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Art In The Right Place

visual_arts2In this era of economic downsizing and heavy cut on cost, artworks are still finding their ways onto the  walls and lobbies of corporate organisations. Could the seeming patronage mean better days ahead  for the artists? Ask  FUNKE OSAE-BROWN 

As Banke Okunola walks into the banking hall, the bright coloured painting hanging on the opposite hall catches his attention. The hues of colours resonate with him instantly and he could not help but move close to the painting to check for the artist’s name before completing his transaction. It was a brilliant piece by Abiodun Olaku. ‘The last time I saw a painting in the banking hall was in the U.K’, Ogunmodede thought to himself.

Corporate organisations in the country have come to understand the importance of artworks especially paintings to the beautification of their environment. Hence most interior designers have incorporated paintings and sculptures as integral parts of their designs. Today, art not just artwork has become recognised as an essential component of the built environment.  Even some bank managing directors are not left out in this trend. For instance, in 1990 when GTBank was opened by the duo, Fola Adeola and the late Tayo Aderinokun, the bank headquarters in Victoria Island was at the time a fresh breath in the architectural landscape of the city. But for the likes of Demola Olumide, an art enthusiast, the attraction to the bank then was the fact that the entire place was filled with soaring paintings of Adeola’s favourite painter Abraham Uyovbisere. “I fell in love (bought shares, and opened accounts) with the GTB”, Olumide discloses.

Today, there are over 2000 indigenous artworks hanging in corners, receptions, banking halls and even boardrooms of the bank across the country and overseas. And so also are thousands of artworks perfectly clinging on walls in many corporate offices across the country.

The works come in different genre, format, designs and looks from big names such as Bruce Onabrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Biodun Omolayo, late Ben Enwonwu among others visual art icons to younger artists such as Osahenye Kainebi, Ben Osaghae, Peju Alatishe and Lemi Ghariokwu,

Unoma Giese, Priscilla Nzimiro, among others. Yet, most visitors to these corporate places who are often preoccupied by their official visit and even staff hardly take notice of the beautiful creations by these gifted hands unless they are inclined towards aesthetics.

The early 1990s probably ushered in this culture of corporate patronage of arts and generous display of it in offices.  There are many corporate reasons for the action. Some corporate organisation do so with the mind that exhibiting quality art in the office gives your environment a cultural edge and adds a degree of sophistication to your surroundings. For the likes of GTBank, art in the office offers that all-important finishing touch that helps to enhance the office and provides a level of detail, which makes the bank stand out from the rest.

“What better way to appreciate and sustain creativity in the society than to support the arts. You create job, empower the artists and give value to his profession”, late Aderinokun said during the opening of an art expo at Terra Kulture some years back.

Beyond the obvious need to make workplace more pleasant for the employees who inhabit them, many corporate visionaries (usually at the rank of CEO) throughout the late 1990s to early 2000s came to view artwork as a platform for goodwill and respectability. In many instances, GTBank has reached out to the arts community and generously sponsored competitions on a local and international basis for original works to showcase in their facilities.

Despite losing major interior décor contract to art installations, photography, paintings and sculpture by these artists, MaryAnn Onwuka, an interior decorator, notes that beautiful artworks in offices inject dynamism into the office environment. “The workplace never grows stale, visitors and customers alike are better relaxed while employees are stimulated by their stunning surroundings”, she notes.

Nowadays, most corporate organizations not only commission artists to create unique works through their creative ingenuity, they also go to art auctions to buy what could be referred as corporate collections.

They also use the opportunity to restock their collections, acquire choice works by renowned old and contemporary artists or even appreciate the delightful handwork and masterpiece of some African creative hands.

If you were at Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos on March 1, 2010 at the fourth edition of Arthouse Contemporary Limited’s annual auction of modern and contemporary art, where Nigerian artworks and some from Ghana and Kenya were on offer, you will discover that almost half of the 108 works of renowned artists of the 20th century, as well as those by younger group of talented artists living in the region and also in the Diaspora were bought by corporate organisations.

Lemi Ghariokwu’s works on Fela which sold like hot cake end up in corporate reception and office walls. “I am always delighted to hear from those who know me that my works had been spotted on walls in some offices in Lagos. It means they will outlive me and what else does an artist want than that endorsement and fulfillment”, Ghariokwu says.

Truly, it would be difficult, if not altogether impossible, to envision a well-designed corporate office facility devoid of an artwork. Segun Lawal, a trained art manager says art in some form is an essential component of any working environment, whether it be in the Lagos skyline hosting high-profile corporate headquarter buildings or a modest start-up Internet loft space.

But while you may probably say hotels are more leisure than official, they house more artworks and decorations nowadays because of a seeming cultural renaissance on décor with African theme.

The growing presence on arts in corporate places, according to Lawal, is good for the artist’s image, career and economy and is a good concept by corporate vissioners who over time have come to discover that art is necessary to humanise the workplace.

But a top bank executive whose banks pay less attention to arts, says corporate organizations that patronise arts have come to realize that arts adds dimension and reflects different points of view of their client and society at large. “It is becoming a business asset, not an afterthought”.

But the few artworks in corporate places are beginning to create expanded responsibility for the architect or interiors specialist designing office space. The designer’s role now encompasses the broader psychological territory of selecting and placing art for optimum results. Whether working directly with a client or in collaboration with a well-trained art consultant, the designer must have the ability to effectively converge art and architecture into a harmonious composition.

However, in these days of corporate down-sizing and cutting of cost, going for arts, according to the executive, is thinking creatively in budget-driven times. Instead of buying expensive imported furniture, flower vases and glass decoration, a beautiful and indigenous artwork will make a difference  at the reception, lobby and even boardroom, argues the executive.