“We are promoting that principle…that those who contribute actively to enriching lives and enhancing our creative industry get their due, even after leaving active work life.” Eric Fajemisin, Chief Executive Stanbic IBTC Pensions.

I recently came across an article published in the Ethiopian Business Review, that pleasantly surprised me, entitled “Insurance for Art.” While I have written about the need for art insurance, understanding the value of art, Corporate Affairs Service Manager, Fikru Tsegaye pens from a different perspective. Fikru’s focus is on the well being of the artists, most of which are self-employed and without pensions and insurance, a serious problem during times of crisis. His article is broad; advocating for coverage of art, musical instruments, equipment, concerts and exhibitions but he makes an equally compelling plea for artists noting, “We have shockingly witnessed Ethiopian artists seeking donations and financial support to cover emergencies such as medical or funeral expenses. If the art community could plan and negotiate affordable insurance coverage they can avoid ill-fated consequences. In a country of rich art collections and profound artists, underwriting suitable insurance for art and artists could indeed be in high demand.” So who is responsible? Is this a “build it and they will come” scenario? In other words should insurance companies create and market products for artist and galleries or should the arts community take the lead? For me, the fact that others are writing about this and said articles are not placed on the back pages of papers and magazines, where most art related articles are placed, provides hope.
Our optimism is evidenced daily on this continent of 55 countries where myriad examples of innovative ideas help us grow in new areas including the creative cultural sector. One example is Nigeria’s Art X Lagos, West Africa’s first international art fair. Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC, namely Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers Limited (SIPML) is set to sponsor ART X Modern, recognizing top African artist of the 20th century. Eric Fajemisin, Chief Executive Stanbic IBTC Pensions remarked, “Being Nigeria’s largest pensions manger, we have the responsibility to ensure that our customers retire well, so that they have something to fall back on post work-life. We are also promoting that principle which holds that those who contribute actively to enriching lives and enhancing our creative industry get their due, even after leaving active work life.” Art X Lagos, in its 3rd year, attracts international media, collectors, art industry heavy hitters and ofcourse artists from Africa and the Diaspora. The 2019 fair opens in Lagos on November 1st with names to watch for- Senegalese Soly Cissé, South African Lady Skollie and Ethiopians Yohannes Tesfaye and Tizita Berhanu.
I first met Tizta almost a year ago when seeking female artists to include in an exhibit I was curating for and at the UNECA on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. Her work was emotionally raw. Her large glaring portraits of men and women wearing forlorn expressions seemed to scream through their eyes, yet their postures were so composed. Her talent is clear and potential immense and I knew she would be a voice in the visual art world, worthy of notice. After our exhibition in December 2018, Tizita was signed by Addis Fine Art, who will present her work at Art X Lagos. A 2013 graduate of Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Tizita reportedly “…became fascinated by ‘love’ and used her work to explore all its facets, particularly sorrow.” Her pallet of deep sultry blues and greens dominate her canvas through fresh brush strokes that speak to her confidence and connectivity.
As with Tizita and other artists whose work is exhibited abroad, they become vicarious ambassadors, generating great interest in our culture and country in general. This alone should encourage a moral duty to protect artists allowing them to live and even die with dignity after all their sacrifice and contributions? Again, hope is on the horizon thanks to the Ethiopian PM Dr. Abyi Ahmed who has been an advocate for the arts, understanding how it adds value across the board. However equal attention needs to be paid to the actual artists, avoiding the “pass the cup” approach when health and life are at risk. Artists and their creations need to be recognized and insured… bottom line. Several years ago I started a monthly exhibition at Capital Hotel in tribute to our senior artists. The roster included Desta Hagos, Worku Mamo and Tadesse Belayneh. Tadesse passed a couple years ago leaving a legacy through hundreds of his students taught at the Art School over the decades. It is important to honor, respect and regard these artists in their lifetime. It is my hope that public and private stakeholders will continue to recognize and value the sector while preserving, protecting and promoting our national treasures, evidence of our commitment to not just the arts but our beloved artists.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.