6 December 2015

Howfa! Abuja

Reflections on training Creative Producers in Nigeria, as partof the British Council's #UKNG Creative Cities 2015

Recipe for #UKNG Peppered Learning Tonic:

Take fifty cultural practitioners from Nigeria, add three creative professionals from the UK who have never set foot in Africa, and mix them together in a hotel in Abuja for a week… and watch as new skills are acquired and put quickly into practice, shared understanding develops, and mutual respect grows as we work together to translate UK practice into the local landscape, and exchange ideas.

Meeting a continent, a country, and a capital city all at once – through spending an intensive week with fifty of its most exciting cultural practitioners – was always going to be energising. By the final evening, as we danced our shared delight outside, I knew that we could trust that this group will maintain their new networks, and grow the cultural life of Abuja and beyond in exciting ways…and maybe it wasn’t just the dust of the Hammattan from the Sahara that made my eyes prickle when we finally had to wave goodbye to new friends.

We packed a lot into the time: from project planning on the first day via skills downloads in the different aspects of Event Management that the British Council had identified in the brief, to the live pitch sessions on the final morning.

It was hard work, for all of us, with 6-7 hours teaching daily. We knew that smaller group work would be more effective than lecture-style presentations, so we split the group into three and they rotated through the course curriculum. We also knew that the benefits of a “live brief” element, requiring people to work in small teams to develop a pitch suitable for an imaginary sponsor or partner, would outweigh the drawbacks of asking people who had never worked together before to take an idea from conception to presentation in just half a day.

Nigeria’s creative economy is growing fast, and Abuja is a new city. Established as the political and administrative capital only in the last twenty years or so, its current cultural offer is limited. But after this week, I feel confident that Walk the Plank’s team have strengthened both the ambitions, and the ability to deliver, of the Nigerian producers, curators, directors and entrepreneurs we worked with. We leave behind a critical mass of warm, generous people with new standards of professionalism as well as an enhanced sense of purpose. In my experience, increased employment opportunities and other benefits may well follow… but it’s too soon to guarantee that.

On the final evening of our week’s training, after the presentation of certificates and opportunities for reflection on the impact of their immersive experience, some of us attended the Abuja Literary Society’s monthly poetry slam – enjoying radical and brilliant wordplay from Abuja’s best spoken word performers, with typical Nigerian crowd participation throughout. It was a fantastic window onto the raw talent to be found in Abuja, and reinforced for me the value of the British Council’s role in building the capacity of arts managers in Nigeria to present talented artists in a way that is both sustainable and appropriate to the local context. Just the day before, back in the UK, Radio 4 had broadcast a programme about new writing from Nigeria, so opportunities clearly exist on international horizons too.

Training and professional development is important to Walk the Plank because it enables us to create a culture of reflection that is crucial to our ability to survive and thrive. And training is also about Learning – as soon as you embark on the journey, particularly working with people from outside your usual spheres, or with fifty boisterously creative Nigerians, you realise that there is often an exchange of practice and ideas. We have taken away an immense respect for their enterprising resourcefulness, their optimism, and their ability to throw some shapes on the dance floor. Oh Yes!