By Ekemelu Nnoli
PALMWINE WOMEN: A REVISIT OF THE SUNSHINE PERIOD (1960 - 70), By BRUCE ONOBRAKPEYA|
It is quite heart wrenching to see how the effects of a poverty mind-set on the one hand and greed on the other are negatively impacting an otherwise promising and vibrant art industry in Nigeria.
I confess that I am relatively new to the art business and hence can probably afford myself a fresher look at things or perhaps take a more revolutionary approach on the subject matter, than others that have been on the scene for longer and have possibly gotten accustomed to and accepted the status quo.
Firstly, let me highlight who in my opinion can be referred to as the major players along the Art value-chain. From my perspective the major players along the Art Value-chain are who are: The Artist, the gallery owner, the curator and the collector/art enthusiast.
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For example, if you were to compare this value-chain to a Fast Moving Consumer Group (FMCG), or any other regular commercial value-chain, the Artist would be the Manufacturer, the gallery owner and curator would be the Distributor/Retailer while the collector/art enthusiast would be the End consumer. Along the regular commercial value-chain there is a strict code of conduct amongst the players to ensure a win-win for everyone and a level playing field that aims to ensure optimum satisfaction for all players. This is further secured by duly signed legal agreements protecting all parties. If for any reason the Manufacturer decides it must play at the retail level, then of course it is important that Recommended Retail Prices are strictly adhered to. A manufacturer wanted to play in the mix at the retail level can be to enable them conduct surveys, research and observe consumer patterns up close and more effectively. It might not be very distributor/retailer friendly but it works if the manufacturer adheres to certain rules of engagement that protects the interests of its distributors/retailers. It would be, for example counterproductive if the Manufacturer were to use his might to offer a pricing strategy that is below its set Recommended Retail Price (RRP). If the Manufacturer does retail directly and below the RRP, then it would be jeopardising the businesses of its distributors/retailers and risks putting them out of business, which actually would not be in their best interest and would defeat the whole essence of having a distributorship network in the first place.As we had previously broken down the Art value chain, let me begin to explain in detail why I chose to bring this issue to light. One might naturally think that as a gallery owner my opinion on the matter could be considered biased and I don’t really blame anyone for feeling or thinking so, but by the time I sink my teeth further into this matter, I strongly believe I would have made enough sense that would motivate artists, gallery owners and perhaps even collectors to get back to the drawing board to reconsider their current strategies on how they conduct their affairs.
From the little experience I have gathered thus far, in theory the status quo seems to be as follows: The artist exhibits his works at a gallery and leverages the gallery’s networks of collectors and ambience to showcase his works to the world. The artist’s works are sold and the artist gets paid an agreed sum for each painting sold.
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It would be lovely if in practice things usually went as smoothly as this. Unfortunately, things are not always as smooth as that. In some cases, the artists unfairly get short changed by the gallery owner and trust issues begin to arise. Some collectors on the other hand take advantage of this and try to boycott the gallery owner and seek out the artists to make purchases directly from the artist at a fraction of the cost. This happens around the world but in Nigeria it is even more extreme. The artist unknowingly or sometimes knowingly cheapens the worth or value of his works but does not really care since his/her first priority is to put food on his/her table. A mistrust along the entire value-chain begins to build up and as a result we have what is going on today. The gallery owners do not trust their collectors/art enthusiasts with their artists and likewise the artists do not fully trust the integrity of the gallery, who are supposed to be like their agents and most trusted allies. Some gallery owners feel betrayed because they have painstakingly promoted this artist and brought him/her into the limelight and therefore expect unflinching loyalty in return, while on the other hand some artists feel deeply hurt and used by some of their gallery owners that have, despite all the hard work they have seen them put into creating their pieces, chosen to short change them by not sticking to the initially agreed payment terms and taken advantage of their now seemingly desperate situation. The collector then also further exploits the rift between artist and the gallery owner by wooing the artist and making direct purchases. In my opinion the biggest benefactor from this rift is the collector. However, you can’t blame the collector really as he is nothing other than an investor trying to maximise profit by seizing the opportunity made possible by the discord in the artist-gallery relationship.
Back to why I decided to write this article. I wanted to highlight the apparent challenges in the art industry, what the causes of these challenges are and then suggest a way forward. In summary, I would put it as follows:
Challenges: Some gallery owners are short changing artists and are not being the persons of integrity they should be. This is eroding the trust artists have in them and is driving them right into the arms of collectors. Loyalty and respect must be mutual. I believe if a gallery owner shows true loyalty to the artist through integrity, then it is only natural that the artist will return that loyalty or at least appear to have a conscience when approached by the collector. One might consider this as being naïve but it’s worth a try.
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Artists on the other are circumventing the relationship between gallery owner and their collectors since they refuse to respect the sequence of the art value-chain and have chosen to accept the advances being made by the collectors and be disloyal to their gallery owner, who are supposed to be their agents and closest allies. As earlier stated, the gallery owner also shares the blame.
Collectors boycott the gallery owner and thereby threaten their existence and deny less privileged upcoming artists the opportunity to promote and showcase their works to the world.
Causes: Gallery owners and artists alike do not seem to be guided by any sense of business ethics and as such find themselves being dishonest and disloyal to one another.
Collectors are not necessarily interested in the growth or welfare of the artists but rather are just solely interested in profiteering from their investment. No one can really blame them right?
Artists tend to think too short term of the effect of such disloyalty to their gallery owner who are supposed to be their agents and promoters and as such tend to show more allegiance towards the collector than the gallery owner.
Way forward: Gallery owner need to win back the trust of the artists. The artists need to be given the assurance that their gallery owner who is also supposed to be their agent, has their best interest at heart. Gallery owner should also consider signing formal agreements with the artists that are not just lopsided but equitable and fair. The artist may also need to offer the gallery exclusivity for a certain period so the gallery owner can rest assured all his promotional efforts would not be in vain and his investment is secured at least for a certain period. If this can be done in other industries including sports and music industry, why should it be strange to the art industry? Loyalty and respect must be mutual. I believe if a gallery owner shows true loyalty to the artist through integrity, then it is only natural that the artist will return that loyalty or at least appear to have a conscience when approached by the collector.
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Artists need to start thinking more long term and not just live in “the now”. They need to understand that they stand to gain more in the long run if they keep their allegiance to their gallery owner, whose “bread and butter” comes from promoting them and their works. Even if as an artist it is only natural that a collector will definitely try to find his way to strike a deal directly with you, then at least adhere to a Recommended Retail Price so you don’t undermine the efforts of your gallery who is putting everything on the line to put you out there. It would generally make sense to respect the sequence of afore mentioned value-chain, after all when you want to book a performing artiste you don’t call him directly but go through his agent/manager. It just makes relationships tidier and more professional. In business we all become more proficient and effective when we tend to focus more on our core competences e.g. the artists focus on creating new works and the gallery owners focus on packaging, showcasing, marketing and selling the artist’s works. It is unethical that a gallery owner would put out works of a certain artist at a certain price and then the artist on the other hand would be offering similar works for dumping prices to the collector directly. What does an artist stand to gain by rubbishing the efforts of the gallery? With such acts of sabotage an artist only ends up devaluing his/her worth on the art scene.
As for the art collectors, all I can do is appeal to them that they try to put the interest of the Nigerian Art industry before their own. Help the Nigerian Art Industry by promoting the art galleries who in turn promote the artists. Try to imagine what the art landscape would look like without the galleries. Imagine if there were fewer art galleries and art exhibitions to attend and enjoy wining and dining, networking, the ambience etc. This will only be possible if we continue to show support for the efforts of the gallery owners.
In conclusion, I suggest that artists and gallery owners alike should continue to work closer together and understand that only a win-win scenario is the best way forward to ensure a profitable co-existence.
Ekemelu Nnoli is the director of Denk Spaces, a 21st century “Entrepreneurship Development Hub and Work-In Art Gallery/Cultural Centre”, that provides start-ups and established businesses with very comfortable, productive and cost effective serviced office spaces embedded in a creative, inspiring and artistic ambience at amazingly affordable rates. Denk Spaces is an innovative mélange of entrepreneurship and art in a multi-functional building that aims to promote entrepreneurship, art and culture as a means of job and wealth creation. It is a place that inspires and nurtures new ideas to be incubated; where there are no boundaries between art, craft, design, and thought. Innovation is birthed through deep thought and exposure to art enhances clear thinking. Aside from serving as a “Business Green House” for nurturing Nigerian MSMEs to become vibrant and viable businesses and generate jobs especially for Nigerian youth, Denk Spaces is an art gallery that serves as a melting pot for art enthusiasts and cultural centre for the exchange of cultural heritage between nations. Nigerians, emerging artists/artistes, culinary chefs, the diplomatic community and foreigners get the opportunity to share, explore and appreciate diverse cultural heritage under one roof i.e. music, visual art, culinary art etc.
Nnoli brings a wealth of experience gathered over the years, while honing his skills in business development and project management in Europe and Nigeria. He has held senior management positions in organisations spanning across micro-finance, socio-economic development, design, manufacturing, customer service, strategy consultancy and event management industries. Being a concept development and project implementation expert with an entrepreneurial spirit, he set up ventures such as Solucen, a leader in the alternative and renewable energy sector and FruitMax (fresh fruit juice manufacturing). He is a fervent believer in maintaining the highest standards of quality at all times and that on no account should quality ever be compromised, even if it requires you going the extra mile. As a graduate with a never ending thirst for knowledge, every challenge in his view is an opportunity to learn something new. Just as he strongly believes his passion for motorcycling creates a symbiotic relationship between “man and machine”, so does he set out to create a symbiosis between concept development and an organisation’s mission and vision.