One of the treasures of the small but friendly Ivorian cultural scene at the moment is the Institut Goethe. If you follow Abidjan cultural life, you’ll quickly find the German cultural centre in the back streets of old Cocody. Yes, sometimes the Germans have funds to help support events, but what gets me more than anything is that really, at the end of the day, it’s just a house. The outdoor performance space is what elsewhere would be called a ‘yard’…with plastic chairs. The indoor space is a large room.
What do you need to set up one of Abidjan’s leading cultural venues? Simply one of the large houses that are found in their hundreds in Cocody, plus plastic chairs. Every now and again they have film festivals and premieres, which involves the extra expense of a ‘projector’.
What’s my point? You don’t need much. It’s nothing that any one of Abidjan’s grand families, medium-sized business owners or ministers present or past couldn’t do. There are plenty of large houses sitting empty – some because they belong to African Development Bank employees who left in 2003, some because they’re the subject of inheritance disputes, many because they were far too large in the first place and make no sense once the big man has passed away.
So why isn’t more being done? Why does it take a European government to host an Ivorian dance festival, a collection of photos, or a film premiere? What do you need for a film festival apart from plastic chairs and a projector? What do you need for a dance festival apart from a stage? What do you need for a photo exposition apart from photos on walls? There are actually cultural venues that are bigger and better equipped. Take the Charles Donwahi contemporary art foundation. Sounds like a great idea – but if they have one event a year, they’re pushing themselves hard. I don’t recall a cultural event there since 2010. It’s a fully-equipped space, with staff, but let’s not be too active now.
Perhaps it’s a mental thing. Maybe Ivorians now think an essential element of a cultural event is sponsorship by a mobile phone network and backing from the ministry. Really? Maybe we just don’t care enough about culture. How many times do you go to a cultural event organised by Ivorians, paid for by Ivorians and hosted by Ivorians?