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My Trip to Lagos

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I recently completed a teaching trip to Africa. I visited five cities: Lagos, Nigeria; Kampala, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya; Zanzibar, Tanzania and Harare, Zimbabwe. These cities and countries were selected because at least one student from each country has been enrolled in the Kennedy Center's Summer Intensive Fellowship for international arts managers.

It was appropriate that my tour begin in Nigeria since the prime mover behind my tour was Patrick-Jude Oteh, an astonishing arts leader and human being who has been running a theater company in Jos, Nigeria, the scene of recent insurrectionist activity.

Nigeria is a surprising country: it has substantial oil resources but not the sophisticated and contemporary infrastructure of the oil-rich Gulf States. Streets are poorly paved, traffic is the worst I have seen in my travels, the electricity goes out regularly, etc. The streets are packed with people in colorful clothing, many balancing enormous baskets on their heads. There are numerous open-air markets selling huge yams, eggs and rugs. There are even people selling their typing services on old-fashioned non-electric typewriters. (It begs the question: Where is all the oil money going or to whom is it going?) It was not surprising, therefore that my session was delayed 15 minutes because the power failed and the long line of people waiting to register simply could not see the sign-in sheet.

But the most surprising and delightful thing of all was the passion of the 80 arts leaders who attended my session at the U.S. consulate in Lagos. These were highly sophisticated arts managers who appreciated the challenges of making art in their country but were not daunted by them. Nigeria produces successful visual artists, musicians and filmmakers. But, like in every other country, the lack of resources forces artists to spend more time scrounging for money than making art. The class eagerly embraced the concepts I outlined. They were particularly inspired by the cycle I believe underlies success in the arts: great art, well-marketed, builds the organization's "family," which produces revenue for more great art. They understood the role of artistic planning and institutional marketing immediately but they also knew they wanted more and invited me back.

Not 30 minutes after the session I had already received three emails from students thanking me for my seminar and asking important follow-up questions.

The day was so full I didn't have time to answer. After lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken I was swept up to see a graduation recital by a talented 20-year-old tenor dressed in tails at a local music school singing Pergolesi, Mozart and Bach and then on to a museum of Nigerian history. The juxtaposition was moving and frustrating. The museum has no air conditioning and little protection for its objects, many of which are centuries old. Gorgeous headdresses and ancient ceramics were left in the open air. The newest gallery has no humidity controls. The presence of great art, artists and arts managers without the infrastructure they require needs to be addressed. I know I will be returning.