Members of Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) at the University College of Management Studies are reviving the country‚Äôs arts and craft industry which is on the verge of collapse.
The students, who are taking practical steps to promote the handicraft industry, are reviving the Center for National Culture through business and economic initiatives such the annual Artisans Festival.
The first in a series of Artisan festivals dubbed, ‚ÄėArtifest‚Äô opened at the Center for National Culture for three days to the public.
A series of cultural activities and seminars as well as exhibitions were also held in Accra.
Evans Hokey, SIFE UCOMS President, said the main objective is to expose Ghanaians to the indigenous arts industry as well as attract more patrons, including foreign tourists to the Centre.
He said an earlier research under its needs assessment identified that there were about 2500 artisans at the Center for National Culture who had over 25,000 dependents of which 70 per cent were school dropouts.
The research also indicated that 70 per cent of people living the Accra do not where the Center for National Culture is located.
Hundreds of artisans are participating in the bazaar where products such as traditional crafts, cloths, jewelry and other art works¬† would be displayed.
Kizoto Amartey, Public Relations Officer of the Center for National Culture, commended the students for the initiative.
He noted that ‚Äúthe main challenge at the Centre is with the issue of security, you know we operate as open market system unlike museums where there are only exhibits and people go in to see in a regulated environment.‚ÄĚ
He noted that migrants from all parts of the country and other neighbouring countries referred to us ‚Äúgoro boys,‚Äô were engaged in criminal activities at the Centre.
He noted that measures were being put in place to address some of the challenges as a mater of urgency.
An eight-member task force, he said, had been put in place to deal with the security of tourists and buyers who patronize items at the center.
He said 206 shops are being occupied by the members of the crafts Association while 156 shops are owned by producers of various art works with the textiles association inhabiting 181 shops.
74 shops referred to as annex, he noted, had been occupied by other people ‚Äúand we have to ensure the environment is conducive enough for both our tenants and the visitors.‚ÄĚ
He said, ‚ÄúCurrently, hawking is prohibited and we are working with the police and the leaders of the three main associations to put an end to it. We are also looking at the issue of squatters to check instances where tourists complain of stolen items,‚ÄĚ said Mr Amartey.
There are reports that some traders at the center overprice their products in an attempt to dupe customers, especially the foreign buyers.
Explaining further, he said, ‚ÄúWe can not regulate prices because we do not know how much they buy their raw materials and what goes into the production.‚ÄĚ
Mr Amartey stated that ‚Äúthe centre organizes seminars for its tenants and we are teaching them to understand that marketing is not just about selling and making revenue but establishing contacts with customers as well.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe intend to hold programmes that would attract the public to the centre and we are also considering introducing tour guards to help our tourists.
Bature Ahmed Quarm, chairman of the Arts & Craft Dealers Association at the Centre for National Culture, popularly referred to as Arts Centre, in an exclusive interview, told CITY & BUSINESS GUIDE that ‚Äúsometimes foreigners come here and buy the original and then you find a similar product made by the Chinese on the market.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe development is killing the industry as most of the traders and artisans have started purchasing the counterfeit products which are also sometimes promoted by Ghanaians who buy the original and then send it to China for duplication,‚ÄĚ he noted.
Mr. Quarm, who has been operating in the industry for the past 22 years, appealed to all stakeholders to help save the arts industry by preventing cheap foreign products from collapsing the local industry.
Mr Quarm noted that sales had dropped drastically to about 40 per cent due to poor publicity, lack security for patrons who are sometimes heckled by hawkers and hoodlums living near the centre.
Ernest Smith from the United States of America, who has been in Ghana for a month, was seen buying some art work at the centre.
He said, ‚ÄúThis is my second visit to the place and it is very impressive. The people are nice. There is life music here as the people play the drums,‚ÄĚ Mr. Smith.
‚ÄúFor the prices you can always negotiate and that makes buying here more exciting.‚ÄĚ
¬†By Emelia Ennin Abbey