otukoya, a Lagos-based fashion entrepreneur, noted that ‘During this covid-19 period, the fashion industry has experienced low patronage and reduced revenue.’ The fashion designer however offered a word of encouragement in clearing the fog of pessimism, when she said, ‘this covid-19 times has also offered me the opportunity to think and look for other ways to be more self-sufficient.’

There is an estimated loss margin of more than 50% of jobs within the creative industry. The Nigerian creative industry has created about 29.5 million jobs annually, and has served as a good alternative for the much-desired economic diversification. Before COVID-19, it earned about $250 billion yearly. A total of nearly 2.3 million jobs were lost, many rendered redundant adding to the growing rate of unemployment in the country. This disproportionate statistic affected the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the short run basis.

On May 14, 2020, the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), held a virtual conference to discuss the future of creative industry. The forum which was titled, COVID-19: Impact on Nigeria’s creative sector, was convened by the Director-General of NCAC and President of World Crafts Council (African Region) Otunba Olusegun Runsewe. In attendance was the Israel Eboh, the National President of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP).

Speaking at the conference, DG of NCAC said, ‘There is a global health emergency occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has imposed severe economic burden in virtually all nations of the world. Nigeria is a mono-economy almost entirely dependent on oil revenue for its mainstay. The shock of the effects of COVID-19 in the Nigerian economy is devastating. There is, therefore, the urgent need for economic diversification. This is why we must now think outside of the box. Nigeria must take advantage of the potentials available in the sector.’ The DG also added that ‘This online Zoom series ‘Agenda Setting for the Nigerian Creative Industry is a platform to engage with critical stakeholders in order to aggregate views and opinions of industry players in various sub-sectors to set agenda for the creative industry.’

The NANTAP President, Israel Eboh reacted by saying, ‘We must find new ways of expressing our art. Travel operators, travel agents and other tourism practitioners could have video clips of destinations to be exhibited on different platforms to create awareness of the existence of such cities. Through this, businesses can still continue in the industry, rather than the total collapse we are experiencing. COVID-19 has seriously dealt with the creative industry because the industry is people-driven. That is the reason digitalising our crafts has become very necessary.’

The virtual space is taking over the creative sector swiftly. Industry experts who hitherto wouldn’t have considered the option of the virtual space for their entire project are now turning over to the virtual space as the only mecca in achieving their dreams and potentials. The annual gathering of arts lovers and weekend revelers dubbed as the Eko Theatre Carnival, is a case in point. The week-long staging of theatrical masterpieces and performances was held online with an impressive number of engagement and followership. Other Art and Culture events slated for usually slated from October to early December which has always been on the culture lover’s calendar have all been scheduled to be launched and engaged online, some of which are, The Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF); Africa’s Largest literary picnic, the Lagos International Poetry Festival, and the Ake Arts and Books Festival and the Nigerian International Book Festivals, are some of the festivals that will gather people from the distance of their screens instead of halls, galleries, hotels and outdoor. 

Seun Awobajo, curator and founder of the Footprints of David Arts Academy said, ‘The impact of social media on creative sector in this pandemic has helped the creative sector to keep in touch with the fans. It has also helped in challenging artists all over in a more different way. By that, I mean, the Social Media platforms avails the artist(s) to look for other means to exhibit their works as well as to embrace technology. In a time of social distancing, it revalidates the artist(s) efficacy in getting to more people without seeing them. It is equally true that only a segment of the creative sector is benefitting from this.’

With these new realities, there continues to be the need for improvement of the knowledge of new technologies by artists who have always relied on just the Arts and not the Acts of the Arts. With Twitter, Facebook, Mixlr, Zoom, Instagram communication and visibility has become paramount and has come to stay.

Babatunde Odubanwo

Categories: Culture and Lifestyle

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