Benin City [Friday, January 27]- Benin’s emerging arts and culture scene gets another jolt of energy with yet another new initiative. Led by EMOWAA and funded by the Open Society Foundation in Africa (OSF Africa), ‘Open Learning’ sets out to get young people excited about their local histories and the prospects for meaningful careers in the creative industry. In a debrief workshop held in Benin City on 27th January 2023, EMOWAA shared the early outcomes of its immersive extra-curricular learning programme with its partners and stakeholders. The vibrant array of attendants included persons from the Institute of Benin Studies, University of Benin, the National Museum in Benin and the Edo State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology along with other independent artists and cultural practitioners. Speaking to those gathered, Ore Disu, Director of EMOWAA Pavilion – a state-of-the-arts research facility currently under construction in the city’s center – explained “Skilled curators, conservators and archaeologists are in short supply on the continent – especially in countries like Nigeria. We are consciously working to design programmes that will expand opportunities for young people to be trained and get involved in the care, study and representation of their heritage.” The Open Learning’s pilot phase ran from October to December 2022, and engaged 527 students from five schools:
· UniBen Demonstration Secondary School (UDSS), · Federal Government Girls College (FGGC) Benin, · Ogbe Junior Secondary School, · Anglican Girls Grammar School (AGGS) and · Phelim High School.
This sizeable group of predominately 13-16 year old took part in over 30 hours of in-class learning sessions and 16 hours of an array of out-of-school activities. This included visiting the live EMOWAA Archaeology research site where Dr Olusegun Opadeji, Senior Lecturer of Archaeology at the University of Ibadan, took them on a tour of the site. They also visited Nosona Art Studio, owned by renowned Artist Enotie Ogbebor, where they engaged in pottery making under the supervision of professional ceramists hosted by Nosona Art Studio. Speaking on her role as a programme facilitator, Iwinosa Oyakhire emphasized the rationale behind ensuring activities were tailored to the needs and capacities of learning institutions in Nigeria. “You can’t roll out a successful educational programme without first understanding the learning environment. A critical part of our approach involves working closely with teachers, students and educational institutions to co-design and deliver learning products and events. Before setting out, we asked questions and we listened. Today we are here to say ‘Here’s what we did together. Did it work? How do we do it better?’ “ EMOWAA then concluded with announcing the intention for further development and expansion of such initiatives. Closing the session, Ore Disu noted “Such pipeline development would not just benefit people in Benin City or even Edo, but should also expand to other young learners, educators and scholars across Nigeria and West Africa. We are working towards rolling out seasonal internships and volunteer opportunities. These interactions will bring important histories, archives, and research projects to life for young learners.” EMOWAA is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to build a self-sustaining ecosystem in West Africa for heritage, craftsmanship, and contemporary arts by providing an environment for learning, research, and exhibition, as well as a workspace for artists, artisans and scholars in Benin City, Nigeria. Open Society Foundation is an organization in West Africa, established in 2000 as a part of the global network of Soros Foundations. Open Society Foundation aims to promote open societies where democracy, good governance, the rule of law, basic freedoms and widespread civic participation prevail and the value of cooperation with similarly minded groups and governments.