5 June 2019

Festival management training in West Africa

FESTIVAL MANAGEMENT TRAINING IN WEST AFRICA 2018/19  reflection by Liz Pugh, Lead Trainer, Walk the Plank

Exactly what I needed.”  “I promise to share what I’ve learnt with my own networks and not keep the teachings to myself” It has boosted my confidence. Very comprehensive. “It has been the best of experiences”

Just some of the feedback from the forty four Festival Managers who attended the training at the British Council offices, Accra, May 2019. This is the second edition Walk the Plank have worked on, and the overall programme has had representatives from all 36 Nigerian states, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Gambia and Senegal, including academics from four universities.

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Liz with Sylvester, Yayeh and Cyril – festival managers from Nigeria and Sierra Leone

Since they had first met in Lagos six months earlier, the group had taken part in six webinars, and done their homework – from writing a new marketing plan to refining a sponsorship pitch.

In the first session in Ghana, we asked them to reflect on any successes since we had last met: they had reshaped their festivals, recruited volunteers, grown their networks, increased their income generation, attracted new audiences, or got the governor of their state signed up to a vision of sustainable cultural tourism…by the end of their  feedback, we were all buzzing from what they had achieved!

This training is intense – aiming to cover the basics of festival management in just six days, while leaving time for individual stories, and specific queries. It’s only been possible through a partnership forged by British Council West Africa that attracted investment from Nigeria’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism; and links with West African universities, who we hope will embed this training into future undergraduate courses, were a key ambition. Their study visit to the UK in February, organised by Walk the Plank’s former learning director Alexis Johnson, certainly fired up the academics: they all reported that their universities were pressing ahead with plans inspired by the courses they had seen at Universities of Salford, London (Birkbeck, LSBU), Manchester Met (MMU) and Edinburgh (QMC and Napier).

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The Nigerian Ambassador to Ghana (pic, right) welcomed the festival managers to Accra, prior to a speech by Mrs Grace Gepke, Permanent Secretary for the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

One of the emergent discourses for the training was the idea of values – why we do it and who we do it for; and value – how to increase the impact of this work and articulate the value of both traditional cultural festivals and contemporary arts festivals. And we wrestled with the question of how to create the conditions where both can not only flourish, but how they can nurture each other – how we might sustain traditional ceremonies and rites of passage by engaging the talents and energies of young people, or how we might connect the West African diaspora – including those who have left their villages for the anonymity of urban life – with the contemporary voices of artists, writers, poets, dancers whose work can create a powerful sense of belonging, identity, or opportunity for reflection on the worlds we wish to make today and tomorrow, as well as celebrating yesterday.

Thanks to trainers Patrick Garety (Lake of Stars), Lola Shoneyin (Ake Book Festival) Alexis Johnson (Walk the Plank) and guest speakers including Ebenezer Bentum (Asa Baako) Angela Chappell (Arts Council England).