* ‘How instant reporting, limitless space spur growth of digital culture platforms’
By Godwin Okondo
THE opening programmes of Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2021) will linger in the minds of both the physical and virtual audiences, as the sessions were packed with a lot of knowledge-sharing and inspiration. The programme kicked off with a short video detailing the accomplishments of LABAF in past editions, as well as conveying what culture people had to say about what the organization has done, and what it can improve on in the years to come. Then a virtual project initiative followed. ‘African Writing: The Journey with James Curry’, the man who co-founded African Writers Series (AWS) with late Prof. Chinua Achebe and curated by 2021 winner of Association of Nigerian Author (ANA) Prose Fiction Prize with his new novel, ‘The Strangers of Blaanfontein’.
Then it was followed by the launch of the latest digital platform, an online culture magazine, ‘AnoteArtHub’ (www.anotearthub.com) that kicked off at 4.00pm. The session had as theme ‘Prospects and Challenges of a Culture Magazine in the Nigerian Art and Culture Ecosystem’ and featured notable publishers of online art and culture blogs and magazines, who shared their startup experiences, and how they have been able to build up their various platforms to their current status. The session was curated by the founder of ‘AnoteArtHub,’ Mr. Anote Ajeluorou, and had the publisher of ‘LagosReview,’ Mr. Toni Kan, publisher, ‘African Arts with Taj,’ Mr. Tajudeen Sowole, publisher/editor of ‘ASIRI Magazine,’ Mr. Oludamola Adebowale, Managing Editor, ‘Travu,’ Mr. Pelu Awofeso, and the publish of ‘Artbeat,’ Mr. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke. The panelists, who almost all except one worked and still works in newspaper environments, pointed out the many gaps they saw in culture reporting in the existing newspapers, which led to the initiation of these platforms.
In his opening remarks, Ajeluorou said the ever-shrinking spaces in Nigerian newspapers and the need to cut a niche for himself motivated him to embark on publishing ‘AnoteArtHub,’ an online platform focused solely on art and culture. ‘AnoteArtHub,’ he said, is both an art and culture journalism and an online market for the sale of Nigerian and Afrocentric art-related materials. Ajeluorou further stated that whereas a lot of pages were alotted to the arts pages about seven or more years ago, the situation has radically changed, so much so that sometimes barely two pages are alotted to arts in a week, which is insufficient. He also blamed the poor national coverage of arts and culture programmes on bad orientation of outstation journalists in the states who do not take arts seriously enough to give it sufficient attention.
Publisher and editor of ‘ASIRI Magazine,’ Adebowale said his platform “is a digital repository of Nigerian history and archive, which launched eight years ago, and over this period we’ve done a lot in promoting Nigerian history, culture and arts, looking at heavily researched information, deep archival material and footage of Nigerian history, dating as far back as the 1900s. It is more like a research portal. We don’t do daily news or events. Whatever is seen on the website is strictly research on history, art and culture. “This was coming from a place that we need to learn our history; we need to fill that gap between the past, present and moving to the future. We grew up hearing the stories of colonial masters, some of which were not told accurately. ‘ASIRI Magazine’ came as a platform to bridge that gap — to tell Nigerian stories the way it is, with proper research, to fill up the gaps. Over the years, we’ve done a lot in promoting Nigerian history. We started with the social media space as a means to reach out to people, and the reason we went digital was to create a platform which people in diaspora can connect with, anywhere in the world, to read and be educated on accurate Nigerian history.”
According to Sowole of ‘African Art with Taj,’ “For almost three decades, I’ve written on different genres — movies, music, books and literature — but I started specialising in visual arts in the year 2000 or thereabout. Along the line, I noticed the digital world would change, as we have seen now. Print doesn’t seem to be expanding in scope. Over 10 years ago, I saw that we might need to run alongside the digital platforms.
“The art galleries are expanding and the artists are doing massive works, but the print doesn’t seem to be catching up. So I needed to create that platform. When I created the platform, I thought of it as something to document my works, but to my surprise, a lot of people are finding the platform appealing. When writing reviews for art, particularly contemporary art, the space you need to express yourself needs to be constantly updated, so people can key in and appreciate what you, as well as artists, are doing. We currently have upcoming artists who are more aggressive in what they are doing, and the online platform works easily for them, and I hope that in future, we will get more art historians who will key into what we are doing. There are lots of artists and art historians graduating from schools, and the online platform has created a sort of ventilation for people to express themselves, particularly young artists and historians.”
On LagosReview, Kan said, “I came to Lagos a few months after ‘The Guardian’ literary series had been stopped; I just finished school and I was full of ideas and wanted to write, and ‘The Post Express’ gave us that platform, so we wrote poems. (Nduka) Otiono had a column called ‘The Grand Standing,’ where you could talk anything you want. We also published literary essays and other things. It was grand because when I was in school, we had these books which were like an introduction to Nigerian criticism. Then the ‘Sunday Sun’ asked me to do a kind of literary spread in 2009, which I did for four year.
“A journal could come up quarterly, but we wanted something that is a bit more magazine-like, so we decided to do ‘LagosReview;’ myself, Femi Ajayi, and my partner, Peju Akande. What we do is when newspapers begin to do those pages they used to have, we just wanted to do something with a bit more rigour; so, that’s what we did, and we’ve been publishing since 2019, and it’s been going well.”
While speaking about ‘Artbeat,’ its founder, Okechukwu, who joined the session via Zoom, said, “’Artbeat’ started in August last year, but preceding this was ‘Oke’s World,’ and the idea was to have something personal to express my thoughts on visual art — you could also call it an extension of what I do in ‘ThisDay.’ ‘Oke’s World’ was a free site at the time, like WordPress, and therefore, there was a lot of limitations. Eventually, after the lockdown last year, suggestions came from different portals on the idea of making it a website. I thought of choosing a domain name and I explored a lot of options, and I also wanted to expand the media, possibly include videos and podcasts, which seemed ambitious at the time, but I decided to just start with videos.
“Basically, my main focus is on visual arts, though sometimes there are sponsored stories from film and theatre. I would call it an online column to extend what I could have been doing in ‘ThisDay,’ by adding videos, because it would make more sense if these things are seen in a video form, as well a adding more images. That was basically what motivated ‘Artbeat,’ and andso far, it has gained traction and there are lots of readers outside Nigeria. I also noticed that I also have quite a growing number of audiences in the U.S., U.K., France, China and Saudi Arabia. The amount of engagements on the site is surprising. There are readers from all over.
Awofeso also took part virtually and made submissions about ‘Travu Magazine.’ According to him, “I am a travel journalist, but I combine art and travel. My primary interest is travel, but underlining that I’ve had some interest in the art and history of Nigeria, and our festivals. I’ve been more of a freelance writer than a full-time journalist, and I’ve been known as a freelance contributor. My publication has evolved from different names to become what it is now. I started with ‘Journeys Around Nigeria,’ which I later changed to ‘Journeys.’ I later changed to ‘Waka-About’ since the brand ‘Journeys’ was too generic. Basically, it was just me travelling round the country and writing about my experience.
“After a while, many people were using the name ‘Waka’ all over the place; so, I decided the time had come to rename the brand, and I came up with ‘Travu.’ ‘Travu’ is just the same thing as ‘Waka-About,’ which deals with art, culture, festivals, book and movie review. ‘Travu,’ right now, is exclusively virtual, and we have an annual special edition. ‘Travu’ was launched during the pandemic, in July 1, 2020. Nigeria deserves to have art and culture publications, but we live at a time when art and creativity are exploding in Nigeria, and all of us can’t do justice to it, be it entertainment or performing arts. We don’t have enough writers to cover Nigeria’s vast art space.”
What came through from the session was an upbeat feel that there was a future for online arts and culture magazines or platforms as a result of the harsh economic fortunes that are daily constricting spaces in all the traditional newspaper newsrooms. The only ray of hope on the horizon, it appears, are online platforms like ‘AnoteArtHub’ that delivers instant news stories on arts and culture programmes and projects across country.
Elder artsman and CORA board of trustees member, Chief Kayode Aderinokun, launched the digital platform, ‘AnoteArtHub.’ He noted that he was in the midst of ”giants who had sacrificed so much to get us to where we are today. Those of us who are still analogue are trailing very much behind them, and some of you are even ahead, because the tools you use become so natural to you. These are the guys who cleared the path we are all treading today. When they said this session was going to be about online publishing, I made sure I would be here because there is so much to learn.
“We launch books physically, and if you want to get politicians, they will be so happy to launch a book, but I don’t think we are so lucky in the book environment that we reside. That not withstanding, I have the honor and privilege, with the kind permission of all of you here, to formally launch this digital magazine, ‘AnoteArtHub’ (www.anotearthub.com).”