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13 October 2020

Meet At the Square in Lagos: Creative Producers International

How A Public Art Gallery Created A Sense of Collective Ownership in Lagos and other stories…

My understanding of my community, my city, and my work have changed astronomically because of my engagement with different people doing very interesting and dynamic things from different parts of the world.
Malaika Toyo, Creative Producer, Lagos

Creative Producers International was a programme led by Watershed designed to illuminate the work of, and respond to the needs of, a newly emergent category of creative practitioners called Creative Producers. A creative professional defined as someone who ‘acts as a broker forging collaborations and relationships, connects parts of a network together, puts people in touch with resources, identifies advantageous development routes for creative people, and frequently translates between different parts of the ecosystem where professional languages and approaches to work often differ.'

Fifteen incredible leaders working across contemporary art, placemaking, community engagement, corporate collaboration, urban innovation and social activism set out to learn and make change together.  These leaders came hailed from across the globe, from the  Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, UK and the USA. One of those was Malaika Toyo from Lagos, the founder of Made Culture, a project management and social development consultancy. Her work focuses on delivering high social impact projects within multiple sectors including cities and urban development, creative industries and technology.

Malaika spoke to us about her experience as a Creative Producer and her project.

According to the Lagos State Parks and Garden Agency (LASPARK), there are over 327 parks in Lagos State and we at Made Culture wanted to find out how they are currently being utilized. In 2018, Made Culture was 1 of 6 organizations to win a grant to produce a public space art installation as part of the Watershed’s Creative Producers International Initiative, which we titled Meet At the Square.

For Meet At the Square, we wanted to explore this idea of a traditional African Village square which by day is usually known as a space for social interaction and trade; and at night, comes alive as a hub that creates a nexus between play, storytelling, and artistic display. We knew that whatever we created had to be interwoven with how a community comes together to understand how a particular place creates a sense of interaction and togetherness.

Lagos Island was a perfect location for our idea as it is a diverse, but closely-knit community which showcases the story of modern Lagos, its rich culture, heritage and architecture. We located the installation at Mini Campos Square - a public and open space which has always and still acts as an informal meeting place for the community to hold regular communal meetings and events.

From the outset, we knew that we would have to work with the community to design what this installation was going to become. Working with urban planning students from the University of Lagos, we invited people in the community including business owners, students, schools, NGOs and government organizations to discuss, challenge and reimagine their thinking around the use of public spaces in Lagos State. Following an in-depth codesign process, we invited Nifemi Bello of NMbello Studio – a design studio based in Lagos to respond to our findings. He came up with the brilliant idea to work with recycle artists Taiwo Abisoye to design a public art gallery using sustainable and local materials.

“We looked to the environment to influence our design and material choice. We spent time observing residence around the square and its use as a prayer and community meeting ground. The idea was to design a space that would be functional and inspire all ages; creating a gallery space for the children and playground for the adults." – Nifemi Bello,
NMbello Studios

In the end, we asked people to paint, write or draw their response to the question "What Does Community Mean To You?", and then install it in the gallery. This was integral to inspiring a sense of ownership between members of the community who felt the gallery was for them and by them. What we found was that there is indeed a relationship between people and place which creates a great sense of value and attachment. Public space is an important component of urban planning; they are environments for interaction and exchange of ideas that impact the quality of the urban environment.

It is our hope to make Meet At the Square a travelling installation and share our learnings with city authorities as a toolkit for placemaking in public spaces in Lagos.

Read the full Creative Producers International report covering Malaika’s project and all of the other Creative Producers, produced by Watershed here.

Watershed (2020) Creative Producers International, Bristol: Watershed