In 1990 in one of the Smithsonian Institutes’ Museums in Boston, I attended an exhibition of the ancient Art of Benin and observed how touring college students in their droves filed up in a very long queue and took turns to see the exhibits for the whole number of hours I was there. Entertainment and the arts are among the livewires of the American economy.
In a city like Munich, capital of the Bavarian Province in Germany, as at my last visit in 1998, there were over 500 theatres of various capacities, each of them running shows profitably on a daily basis all year round. We accept that the economies of these countries are buoyant and that their citizens can afford to pay the bills based on their strong per capita incomes and social security incentives.
The Nigerian economic reality is not that rosy. Yet we should not allow our distressed economy to be an inhibition to noble aspirations. Rather, it should be seen as a challenge and a stimulant towards attaining higher goals. The Americans, during the Great Depression of the 1930s-40s, had their incomes subsidised in a programme called the ‘New Deal’ as implemented by the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President was so determined to keep Americans working that creative individuals were paid simply to create.
Ondo State can explore such value orientation through art and tourism for sustainable economic growth because the creative industry is so resilient that once it is set in motion, it will continue to absorb the shocks of the job-market and advance into prosperity. The Nollywood phenomenon, which has become a multi-billion naira industry in Nigeria began in the years of the Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP) in the 1980s. The Nollywood breakthrough should clear all the doubts about the viability of the creative industry and encourage government and the private sector to invest in this sector. This should take place simultaneously with a strategy in social re-orientation through formal and informal education. For instance, such stars as are listed above can periodically be invited by the relevant agencies of the Ondo State government and non-governmental stakeholders to mentor the young ones on so many vital subjects in the area of art and tourism.
Tourism, especially, can benefit immensely from this youth re-orientation strategy, because the syllabus can relate directly to issues like socialisation, hospitality, security, environment, etc. The state should also look at the possibility of encouraging schools, once again, to establish Tourism Society for pupils and students when the security situation in Nigeria is under full control.
One is placing emphasis on the youth, at this point, principally because of the appeal of the word ‘sustainable’ in the very theme of this summit. The word is, at one and the same time contemporaneous and futuristic in spirit. Remember that, in the course of this presentation, one had had the cause to subtly indict this generation for the abandonment of legacies handed down from the past. Let us assume, for instance, that the present leadership in Ondo State, spurred by the communiqué of this summit, decides to forge a new social order where there is equity and justice, a renaissance where art and learning flourishes and an economy that booms and attracts tourists from far and wide. Let us just assume that the Tourism Institute in Isarun has been established. Who will inherit and administer these legacies on the basis of what we refer to as a ‘sustainable future’? It is the young one to whom ones conclusive statements are being directed in this address.
Education is key to the development of the youth in equal measure with the development of the society, so that the labours of this generation will not be in vain and we will not have to return to the saying of our forefathers that ‘it is an untrained child that trades away his inheritance.’ Whatever cultural value we prize as being vital for the sustenance of the good life, we must inculcate in the young ones through sound education. And this should reflect in them the quintessential attribute of cultured individuals.
Such are the breed that will internalise and actualise the agenda of the leadership of state – including the economic prospects of culture, art and tourism – and continue to promote, preserve and propagate it to generation yet unborn.
However, there are tasks at hand for those of us who are currently at the helm of affairs in the formulation, administration and implementation of policies in these areas. And, towards this end, I recommend that the Ondo State Government should
1) use the arts as a mobilising agent in all areas of development,
2) tap into the abundant human resources of indigenes at home and in the diaspora to grow the local economy,
3) design and implement programmes that will bring Ondo State Cultural Ambassadors home to impact positively on the state’s creative industry,
4) create avenues for recreation, reflection and education by exploring the interface of arts and tourism,
5) establish Cottage Theatres and Cultural Centres in major towns – with all the advantages of subsidiary industries cropping up – for job and wealth creation,
6) take a holistic approach to training in all the disciplines within the tourism sub-sector
for even and comprehensive development of human capacity,
7) establish a higher institution on tourism at Isarun to (a) enhance human capacity in the field for better productivity and (b) symbolically draw global attention to 11,000 years and beyond of human civilisation in the state while exploiting its other educational, commercial, social, artistic and touristic advantages,
8) renovate and repackage all Heritage Sites to optimise their economic value,
9) resuscitate the old AGRIC SHOW (PAGEANT) across the state, using art and tourism to inspire and boost agricultural productivity,
10) effect a synthesis of traditional and contemporary performing arts to develop a unique and an appealing carnival format for an Annual Ondo State Carnival, with an Annual Regatta organised in the Riverine areas,
11) explore the Cottage Theatres and Cultural Centres to design a Cultural Calendar and expand on destinations for tourists,
12) encourage the staging of concerts, film and theatre festivals, special traditional festivals, fashion shows, beauty pageant, etc to make the state a vibrant destination in pop-culture,
13) create incentives for investors in the creative industry by way of tax rebates for gestation periods, land-use concessions and special grants where necessary.
14) educate the youth in cultural, artistic and touristic values enumerated here and elsewhere that the legacy so entrenched may endure and keep growing.
(Concluding part of the keynote address by Tomoloju at the Ondo Arts Festival Summit on Wednesday, December 19, 2018.)