Policy action revives Togolese arts scene

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2011 marked a new era for Togo’s artists and cultural professionals with the landmark adoption of its first cultural policy; the reinforcement of its Ministry of Arts and Culture; and the creation of a Fund to support culture. These bold measures have signalled an unprecedented political commitment to boost the country’s creative industries and enhance its arts potential.

Digital artist, Mr Efui Wonanu, has welcomed the government’s advances. Like many others involved in Togo’s arts and cultural scene, he feels it is high time for the Togolese society to be exposed to the country’s array of artistic expressions and, in particular, to its rich contemporary art.  Graduated from L’École nationale des Beaux-arts (National School of Fine Arts) in Paris, Mr Wonanu came back to his native Togo in 2005. He recalls discovering an extremely fragile arts scene with limited space for artists to create or exhibit their work. Today, he said, “the situation has become even worse, with the regions bearing the brunt.”

Aware of the urgent need to curb the decline, the Ministry of Arts and Culture recently geared up its efforts and developed a meticulous 10-year Plan with the support of UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD). The Plan aims to speed up and guide the implementation of the country’s forward-looking cultural policy. To help them prioritise the much-needed investments, the Ministry consulted with scores of artists like Mr Wonanu, as well as cultural professionals and institutions from across the country.

“We were able to express our needs and expectations in terms of training, financial support for our projects, working conditions and visibility,” explained Mr Wonanu, who keenly participated in the consultation that took place in Lomé and in the regions.

A two-day workshop in Lomé kick-started the series of consultation with the artists and cultural professionals. The event brought together more than 50 representatives from different government departments, regional Arts and Culture directors, cultural associations as well artists and other sector professionals. Together they were able to identify the seven strategic pillars the 10-year Plan should contain. These include: training and education in cultural entrepreneurship and information and communication technologies; promoting heritage and identity; infrastructure and equipment; cultural management; financing for arts and culture; encouraging regional cultures; and greater cooperation and cultural diplomacy.

Spearheading the initiative, Mr Zohou Comlanvi from the Ministry of Arts and Culture explained that this consultation was the first of its kinds. Enthused by the results, he said, “the participation of all key actors was instrumental to creating the Plan and guarantees a more successful and long term implementation.”

More detailed assessments in the country’s six regions followed and helped produce a very complete picture of the resources available and identify most pressing needs throughout the country.

Meetings and thematic discussions were also organised to study more carefully topics such as cultural policies and cultural statistics, the involvement of artists in the implementation of the country’s cultural policy and the new Fund to support culture.

“For 50 years, we undertook isolated actions without a real barometer,” recalled Mr Zohou. “The significant progress today is that our cultural sector is governed by a policy and an action plan with clear objectives and indicators to help us measure results,” he explained.

Work to launch the new Plan is already underway. The funding mechanism for culture by the Government will soon be fully operational, with some USD 800,000 available to help bolster Togo’s cultural sector. Other policy documents in the field of cinema and publishing industries have already been drafted and submitted to the Council of Ministers for their approval.

Mr Wonanu’s hopes, and those of his colleagues, are high. Mindful of the many challenges that lie ahead, he insists this plan will encourage artists and cultural professionals and “bring the many unvalued qualities of Togo’s contemporary art back to the scene.”  

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