COVID-19: Torrid time for artists, arts

The coronavirus pandemic is causing lots of distress in the arts and among artists as more events are cancelled across the country

THE message from the ‘Chief Warder’, Architect Theo Lawson was stark. “So, at 7.30 pm tonight, Wednesday the 24th of March 2020, Freedom Park Lagos goes in shutdown for the first time in ten years. #covid19,” it began.

Lawson, the Chief Executive of the park, continued: “Conceived to celebrate nature, history and the arts, this oasis in the middle of the bustling Lagos business district, served many people and humanity. In another life, it served as a maximum-security prison with a women’s wing, workshops and gallows.

“Tonight, Freedom Park returns to its aboriginal owners; Nature and the Spirits of our ancestors, many of whom fought our battles against colonial rule and corruption.

“We offer our prayers to God and our ancestors to come to our aid in our hour of need; the Coronavirus that threatens the world and our very existence is beyond our power. Freedom Park is a public facility and remains at the service of Lagos State in any capacity to fight COVID-19 and save lives.”

Having announced that the park would no longer allow group gatherings as part of efforts to contain the pandemic and in obedience with the directive of the Lagos State government earlier on Saturday, many did not foresee the total shutdown.

But then, COVID-19 continues to disrupt lives and activities across the country as more cases emerge and government at all levels introduce more stringent measures to arrest its spread.

Like other sectors of the national economy, whose losses can’t yet be quantified, arts and entertainment are also suffering from a slew of cancellations. Alsoduring the week, the Terra Kulture Arena on Victoria Island shut its door and pulled Bimbo Manuel’s stage play, ‘Alhaji’ running every weekend in March. Femi Kuti’s New Africa Shrine at Agidingbi, Ikeja, had done same the previous week.

But apart from arts and culture venues closing shop, some other eagerly anticipated activities have been scrapped. One of these is the Professor Olu Obafemi 70th birthday anniversary conference on indefinite suspension.

The event in honour of the playwright and former National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), would have happened from the 31st of March to the 4th of April at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State.

Sadly, it won’t be happening anytime soon except the pandemic is contained. A statement from Chairman, National Committee on Olu Obafemi’s 70th Birthday, Professor Duro Oni and Conference Organising Committee, Department of English, University of Ilorin, Dr Mahfouz Adedimeji, announced the postponement.

It read: “This is to notify the public, especially the guests, conference participants and other stakeholders in the 2nd National Conference of the Department of English, the University of Ilorin in honour of Prof. Olu Obafemi and Olu Obafemi’s 70th Birthday that the Conference and other birthday activities scheduled to hold between the 31st of March and the 4th of April, 2020, have been postponed indefinitely.

“This development follows the need to prioritise health and safety, per the Federal Government directives, on the unfortunate outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic in the world, including Nigeria. That the dreaded virus is now with us is an unassailable truth.

“Therefore, the new dates of the activities of the Conference, play productions, book presentations, lectures and luncheon will be announced as soon as practicable.The National Committee on Olu Obafemi’s Birthday and Conference Organising Committee of the Department of English, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, urge all Nigerians to adhere strictly to official directives on social distancing, staying at home, maintaining personal hygiene and other precautionary measures put in place in controlling the spread of the dreaded virus. We fervently hope that normalcy will resume soon as we join hands to combat and defeat this destructive and disruptive COVID-19.”

Other events suspended because of COVID-19 in the country includeThe Ben Enwonwu Foundation’s ‘Point of View 6’, the public presentation of Prof. Soyinka’s latest book, ‘Beyond Aesthetics,’ the 2020 International Theatre Day celebrations by both Committee of Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures’ Practitioners (TAMPAN) and National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners.

Like the literary and visual arts, film is also bleeding with vital Nollywood guilds/players suspending productions across the country.Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Association of Movie Producers of Nigeria (AMPN) and TAMPAN requested members to stop productions of both films and TV series on Tuesday.

The statement from the AGN’s President, Emeka Rollas asked the “National taskforce to lock down all production sets where members are involved across the country to help protect them from COVID-19. The National President has also set up a National emergency relief committee to assist members in distress and require urgent assistance. The emergency number is 09096335790.”

AMPN President, Ralph Nwadike, frowned at members still on locations and asked them to stop. “We must as a matter of urgency call off every shooting or any production activities for now while we join hands with the authorities to collectively fight the pandemic. This is not time to sweet talk ourselves, Coronavirus real so every ongoing production or about to begin must stop until further notice.”

With the situation still looking dire as the Federal and State governments continue to seek ways of containing the disease, the arts and artists, like other Nigerians, are set for a rough ride. The torrid time can’t end soon enough.











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