* ‘May this festival serve as rallying cry for increased govt backing of the arts’
* ‘Establish art endowment, mobility funds for global collaboration’
By Godwin Okondo
THE inaugural edition of Abuja International Theatre Festival and Awards 2023 that opened in Abuja on November 2, 2023 turned out a rally point for the creative sector to cry for help. A passionate call was made for government’s support for performing arts in the country by leading speakers. Ambassador Tukur Y. Buratai and Festival Director, Om’Oba Jerry Adesewo, highlighted the transformative power of the performing arts and the challenges and opportunities there are in the Nigerian creative sector.
The weeklong festival has as theme ‘Performing Arts, Peacebuilding and the Society,’ aimed at celebrating the universal language of the performing arts and their role in fostering peace and unity within society. In his keynote address, Ambassador Buratai, a prominent figure in peacebuilding, emphasized the significance of the festival in promoting understanding and building bridges that could lead to a more harmonious world. He called upon the ministries of the Federal Capital Territory, Arts and Culture and Tourism to rally behind the festival initiative. He stressed that adequate funding should not be a mere fiscal concern, but an investment in the nation’s cultural identity and talent development.
“As we gather here under the theme ‘Performing Arts, Peacebuilding and the Society,’ we embark on a journey that celebrates not just the richness of our artistic expressions but recognises the transformative power of the performing arts in fostering peace and unity within our society. In this vibrant tapestry of creativity, we find a force that transcends borders, language, and cultural differences. The performing arts have the unique ability to be a universal language, a bridge that connects hearts and minds, and a catalyst for positive change. Today, we acknowledge the pivotal role that the performing arts plays in shaping our collective narrative, fostering understanding, and building bridges that lead us towards a more harmonious world.
“In this endeavor, I call upon the esteemed Ministries of the Federal Capital Territory, Arts and Culture, and Tourism to rally behind this initiative. Just as renowned festivals globally enjoy the support of their governments, let us recognize the imperative for our ministries to champion the cause of the arts. Adequate funding is not merely a fiscal concern; it is an investment in our cultural identity, a commitment to nurturing the talents that elevate our nation onto the international stage.”
Guests at the opening of Abuja International Theatre Festival and Awards 2023
Buratai, though no longer in government, has come to the realisation that governments, at all levels, have roles to play to promote the performing arts as it is done in other climes for the sustenance of the cultural industries through government’s financial and investment support. He became the new voice for the advocacy for better government’s funding and suppport for the arts in the country, reminding affected ministries to act quickly on their mandates.
“In alignment with international best practices, where governments wholeheartedly back their artistic communities, we should strive to emulate such support structures,” he said. “The Ministry of FCT, Ministry of Arts & Culture, and Ministry of Tourism possess the instrumental capacity to transform this festival into a catalyst for tourism, cultural exchange, and economic growth. Let us channel our efforts towards making this festival a cornerstone of our national identity.
“As we witness the unfolding of performances that will grace this stage, let us not only revel in the spectacle, but also reflect upon the pivotal role that government support plays in the success of such ventures globally. By aligning our ministries with this cause, we send a resounding message—to our artists, to the international community, and to our citizens—that we recognize and value the transformative power of the performing arts.
“May this festival not only dazzle our senses but also serve as a rallying cry for increased government backing of the arts. Let us create an environment where the performing arts thrive, bridging cultures, fostering peace, propelling our society towards greater heights.”
Founder and Festival Director of ABITFA, Om’Oba Jerry Adesewo, acknowledged the challenges of staging an international theatre festival in Nigeria since the arts sector often faces chronic underfunding. Adesewo advocated for the establishment of an art endowment fund that could provide a stable financial foundation for the arts, and a mobility fund to enable artists to collaborate globally, and stressed the significance of infrastructure development to support the flourishing of the arts.
Amb. Tukur Y. Buratai giving his keynote address
According to Adesewo, “In times of uncertainty, theatre has proven to be a steadfast companion, offering solace, reflection, and a lens through which to examine our shared humanity. Today, as we inaugurate this festival, we acknowledge the agelong relevance of theatre and its power to transcend borders, fostering dialogue, understanding, and most importantly, peace. Yet, the path to this moment has not been without challenges. However, our collective passion and commitment have overcome these obstacles, underscoring the resilience and determination inherent in the artistic spirit.
“To sustain and elevate our artistic pursuits, I advocate for the establishment of an Art Endowment Fund, providing a stable financial foundation for the arts. Additionally, a Mobility Fund will enable artists to transcend geographical barriers, fostering global collaborations. Infrastructure development is equally crucial; a robust and supportive environment is fundamental to the flourishing of the arts.”
Adesewo said during the festival, winners of the 4th Arojah Students’ Playwriting Prize, the ABITFA/Bodun Abe Scenography Prize, and the ABITA/Olalekan Ogunlalu Theatre Bill Prize will be announced. Additionally, he said beginning with the 2024 edition, three additional prizes: The ABITFA/Adesewo Fayaman Bay Prize for Solo Act, ABITFA/Tunji Fatilewa Prize for Directing and ABITFA/Ben Tomoloju Prize for Theatre Criticism will be introduced, noting that as sponsors come forward, more prizes will be added. They include ABITFA Prize for Dance Art, ABITFA Prize for Costuming and ABITFA Prize for Technical Theatre. He added that these awards are designed to celebrate excellence across various dimensions of theatrical practice.
Festival Director, Om’Oba Jerry Adesewo
“As we navigate the challenges, we look ahead with optimism,” he continued. “Our vision for the 2024 edition, themed ‘Humanity’ will delve into the intricacies of the human experience, amplifying diverse voices and narratives. It promises to be a celebration of our shared stories, uniting us in our common journey. It promises to be an even bigger version, by the grace of God, with more Nigerian showcases, more international guest performers and delegates, and better festival experience than this.”
The Abuja International Theatre Festival and Awards 2023 marks the beginning of a new era for the performing arts in Nigeria, especially the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as it calls for a united effort to support and nurture the nation’s artistic talents.