In over eight years of reporting the arts, a major issue often highlighted in the industry is inadequate funding and corporate organisations unwillingness to fund the arts for its lack of financial returns.
Corporate organisations are willing to support music concerts/festivals, film projects and variety shows like BBNaija but rarely do so for theatre, dance, arts exhibitions/festivals for lack of visible and immediate returns on investment.
Non-business inclined as they are, Nigerian artistes have found it difficult to communicate the impact of art in society to funders, because they believe that the arts have more socio-emotional impact than economic. While it is true that art has huge socio-cultural impact in a society, it has great economic impact, and as this article reveals has even greater scientific impact through which it can influence economic development of a nation if deployed wisely. It is all a matter of what art form you are measuring, and how you measure it.
Lisette Reuters of Un-Label Performing Group, a theatre group of mixed-able artistes (artistes with and without disabilities) focused on enhancing inclusivity in the performing arts, measures knowledge, capacity of artistes, and audience perspective. Pre and post Un-Label’s performances or consultancy on inclusivity with theatre organisations, it measures what knowledge the organization’s staff gained, and whether they feel more equipped or able to work inclusively. On the artistes’ part, it measures whether they are involved in more mixed-able productions or hired more artistes with disabilities. It also measures audience perspective to discover the impact of the arts by examining if there is a change in the number of audience members with disability.
But in measuring impact on persons with disabilities, the process is flipped from measuring socio-psychological impact to measuring their participation and the value of inclusive arts in a society. Finnish disabled dancer, Marja Karhunen believes that the more diverse the group of persons contributing to the arts, the higher value it brings to it; and the more representation that is seen onstage, the more reflective of our society it becomes and the more perspectives are changed.
“I think it is stupid to say, you are the disabled one, or you are the black one. It is simplifying people. I think diversity matters. While I think statistics is very important in convincing funders, for the arts to reflect the diversity of a society, the important thing to measure,” stressed Karhunen, “is who is participating and who is represented?”
As South African choreographer and artistic director of FTHK Jayne Batzofin best put it, just as the society must avoid the danger of the single story, it must also avoid the danger of the single form of theatre – the theatre that caters only to the able-bodied.
But more dangerous than the single form of theatre, is the limitation of the arts as simply entertainment. It has gone beyond that. Art has scientific impact. Contrary to a music concert or a comedy show that pulls in hundreds and thousands of people at one time, a dance, theatre or art exhibition can never pull that kind of crowd (although Art X, Art Biennials are proving otherwise). In fact, such crowd might defeat the purpose of the art event said Jos Repertory Theatre (JRT) and Jos Festival of Theatre (JFT) Artistic Director Dr Patrick Jude-Oteh.
The Arts, he said, bank on less but quality crowd, out of which a few of the audience members are part of society’s decisionmakers that can galvanize policy changes (unlike comedy shows where one simply laughs at the problem without any real change happening).
The arts can be deployed for scientific purposes like the US Kennedy Center did post the 2011 twin tower bombing via its Arabesque festival. The festival aimed at discerning the thoughts of the average Arabian – by supporting dance, music, theatric and visual art shows that depict the Arabian people, society and culture. The center deployed similar strategy to examining the reason behind the sudden spring of Indian CEOs prepared to tackle emerging economic problems of the 21st century by supporting a host of artistic productions to understand their background and motivation.
Nigeria, Oteh said can deploy similar strategy in present conflict times to engender unity by using the arts to examine roots of conflicts, ethnicities mindsets and culture to promote understanding and respect amongst Nigerians.
Still on the scientific impact of art, the arts functions in the manner of subliminal messaging and as a promotional tool. Oteh illustrates this point noting that being exposed to the Czech play Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R), Nigerians who have been transported to a different culture and place by virtue of watching the play, are more likely to identify with and patronize Czech product as against a Polish one.
On the other hand, by virtue of offering its prospective customers complimentary tickets to the play, a Czech mattress company gives the impression of generosity and value of its customer.
But till Nigerian artistes learn to see their art beyond entertainment, and as a serious business rather than an Ad-hoc thing – it’ll never go far, said Oteh.
By ad-hoc, he implies, something to do occasionally in between long periods of time, of say two months.
“They are not thinking in terms of utilising the gathering of 12 ambassadors, 6 deputy ambassadors and government officials they have on ground at a production. They are not thinking, “What other jobs can I get from RUR? Or how many jobs can I create from the 160 people I have convened today?”
“Grants are not gifts. Artistes have to stop seeing grants as gifts. And show the impact of what you have been given that grant to achieve,” says Oteh.
And so, Oteh did just that, by measuring the impact of the 9th, 10th and 11th edition of JFT in Jos, Plateau State. The result was revealing. Using a fish seller, Linda as a case study, it discovered that although not a festival attendee, but by virtue of operating in proximity to the festival venue, West of Mines Street, she experienced increased sales from a daily revenue of N5000, to N12,000 during the festival to a month after. Likewise, the beverage sellers and hoteliers.
Although they offer rooms to JFT guests at discounted rates, the hotels saw increased business and profit from earning N195,000 a month to earn similar amount the week of the festival, from lodging the artistes, and the influx of their visiting relatives or friends whom they entertain and host at the hotel.
So, the next time as an artiste or an artistic group you are seeking support/grant for your project, think beyond entertainment; and consider your potential funders – are their numbers/analytical inclined or are their socio-emotionally inclined? – and whip up a data measurement that best appeals to them.