It was two days of cultural explosion. Two days of arts and culture networking. Overall, it was two days of glitz, glamour and panache that COVID-19 could not stop. It was the 2020 of International Arts and Crafts Expo.
The atmosphere was electrifying. There were smiles and laughter everywhere as heavy sounds belched from the music box at high level.
The event was the final test run before the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST), which will be hosted by Jos Plateau State from November 21 to 28, 2020.
In compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) had on Thursday, November 5 and Friday, November 6, 2020 held the 13th International Arts and Crafts (INAC) Expo.x
For many of the guests, the heavy vehicular traffic into the hotel was unusual. Yet, most of the vehicles were not at the car parks. Officials guided the vehicles and they navigated the tight bend, slowly, to the old football pitch behind the hotel.
Unlike past editions, which held at the FCT Exhibition Pavilion, this year’s was the first drive-through expo in the continent. Venue was the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja.
Viewers at the two-day expo were seen watching the physical and audio-visual exhibition from their cars. Few guests sat beside vehicles, obeying social distancing.
The COVID-19 pandemic, no doubt, caused dramatic change in the daily activities of most people on earth. However, in the face of such an overwhelming crisis, many had rightly called for culture managers to think out of the box.
For NCAC Director-General, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, “at this critical period, networking is key among culture, tourism, travel and entertainment practitioners to revitalise the creative industry.”
He believes that the desire to position culture and tourism as the lever of Nigeria’s economic growth and development rests with the plan to mainstream both sectors into a monolithic entity to galvanise national economic development.
The effort is in line with the understanding that no nation can really excel without the inclusion of its cultural and tourism parameters in state affairs.x
“Our culture should also be explored. Culture as a tourism product increases people’s curiosity and that is what Nigeria and Africa is rich with.”
With the theme, Networking Nigerian crafts to the world, the 2020 International Arts and Crafts (INAC) Expo was a huge success as it had robust foreign participation and recorded good turnout from the states and the FCT.
Initiated in 2008 as a yearly event of the council with the aim of showcasing the continent’s rich and unique collection of arts and crafts, it is an avenue to promote the country’s rural economy. INAC plays the significant role of boosting the country’s GDP.
Formally Africa Arts and Crafts (AFAC) expo, INAC has witnessed 12 editions and had several value added to it in the past three years with the aim of achieving the director-general’s four-point agenda viz:
• To develop arts and crafts with the objective of putting food on the table of Nigerians;
• to promote and encourage the use of our creative arts and crafts for employment through the introduction of the free skills acquisition training programme;
• to promote corporate social responsibility through the free medical services; and
• to build cultural diplomacy through appropriate liaison/ synergy with members of the diplomatic corps in Nigeria.
Over the years, the expo’s objectives has remained the same, promoting the export of arts and craft to the international community, sensitising investors on the need to invest in the sector as a way of encouraging enterprise development and export oriented production, and providing a channel through which Nigeria and participating countries will make known their policies and investment opportunities in the sector and many others.
The expo has also presented an avenue through which skills could be acquired by the most productive segment of the population, youths. It has availed participants opportunity to promote greater integration and synergise in order to boost economic and social development. More importantly, it provided a platform for entrepreneurs to showcase their goods and services.
While creating temporary jobs for carpenters, builders, electricians, mechanics, artisans and labourers, there was equally an opportunity for the local economy to have a lift: The large numbers of participants made it an attractive market place for exhibitors, food vendors, sachet water and recharge card sellers.x
Runsewe believes that, “culture, arts, craft, entertainment, textile and their use is where the next oil money will come from. And the best way to do this is to source new business alternatives.”
Runsewe noted that NCAC under his watch would sustain the drive of changing Nigeria’s narratives via culture and arts promotion, saying this underscores why 2020 INAC was held despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
While congratulating all the states for their brilliant exhibitions, Runsewe urged delegates from each state and country not to relent in their activities for cultural promotion. He said this was a veritable avenue to foster unity across the globe and a means of revenue generation for states and countries.
“The drive-in exhibition is a unique initiative employed by NCAC to dovetail into the ‘new normal’ posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I must commend you all for the strict adherence and total compliance with the protocols as recommended by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19,” Runsewe added.
According to him, “the expo has taken it upon itself to bring about regional integration, continental unity, as well as unveiling the economic opportunities in the Arts and crafts sector.”
At the opening, Chairman, House Committee on Culture and Tourism, Hon. Ogbeide–Ihama Omoregie, urged CEOs of tourism and culture parastatals and agencies to think outside the box in the planning and execution of their programmes. He said COVID-19 has pushed everyone to the level that it becomes very important to think outside the box, be innovative and creative especially among players in the creative industry. “We must take advantage of the COVID-19 situation as bad as it is to make the best of it. I use this opportunity to call on Federal Government to give proper attention to the creative sector because the sector is yet untapped. The sector is capable of creating jobs for our teeming youths, empower people, boost our economy and foster unity among us as a people.
“For us in the National Assembly, we will continue to support NCAC in any way we can as well as in the funding of its programmes,” he said.x
Some foreign delegates, who spoke to The Guardian, gave kudos to NCAC for its innovation in packaging the expo despite the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the drive-in exhibition, the first at this critical period, was held in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.
Economic Attachè at Lebanon Embassy in Nigeria, Mr Mishaal Khodr said the platform created was innovative and signifies Nigerians’ resilience towards the promotion of culture. He said that Lebanon could not participate fully this year due to the poor state of its economy presently, but would be on the ground in next year’s edition. He expressed his love for Nigerians and their culture, adding that there were some cultural and educational collaboration between the two countries already that would be improved on.
“This is a beautiful platform to educate someone coming into Nigeria for the first time, the various states and countries’ cultural documentaries and displays are quite educating and entertaining. I also love and appreciate the fact that international players are also given an opportunity to promote and market their culture, crafts and arts.
“As a matter of fact, I’m in love with Nigeria. It is my new favourite place. I never feel away from home here. I commend NCAC for this unique form of exhibition and hope this further unites countries across the globe,” he said.x
Consul at Argentina Embassy in Nigeria, Mr Fernando Lacabanne said the exhibition was a unique one, which combined audio-visual and physical means of exhibition.
Lacabanne said the entire programme was interesting and educating as it also enlivens cultures across the world even as COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world.
He urged other countries present to emulate such an innovation in the cultural exhibition to unite countries across the world. “It is amazing that such an event could hold in this era of COVID–19 pandemic. We have presented video clips containing various cultural displays from Argentina and we hope lots of people have learned from the exhibition. We hope to collaborate more with Nigeria as COVID-19 pandemic subsides to further strengthen our relationship,” he said.
Ekiti State won the overall first position at the exhibition as well as the state with the best raffia works. Federal Capital Territory and Katsina jointly clinched the second position, while Ogun and Kaduna states had the third position and Nasarawa state took fourth. For the best in multimedia and rafia works, Ekiti came first, Kaduna State got the best for fibre glass production and Ogun made the best in contemporary textile production. The best production innovation went to the Federal Capital Territory, while Ogun attracted the best contemporary marketing strategists and Katsina won the best cultural documentation category.x
For post COVID-19 compliance, Kaduna, Anambra and Ogun states emerged the best, Kaduna State also got the most consistent; Zamfara, Adamawa and Kwara states bagged the best modern mobilisation. Ekiti also took first position for the category of the best pavillion, Nasarawa State bagged second, while Katsina took third. Anambra emerged the best in product design for metal works, Nasarawa State took best in textile, Zamfara got first in embroidery, leather work and in calabash design, Anambra was also the best. Federal Capital Territory emerged the best in pottery and Kwara the best in woodwork.
Eleven states and 26 countries participated in the exhibition that featured apparels, embroidery, brass and metal designs, music and dance, jewelry designs, classic ceramics, decorative pottery, beads, bronze works, leather and interior designs and more.
The states included Ogun, Kwara, Kaduna, Zamfara, Borno, Katsina, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Anambra, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory.
There were delegates from Syria, Argentina, Libya, India, Bangladesh, Cameroun, Lebanon, Ghana, Kenya and Venezuela who were all given certificates of participation and other souvenirs. Some of the countries, which couldn’t participate physically, showed documentaries of their cultural heritage at the expo.