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Five Cowries Initiative launches creative arts education Program

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By Osa Mbonu-Amadi

Call it the convergence of art, education, and water transportation in Lagos, and you would be absolutely right. That is what took place on 10 April 2019 at the official launch of Five Cowries Initiative’s 2019 theme, “My Story of Water”, at the Five Cowries Terminal, Falomo Roundabout, Ikoyi, Lagos.

L-R: Yemisi Mokuolu, Co-founder, Five Cowries Initiative (and Director, Hatch Ideas); Ladi Lawanson, Honourable Commissioner for Transport, Lagos State; Steve Ayorinde, Honourable Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Lagos State; Polly Alakija, Founder, Five Cowries Initiative and Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, Managing Director, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) at the 2019 launch of the Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative, held in Lagos.

But what are the connections between these activities, art, education and water transportation? Founder of Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative, Polly Alakija, explains:

“In my role as the chairperson of Lagos State Council for arts and culture, one of the conversations we have been having is how to bring arts and culture to a very broad audience so that led to conversation to about bringing arts into public arts infrastructure. Everyday there are 13 million commuters in Lagos State, and they may spend an average of 5 hours commuting. How do you make that commuting experience better for people? And one way of doing it is making that passage richer and more enjoyable, and what we can do is to bring arts into the infrastructure.

“Around the world you have similar programs, you have art in airport; you have art in underground in London, in buses, and art in train stations. So that’s that was the beginning of that conversation.”  

‘My Story of Water’ offers an inclusive route to education; enhancing teaching skills in the State for positive educational and environmental outcomes.

The launch brought together key stakeholders in the private sector, as well as government, education, art and civil society.

In Lagos State alone, approximately 25% of children drop out at primary level and 60% do not complete secondary education. Ensuring that all children have access to education has the potential to transform lives and is a vital component in building the human capacity that is central to the State, and the country’s future economic development.

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To address this, the Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative (Five Cowries) was founded in 2018 by muralist, artist, educator and children’s book author, Polly Alakija with co-founders Yemisi Mokuolu [Director, Hatch Ideas] and Damilola Emmanuel [Managing Director, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA)] in partnership with Teach For Nigeria, LASWA, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Jackson, Etti & Edu (Legal & IP Advisors) and africapractice (Communications Advisors).

Five Cowries aims to offer an inclusive route to education that makes learning fun and improves school attendance and results by enhancing the quality and capacity of Arts Education and teaching skills in Lagos in order to have a positive impact on educational outcomes such as improved numeracy and literacy.

Speaking further, Polly Alakija said “creativity is the currency of the future. Our initiative aims to fuse the 3Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) with the “4Cs” Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity, as we believe that a knowledge of how to use language creatively are vital tools in successful communication and collaboration”.

Five Cowries is working closely with Teach for Nigeria to increase teacher capacity. As the first and only organization to partner young leaders from diverse academic backgrounds in an extended service initiative, Teach For Nigeria – delivery partner for the Five Cowries Initiative – recruits, trains and supports outstanding young leaders to teach in underserved schools, in low-income communities. Arts literacy is proven to help children to develop design thinking, enhance creativity, improve collaboration and develop critical thinking. It also acts as a strong mechanism for improving attendance rates, as interactive and visual teaching methods increase children’s engagement levels and so, desire to participate. The Five Cowries Initiative will help build the capacity of Teach For Nigeria Fellows to enhance the creative skills of their students.

Chairman Teach for Nigeria, Gbenga Oyebode, in response to questions about the partnership, said, “Teach for Nigeria focuses on education and leadership; our aim is to close the gaps around educational inequities. We understand the impact of our activities on beneficiaries’ lives and are always on the look-out for new approaches for sustainable impact, which is why this partnership with Five Cowries Initiative is important”.

Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, MD, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) said, “This partnership with Five Cowries will open the minds of young and old to its significance and the need for maintenance of our waterways. The children’s artwork will be brought into our space and showcased through year-round art exhibitions and installations at Falomo Ferry Terminal, Ikorodu Ferry Terminal, Falomo Bridge underpass, Eko Bridge underpass and Elegbata Jetty, open to people to see the them.”

In addition to building teacher capacity, the Initiative has also established a range of opportunities for the work that the students produce, to be showcased both in Lagos and internationally. Its 2019 theme ‘My Story of Water’ will encourage the students to tell visual stories about water and sustainability in their environment. The Initiative will select 30 classes of students to produce artwork that gives the 1,800 participating pupils perspective on the importance of water in their daily lives. The theme follows from its pilot project in 2017, ‘Flying Flotilla’, in which students produced artwork on canoes; the installation was seen by 1.5 million visitors during its month-long display on the South Bank [London, UK]. This was followed by an installation of painted umbrellas telling stories that addressed various issues around rivers and our waterways, in 2018.

Sponsors of the Five Cowries initiative include TY Danjuma Foundation, Zenith Bank, MTN Foundation, Sacvin Products and Kansai Plascon. The Initiative has also partnered with the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research, Thames Festival Trust (UK), Goethe-Institut (Nigeria), One World Sustainable Development (South Africa), Adobe Inc. and The Montessori Centre International.

Five Cowries Initiative will commence the first phase of the 2019 project in April, working with the children to design artworks that represent their experiences with water. These artworks will be showcased at SIWI World Water Week in Stockholm, in August; the Totally Thames Festival, in London, in September and an exhibition at the Five Cowries Lagos Ferry Terminal, in October. These activities will mark the beginning of the initiative’s four-year programme with LASWA


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