Allure Cover: The Business Side Of Bolanle Austen- Peters, CEO Terra Kulture
Bolanle Austen-Peters, CEO Terra Kulture is an enigma, who has contributed phenomenally in promoting and retaining the Nigerian culture.
A lawyer, entrepreneur and art enthusiast, Bolanle who recently clocked 50, is one of the women who has shown that they are above the limiting rules devised by the Nigerian society.
She founded the Nigerian Arts, Education and Cultural Organisation, Terra Kulture in 2003.
With the creation of Bolanle Austen-Peters Production, (BAP) in 2013, she raised the bar in the theatre Industry with the production of “Saro the musical’’ and “Wakaa the Musical’’-2015, which became the first Nigerian musical ever to be staged at London’s famous West End and the Shaw Theatre ,where it sold out tickets.
In 2016, she produced “93 Days,” a Nigerian drama thriller film, directed and co-produced by Steve Gukas. It tells the story of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Nigeria and its successful containment by health workers from a Lagos hospital.
Then came “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens” -2018; and only recently, “Queen Moremi, “a play that brought to life the rich and colourful ancestral Yoruba heritage, through the deeds of the great queen, using music, dance and costumes.
Bolanle Austen-Peters is the daughter of Chief Afe Babalola, Senior Advocate of Nigeria. She has a Master’s Degree in International Law, from the London School of Economics and also graduated from the University of Lagos, in Political science. She worked in her father’s law firm before working with the United Nations High Commission for Human right, in Switzerland.
In this interview with Temitope Ojo, she speaks about her journey into the creative industry; what is responsible for the seeming dearth of theatre plays; how she has influenced a change in that sector and life at 50. As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, this month, she has a word for women, on how to achieve and make an impact in Nigeria.
You recently clocked fifty. How does it feel?
I am happy and grateful to God for the privilege. I feel good.
What are some lessons life has taught you, so far?
Follow your passion. You will never regret it.
You are a woman of many parts; a lawyer, art enthusiasts, movie producer and director. You are also known as someone who is at the forefront of promoting and retaining the Nigerian culture. Which one of these gives you more satisfaction?
I love my work as a movie director, maybe because that is where I am now, and it allows me to be creative.
With all that you’ve done since 1997 with Terra Kulture and other works; would you say the arts and culture industry in Nigeria is growing at the pace you expected?
The creative industry is growing, but there is room to do more. When we started, there was little or no appreciation for Nigerian art. Now, people are turning out to see art exhibitions, Nigerian ’art auction’ houses have sprung up, one of them is our Terra Kulture and Mydrim Art Auction House. There is also an Arthouse Auction. You have a lot of galleries like Nike Art Gallery, Mydrim Gallery that existed before us. We also have art festivals now, where you have art exchange like Art X.
We show a lot of plays in our theatre; a lot of shows will also be at the Cinemas. And this improves the quality of the craft: the lighting, the sound, the stage. It allows actors to bring out their best, and for me, that is the most important thing. Things are springing up all over the place, and it is a testament to the fact that Nigerian art is growing.
Terra Kulture has hosted many exhibitions. Which one would say you enjoyed most and why?
The Terra Kulture/Mydrim Gallery annual auctions are my favourite because it allows us to showcase many artists together. I conceived the Terra Kulture Mydrim Auction house in the year 20 10, and it has been able to act as a bridge between the business world and the Arts; hence, a networking platform for artists, collectors and art Lovers.
You didn’t study Theatre Arts. How and why did you come up with BAP Productions?
Naturally, I was tutored in the arts having studied Law, so I grew up enjoying literature and theatrical performances. I set up BAP Productions out of the desire to bring back the dying theatre-going culture. There was a need.
The idea was to create a platform for production houses to stage their plays and thrive in the Nigerian theatre industry. I noticed that practitioners needed a space where they can showcase their plays and that was why I opened an underutilised space in the building to them for free, for seven years. Years down the line, I found my love for ‘directing,|’ and I’ve taken a course in ‘directing.’
How would you describe your experience as a producer/director so far?
The journey has been engaging and challenging with so many hurdles to overcome. However, it has been an interesting one. Talents are abundant in this country, and increasingly, one realises that the wealth of Nigeria is actually in the creative mind, and not in the oil that we have.
What are some of those successes that you’ve recorded so far with BAP productions?
BAP Productions has received international recognition and global acceptance. Most of all, we are telling African stories accurately through our own eyes. Our movie, “93days “ selected in eight international movie festivals, including Toronto and Chicago Film Festivals was a testament to the acceptance of our productions. We have staged our plays in different parts of the world, and currently, we are preparing to stage “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens” in South Africa.
In the 80s theatre was alive, not so anymore. Why?
The reasons include lack of infrastructure, few theatres and lack of government support for the creative industry. However, we have been able to bring that back. We now have people coming to Terra Kulture, every Sunday for the past nine years due to our Theatre @Terra initiative, which has made production possible for theatre houses, by creating a platform for them to promote their art and creativity. We want to also thank the Lagos State Government for keying into our initiative, by building four additional theatres in Lagos State, for the promotion of the creative industry.
In your opinion, do you think we have playwrights like late Ola Rotimi, Prof Ahmed Yerima, Wole Soyinka and stage actors that will ensure a return of the hay days of theatre plays?
Yes, we have great writers, and we have amazing actors. What we lack are platforms for them to thrive and be discovered.
Many stage-trained actors have moved into home movies. How do we get them to come back to the stage?
You see, once the actors have a stage, they will perform. Like I said earlier, it is the lack of a platform that pushed them to home movies. Now they have started coming back because we have a host of seasoned actors on our productions from Omotola Jolade-Ekeinde to Kemi Lala, Kunle Afolayan, Femi Branch and many others.
You have achieved quite a few things (putting it mildly) in life. Would you adjudge yourself a success?
People judge you; you don’t judge yourself. I will merely say I am playing my part. I urge others to play theirs too. For me, I’m on a journey. I’ve been able to add value to a lot of lives; I’ve been able to create fun for myself in the course of this. I’m grateful to God, and I believe that we’ve got a long way to go.
The theme for this year’s International Women Day is: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. As someone who worked with women and helped to uplift their arts over the years. Would you say women at the top are doing enough to transform the lives of other women?
We as members of organisations like the International Women’s Society, WIMBIZ and a host of other excellent organisations, I will say women are doing a whole lot uplift others.
How do we ensure transforming women’s lives in rural areas, as well and not just restrict it to the urban areas only?
We should have a rural-urban inclusion in the policies that will help provide for our women.
The #meToo movement emerged as a result of sexual harassment in the film industry. Sex for roles is prevalent here, HOW DO YOU PROCESS THIS? What are you and other successful professionals doing to stop this debasement of women?
It requires a collective effort and re-engineering of those who debase women. In my small sphere of influence, I ensure this doesn’t happen. I assume if all of us ensure that in our little circles we prevent this, then the momentum will be great.
Mentorship is not a widespread practice in Nigeria, but it’s a practice that can help women to bond, and pull up others. Why do you think it is so difficult here, and would you, do you mentor others?
Yes, I do have mentees. And I will say we do practice mentorship in Nigeria. That’s what we do at WIMBIZ, WISCAR, FATE Foundation, and I am sure there are a lot of other remarkable organisations that mentor women.
What would be your advice for the woman out there who feels she can’t achieve anything, especially in a patriarchal society like Nigeria?
You know, our circumstances are different, so I cannot give a recipe that will fit all hats and head. But, I will say, ‘change your mindset.’ The actual change comes from within. It is also essential that women should remain strong. The truth of the matter is everybody has to develop their core, as human beings, and hopefully through prayers and hard work all our desires will come to pass. Find yourself a mentor, join organisations, where you can learn and ultimately follow your passion .