Imagine a city in which the only work that creatives need to do to thrive is to pursue their talent. Accra - the capital of Ghana - is not yet that city. However – as Ghanaian music video director Nana Asihene recently tweeted - "The creative sector in Ghana has nurtured itself, raised itself, fed itself and managed itself..." His words speak to Accra's emergence over the past decade as a growing hub of art and cultural creativity.
Soon after independence in 1957, Accra had a bustling arts scene iconised by the Soul 2 Soul Concert in 1971 that brought artists like Santana, Ike and Tina Turner, and Wilson Pickett to Ghana to perform alongside Ghanaian legends like Kofi Ghanaba. Sadly, the country would subsequently descend into a decade of successive coups, food and fuel shortages as well as a two-and-a-half-year curfew that decimated the arts, triggering an exodus of artists abroad, back into rural Ghana or into the church.
At the frontlines of a recent resurgence in Ghanaian creativity stand a number of spaces carved into the city landscape by individuals and institutions dedicated to moving a Ghana that lives, loves and rewards creativity past imagination and into reality. The Advancing Creativity for Development in Ghana (ACIG) programme exists to provide much needed original research towards such cultural renewal in creative labour, entrepreneurship and government policy. Following a week of workshops around research into fashion, film, the visual arts and the performing arts, the members of the team from the University of Ghana felt it important to show members from the Copenhagen Business School and London’s Loughborough University a few of the spaces that Ghana's artists thrive in.
The Nubuke Foundation
The day began with a trip to the Nubuke Foundation in East Legon. Recently relaunched with a striking new industrial concrete structure, Nubuke describes its mission as providing a space dedicated to the recording, preserving and promoting of Ghanaian visual art, culture and heritage. In doing so, Nubuke has offered 13 years of support to innumerable artists in the form of graduate art exhibitions, housing fashion stores and providing space for younger arts collectives like the Ehalakhasa spoken word poetry community and the Accra Theatre Workshop (atw).
The Accra Theatre Workshop at Terra Alta
Founded by Elisabeth Sutherland and Emelia Asiedu, atw has since moved from Nubuke into its own space. Terra Alta is a creative hub on land purchased by Elisabeth’s grandmother: the legendary playwright and arts activist, Efua Sutherland. The atw team support fellow local artists at different stages of their careers providing them with opportunities for training, experimentation, showcase and (especially) performance. Young, driven and creative across several genres, the duo recently raised over $7000 towards the construction of Ghana’s first ever purpose-built black box theatre in Ghana which they have already begun constructing out of shipping containers.
The next stop on the ACIG creative & cultural tour was Antique Lemonade: an art space and gallery created by writer, restauranteur and ACIG advisory board member, Franka Maria Andoh, after she too recognized the dearth of spaces available to Accra’s many young creatives. Housed in the backyard of her popular restaurant, Cuppa Capuccino, she converted her late parent’s home into Antique Lemonade to provide the kind of space and support to other artists that her parents had given her. Taking advantage of the restaurant next door, the ACIG team grabbed lunch and bought items like shea butter and locally crafted jewellery from the female collective of small traders whose shop is also housed in the space.
Up next was Gallery 1957: the upmarket gallery housed in Accra’s 5-star Kempinski Hotel. Dedicated to spearheading international exchanges between contemporary West African art and the rest of the world, the Gallery (which is in fact composed of two galleries on the Kempinski premises) presents exhibitions, talks, performances, off-site projects and site-specific installations and commissions by some of the region’s most significant artists to bridge the gap between local and international audiences and provide a platform for local artists and art professionals to get global attention.
The team then visited Elle Lokko: a small concept store in the middle of Accra. Aimed primarily at women it houses a beautifully curated collection of some of Ghana’s best creative brands including clothmakers Threaded Tribes and Osei Duro, skincare company Kaeme, and gift card creators, Yobbings! It also opens it doors at night to become a venue for music and dance events.
+233 Jazz Bar and Grill
The last stop for the team was +233: the latest iteration of an open-air jazz club that started in 1960s Accra and once hosted Louis Armstrong before switching management over the years, becoming a museum dedicated to cocoa (one of Ghana’s top exports) at a point before it was restored to jazzy magnificence. Now a popular spot for more mature lovers of the kind of live music that once again rules the night across Accra, the jazz bar – named after Ghana’s country code - was a relaxing place to end the day’s creative tour.
By Kobina Ankomah-Graham