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5 things I've learned from organizing a festival in Abidjan

In January, I organized the first edition of the LADR ARTS Festival in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. It happened over three days, and was dedicated to the promotion of diverse Ivorian artists and more generally to encourage the pursuit of creative careers in Cote d’Ivoire. The festival proposed: three types of masterclasses (acting, photography, and modeling); a photoshoot workshop to create collaborations between models and photographers, two art exhibitions, a talent show and, of course, the opportunity to network and meet other creatives. It was a complete festival offering a different experience from what has been made before in Abidjan. Overall, it went pretty well, actually better than I had expected when I think about how difficult the process to organize it was. Yes yes yes, the struggle was real BUT as I always say, there are no mistakes, only good lessons, which will help you make better choices in the future. Without further ado, I shall share with you the five main lessons I learned from organizing an event in Abidjan.

1. Promoting an event needs a lot of time

When organizing an event, the way you communicate about it, is obviously one of the most important steps, as it is supposed to bring more people to this event. I started advertising the festival about a month before its starting date, which I thought could be enough. I was still in London, juggling between University, my career, and L’Art De Rêver which, as you can imagine, is not an easy thing to do. However, I was full of hope that social media would be a great tool to advertise it properly, and that people in Abidjan would be excited to have the opportunity to learn more about artistic careers, etc... and I was dreaming.

Promoting an event in Abidjan is very challenging. Whatever your event is, make sure to start advertising it at least 3 months before, and ideally 6 months before. What I also realized is how important sponsors were in Cote d’Ivoire. I guess people see it as validation from bigger companies when, in my opinion, it doesn’t really mean anything. Sponsoring is all about money, it doesn’t mean the event is going to be good. What it means though. is that the organizer will probably have more resources but it doesn’t guarantee good content, especially not in Abidjan. In any case, do get some sponsors because I still think that it’s the best way to advertise your event and it adds this ‘trendiness' people sometimes like. There are a lot of good webzines in Cote d’Ivoire so make sure to collaborate with one or two of them and post every day about your event. Try to (nicely) ask people to share your event. Most of them will say yes, but over 10 people only 3 will properly do it. To me, the advertising part has always been the hardest, especially when I did Les Panels Artistiques because I didn’t know anybody in the industry there at that time. I guess my main advice is to go out, meet new people and network as much as you can so that people can know you and your company or project better. As it happens probably everywhere on Earth, you will meet amazing brilliant people, but also fake divas, and it’s absolutely fine. All you have to do is to stay focus on your goals because you will succeed, with or without them.

2. Start small

Story. Of. My. Life. If you are as ambitious as I am, you probably have this problem. You always see the final painting and how beautiful it is, before even thinking about buying the canvas, brushes, mixing the colors and all the important steps you have to go through, before achieving such high-quality work. You want to jump essential steps because all you care about is the final result. I get it but slow down, take a deep breath and Plan. Be strategic, consistent and very open-minded. Steve Jobs, Conna Walker, or Gary Vaynerchuk, for example, didn't get successful in a week. It takes time, determination and patience. It's important to consider taking all the annoying small, but greatly beneficial steps, in order for you to have a better understanding of what you do and where you want to go next.

Now, on a more practical note, Abidjan is one of the most expensive cities in West Africa. To organize an event which includes booking a space, hiring people like a Dj, a photographer, catering services, buying the decoration, making gift bags and the rest; you could spend millions of XOF. If your company is big and can afford it then hey, go for it! (And invite us pleeease!) But, if you are just starting out, start extra small. Do with what you have and be creative. I was actually so inspired to see how cool Afro Spirit’s (@afrospirit) event ‘Street Afro Work’ was. It was such a simple and creative event. I believe it effectively fulfilled its purpose, which was to promote various talented Ivoirian artists. I sometimes forget that L’Art De Rêver is such a young organization (not even a year old), therefore, I have time to make it better, no need to rush. I am already proud of what it has already accomplished, but I also know that the next event I organize, is probably going to be smaller. I learned. If you apply this mindset to your project/ company, I am quite sure that you will enjoy the process much more than I did and make wonders.

3. Delegate but count mainly on yourself

Sad sad to say (and write), but I don’t want you to be disappointed but instead PREPARED. If you have an established team, then don’t pay attention to this part of the article. If you don’t have one, and you are doing most of the things alone then stay with me. First of all, congrats on being brave enough to work on your projects alone and do what it takes to get what you want. It’s hard and challenging, but the reward is truly worth it. Second of all, you are never completely alone. Yes, you might feel this way sometimes, and if it happens it’s fine, do not panic! Instead, focus on the people who love you and who actually want to help you: your family, your closest friends, your wife/husband, whoever. Having a strong support system is important for your mental health, so make sure you have one. However, I also understand how tough it is to find people you can fully trust. It is a process that demands energy and time.

The thing is to never hesitate to ask for help. I mean the worst thing that could happen is someone saying ‘No’ to you... and trust me you won’t die from it. No! Actually, the worst thing is when someone tells you “Yes I will help you” and THEY. DON’T. Now you know what I mean by ‘PREPARED’? In this case, you need to be ready to step in and handle the situation efficiently, either by finding someone else or by doing your best to achieve this task yourself. If you are really organized, you should already have a Plan B. Nowadays, you could learn anything by reading, or by watching youtube tutorials. So don’t be afraid to use it, and learn new skills. There are also websites like Skillshare.com or Udemy.com where you can learn how to use software like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, or even other skills like Creative Writing. Doing things by yourself can be easier when you know exactly what you want. But then again, don’t hesitate to delegate. Sometimes when we try to do too many things at the same time, we end up doing nothing.

4. Adapt your project to the population you target

This part of the article is specifically for people who have been educated in different places, for example coming from Africa and then studying in Europe. Obviously, you will have a different vision of the world compared to the people of the place where you came from, and the people of the place where you are going. It’s absolutely normal. However, when you are creating a project in one of these places, well you have to adapt yourself, which is fair. Do not think that the opposite will happen. By adapting your project to the place, you just make it more relevant to the people there. I know it sounds pretty logical, but I personally found myself forgetting the way things work in Abidjan, wanting to do things that happen in London.

For instance, when I had the idea of the Photoshoot Activity, what I had in mind are all the collaborations I have been doing with photographers in London. I would model for them, and they would direct the shoot and add these pictures to their portfolio. So I thought this activity would give the opportunity for people to collaborate and help each other. It seemed like such a nice idea and a good opportunity for people to create work together. Not that the idea wasn’t good, but it wasn’t appropriate for Abidjan. I remember meeting a blogger who told me that these kind of projects were great, but that some models couldn’t afford to hire a photographer; to which I candidly replied “Why hiring? They should have asked their photographer friends to help them?”. He said that it wasn’t really a thing here, only for some people. I thought it was really sad to hear, but that’s not the point. The point is I should have done my research, and know how things work instead of assuming things based on my experience somewhere else. Don’t be like me, do your research, and make sure you know the market. This point is particularly important when your project is socially engaged like mine. Changing mentalities doesn’t happen in two days, it takes years, sometimes centuries. So don’t get frustrated if people take time to show interest in your project; stay focus, keep doing what you are doing and trust that your efforts will pay.

5. Never give up!

I know that I said and wrote this many times already, but, we’re never reminded enough that we shouldn’t give up on what matters to us. As I mentioned earlier, the process of organizing this festival was quite challenging, mainly because it was too ambitious, but not only. If I were perfectly honest, I’d say that some people didn’t help AT ALL. What’s great in Cote d’Ivoire, maybe in West Africa as a whole actually (don't take my word as a fact), is that people talk a lot. So yes, they will give you their opinion even when you didn't ask for it. It doesn’t really bother me anymore because, I guess, I am used to it. What bothers me, is when people have the time to point out every problem your project has, but don’t have time to propose some solutions, or even at least TRY, to help you improve. It’s quite discouraging for the organizer because all this person is going to see are problems without solutions. Problems that might not even be real problems. It is extremely depressing. I like to qualify these people as ‘Enemy of Progress’ (Yes, sometimes I watch Nollywood movies, and so should you!). Surround yourself by the type of person who will point out an aspect of your project that you could improve, and who would offer a solution they already thought about. Be careful to who you listen to. Understand that not every idea you have is good, but also know that not all advise is relevant to your project.

The most important thing is to remember why you have decided to do this project in the first place. When I founded L’Art De Rêver, I had no idea of what I was doing or where I could go. All I knew is that I wanted to change the mentalities people have about artists in Africa and educate people about different artistic careers. When doing so, I told myself that if I could help one or two people achieve their dreams, then this mission would be successful. However, when I was in Abidjan organizing LADR Arts Festival, I wanted to give up every day because I had completely forgotten why I was doing it. I had to remind myself that this is not about me. It’s about all the people in Abidjan who dream about acting, singing or modeling but don’t have the chance to do it. So I refused to give up, and I am so glad I did; otherwise, I would have missed the chance to see the happiness the artists who were exposing felt, or the excitement and commitment students had during my acting class. There was such beautiful energy of generosity during the festival and this meant the world to me.

Conclusion: if you have a project that truly matters to you, Do It. Stop finding excuses. Do with what you have, be creative, and surround yourself with the right people. You've got this. Good luck!

If you have any question, or if you think that L'Art De Rêver could help you with your project, please email us at contact.lartderever@gmail.com

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