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Time for corporate bodies to support Fine Arts — Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia

BY: Delali Sika
Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia
Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia

Although the creative industry is broad, with many branches, only a few receive attention and recognition, a situation some critics have described as unfortunate.

Sectors of the creative industry that get all the attention are music, movies, fashion and beauty and that is evident in discussions on many entertainment shows and in the many awards schemes that are targeted at those areas.

This has left out some important areas such as visual/fine arts, architecture, among others, which, although may be seen as “small”, have huge potential which has largely gone untapped.

Not only has art been underfunded, it has been extremely under-appreciated, seen as an area reserved for an affluent few. Artists from Ghana are respected and celebrated abroad but are barely given any recognition in Ghana.

Devaluing arts

This situation is a worry for Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia, founder of the Kuenyehia Trust for Contemporary Art, organisers of the Kuenyehia Prize Awards and Exhibition, who says that should not be the case.

“Many of us are oblivious to the art opportunities staring us in our faces. Not many of us support our amazingly talented artists, not many of us buy African art, not many corporates consider art worthy of their CSR initiatives. The disappointing reality is that, today, it is easier to obtain corporate support for a beauty pageant or some mindless reality show than it is to receive support for visual arts,” he told the Daily Graphic.

Elikem Kuenyehia noted that the effect of that was so deep that young people were not interested in venturing into visual or fine arts.

“To survive, too many of our young artists continue to abandon their craft, their passion, and their paint brushes, swapping artist studios and workshops for airconditioned offices of banks and other corporate institutions. Of course, artists are talented, but talent alone is not enough. In an increasingly competitive world, the artists who get ahead are those who, in addition to talent, gain visibility and continue to develop and evolve their practices,” he revealed.

Kuenyehia Prize Awards & Exhibition

It is in a bid to bring recognition and attention to visual arts that the Kuenyehia Prize Awards and Exhibition was introduced.

The scheme is an initiative of the Kuenyehia Trust for Contemporary Art, a non-profit organisation established by Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia in 2013 to, among others, promote contemporary art of African origin, support young, emerging and mid-career artists of African origin and to help develop a vibrant local and international market for African artists.

For the past five years, the Kuenyehia Prize Awards and Exhibition has identified and rewarded West Africa's outstanding artists between the ages of 25 and 40.

Winners and runners-up benefit from prize money, tools to enhance their practice and exposure through the network of the Kuenyehia Trust.

Speaking at a ceremony to unveil winners of the 2020 edition of the awards, Elikem Kuenyehia indicated that “more important than the $10,000 prize money is the tailored training and coaching we provide for our laureate artists to significantly enhance their prospects of success. We also provide our artists visibility through local and international exhibitions.

“We provide them exposure and access to a network of collectors and aspiring collectors, a network they would otherwise have no access to.

“The objective of the Kuenyehia Prize is to make a modest contribution to the Ghanaian art ecosystem by inspiring the next generation of Ghanaian artists to produce work that will attract both local and international audiences.

“It will also draw attention to Ghanaian art and encourage increased patronage by the middle class and corporate Ghana,” Elikem Kuenyehia explained.

The Guest of Honour at the event, Prof. Edwin Kwesi Bodjawah, Director of KNUST Museum, Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Faculty of Art, College of Art and Built Environment, urged policy makers to help change the narrative of the arts.

“it is time we did something about the narrative of the arts industry. We need to be serious about it when it comes to our educational system. The arts market is a huge one and we need to tap into it. We also need awards like this to be able to sustain and encourage people that art is still in existence.”

Winners

The winners’ announcement, hosted by Multimedia’s Nathaniel Attoh, came off at the PWC Tower, Cantonments City, Accra on Thursday, December 2.

The ultimate winner was Lois Arde-Acquah who took home $5,000 and a plaque, with first runner-up going to Opoku Mensah, also from Ghana, who received $3,000 and a plaque. Chinwe Chigbu from Nigeria, who emerged second runner-up, received $2,000 and a plaque.

Though the winners were announced in December 2020, it took organisers about 16 months to give them their prizes. Elikem Kuenyehia said in explanation: “The last two years have been a rather difficult time for the Trust. Like most institutions, the global pandemic took a toll on us. In our case, we saw a significant decline in our revenues close to zero, so we had to postpone our Creative Accelerator, cancel our Thought Leadership programme, cancel several planned exhibitions and initiatives and postpone this event by 16 months. Despite the reality of the new normal though, like the creatives we are, we continue, and we continue to bask, to bask in hope and today we are here.”

He also thanked the guests and all those who had supported the project.

“Let me thank our distinguished Guest of Honour, Professor Bodjawah. We’re thankful for his support, and from the institution he represents - Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in particular, the Department of Painting and Sculpture of The College of Art and Built Environment.”

The winner of the competition, Lois Arde-Acquah, said she was happy about the honour.

“I am very grateful. I thank my family and loved ones for their support and encouragement, my boss who was there for me and to myself for not giving up on me. This win means a lot to me, I thank God for it all,” she told the Daily Graphic.