Lilien Ezeugwu is the founder of The Art Hub Nigeria, a center where kids make art to reveal and share their mind-blowing creativity with the world.
It’s just not a centre. It’s her home. Growing up, she developed a huge interest for art but lack of encouragement and mentorship stood in her way. But she’s taking a different pathway now, as she ventures out to help other kids nurture their inborn skills.
Lilien Ezeugwu spotted the lack of support from parents and how it could affect the future of children. At the center, she’s putting smiles on their faces preparing them for a world that transforms at every tick of the clock.
In an exclusive interview, Lilien Ezeugwu shared her journey with us:
For 7 seven years, you fought your way to owning a fine and performing arts centre for children. What would you say inspired that dream?
I know in my heart that I would have been a better person than I am today if I was encouraged as a talented child. Frequently, I recall my mum hitting me for constantly bringing or hoarding junks in our house. I almost always saw something beautiful in everything. It was so difficult for me to totally let go of a broken item. My mind was always pumping fresh ideas to recycle or repurpose something.
Now as an adult, I wonder how many kids struggle like I did as a child. Some may not get the same treatment. And some parents don’t even know what to do to encourage their child who constantly displays his or her interest or talent in a particular area or field. While some do but don’t have the time to prioritise it.
That’s what lights the candle in me to bridge the gap and train children who will meet the demands of modern times.
What challenges did you face along the line?
I faced numerous challenges before starting up the centre and still face several challenges now. But top on the list would be value.
A lot of parents do not agree that art is valuable. They still have the old notion of having graduates of law, medicine and engineering. To them, art is just a hobby, not a career and so there’d be no need to train extra hard for it. It should be a pastime skill. They fail to understand that a child’s future is highly determined by his or her passion.
Funding is another major challenge. To encourage the kids and the parents, the program is almost free for some kids and totally free for others. So the centre depends largely on other sources of funding and responses have been low.
Over the last 7 years, I have spent most of my earnings purchasing musical instruments and art accessories with which to start the centre. And I’m glad they are very useful now. The team is currently creating new mediums to generate revenue to keep the centre running.
On getting a space, the centre is currently established in my house. I live in a really spacious apartment, so we have taken advantage of the extra rooms and surroundings. We hope to rent or buy a property appropriate for our activities really soon, but we rely highly on external funding for that.
What’s your personal experience growing up?
I was born and raised in a little town near Minna, Niger State. The main form of communication was Hausa, and I spoke it well, I still do 🙂
I was a really active child, always wanting to do something. I had a lot of friends, but they never really understood me. They all thought I was a really funny kid but didn’t understand why I or how I enjoyed reading books and listening to Jazz. These were not things for kids my age, they were more interested in sweets, parties, play time and Makosa music.
I was usually alone and I loved it. It was always a great time to create something new. I also loved to cook and bake. I tried out several strange recipes just to get the taste and looks of what I had in mind. And though we had no oven, I never stopped improvising. My mother always came home to my surprises and she’d spank me seriously for wasting her ingredients. There were no smartphones and YouTube then, so I had no one to learn from except my unwilling mum.
I was a dreamer and I tried really hard to reach my goals. My family knew from that point that I am reliable. They knew I would see whatever assignment or project given to me to the end.
I was so crazy about making and creating. I wanted to be a fashion designer. Spoke to my mum about it but she refused to enroll me in a school — stating that she wants me to be fully educated and that fashion designing was for school dropouts.
To still satisfy my craving for sewing, I started making clothes using needle and thread. It was a crazy thing to do, and all my siblings, cousins and friends called me crazy though they loved the end results.
I recall going to the owner of a popular bakery in the town to teach me how to bake a cake. He said to me, “I only know how to bake bread, but I can give you some baking pans you can use for your cake”.
I took the pans and left. I tried so many recipes from my thoughts and from a few old cookery books I could access at the time. Though most of my early trials looked nothing like a cake, they were always yummy and my siblings loved eating them.
I recall adding yeast while baking a cake. Who does that? I hid it away from my mum at the top of the wardrobe but it rose so high that it started dropping from the bowl. She found it before I could and beat me like a thief.
I always wanted to make something. Much later while I was waiting to be admitted to the university, I told my mum I wanted to learn hairdressing. She was upset and wondered why I was so crazy about learning such skills rather than focusing on education. Again, she refused to enroll me. I started sneaking away from home to learn hairstyling. They eventually found out and it didn’t end well.
Do you sometimes see yourself in these kids?
Yes, in many ways, I see myself in these kids.
Do you think the kids are getting the support they need from their parents?
Yes, I think they are. Most of the parents were surprised at what their kids created at the centre. Their imagination is so vast, all they need is an enabling environment, tutorials and materials; and this is where we come in.
By Elijah Christopher