Winnie Okpapi is bridging the gap between creative skills and business acumen

Meet Winnie Okpapi, a passionate creative with a deep love for art, culture, and life’s mysteries. From her early participation in the school choir, harmonizing to the “Hallelujah Chorus” alongside Laz Ekwueme’s choir at the National Stadium as a child to being honoured as a top female filmmaker at the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival, Winnie’s career choices have been influenced by her artistic spirit.

With 13 years of commitment to nurturing talents, empowering creatives, and fostering a community of artists, Winnie has become an authority in the creative industry. Her work is not only inspirational but also aspirational.

This week on #MCNWorkLife, join us as we dive into Winnie’s colourful career journey. From her collaborations with Global Citizen Live, The Fashola Photographic Foundation, Canon, and YouTube, she’s a true all-around creative making a remarkable impact in art and filmmaking. 

Winnie Okpapi

What were your aspirations and dreams for your future career as a child?

As a child, my dreams were twofold – I wanted to be an Archaeologist and a part-time Artist. The allure of exploring different cultures and uncovering the mysteries of the past fascinated me. At the same time, art had a special place in my heart. Winning the “Best Student in Fine Arts” award at Vivian Fowler Memorial College solidified my passion for art and felt like a clear sign to pursue it as a career. 

Given your childhood aspirations and love for art and different cultures, what is your primary occupation?

Talent Management and Film Production.

Could you share the journey that led you into your current field?

I managed talent, driven by my love for arts and supporting others’ success, embracing creativity and empowerment. From a young age, I was captivated by various art forms, including music, theatre, and visual arts. I sang in Laz Ekwueme’s choir, performed at the National Theatre, and participated in school plays and art clubs. Recognizing my ability to spot talent in others and offer constructive feedback, I combined my passion for the arts with nurturing and supporting artistic potential.

As I delved into the creative world, I noticed the challenges faced by visual artists, especially in sustaining themselves financially. To address this, I initiated art sales, curated exhibitions, and organised experiences, collaborating with up to 20 artists at a time. This made me connect with influential figures like Mummy Nike, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, and Chief Ben Bosah.

I juggled events management during the day and pursued graphic design at night, crafting logos and corporate identity packages for startups. Eventually, I transitioned into full-time project management, collaborating with notable individuals in theatre, business development, film, and visual arts.

Recognising the need for effective talent management, I immersed myself in learning, studying contract drafting, and taking various courses to enhance my skills. Working with the British Council and other cultural organisations further enriched my experience.

Establishing a Movie Club in 2010 and working with TMPL Motion Pictures allowed me to gain valuable insights from industry experts before becoming a Producer and Production Designer. My journey continued with The Temple Company, where I specialised in talent representation, contract negotiation, event management, and marketing.

Through unwavering dedication and a strong network within the industry, I have created opportunities for my clients to flourish. Witnessing their artistic journeys flourish has been a truly gratifying experience.

Winnie Okpapi

With all your diverse experiences in talent management and the creative industry, it’s fascinating to hear about your typical workday. So, what’s a typical day in your work life like?

Each day brings unique challenges, but I’m constantly finding new ways to leverage my skills and activities, turning them into profitable ventures. For me, the key to success is keeping clients satisfied, which brings joy to everyone involved. Networking is vital, and I reach out to various agencies and friends to explore potential collaborations.

After a long day, around 9 pm, I wind down and indulge in old-school music or relax with ShowMax, Netflix, or Prime Video. There are occasions when I work through the night, as I’ve discovered that I’m most productive during those quiet hours.

You wear many hats as a creative powerhouse. Are there any cultural stereotypes about your different passions that have made doing your job easier or more challenging?

While it is great to see a lot of females dominating the production space, in the past, they said that male creative professionals out-earned female professionals. Many people still talk about wage disparities, which should be looked into, although that has yet to be my experience. 

What aspect of your work brings you the most joy and fulfilment?

The ability to multitask and bring ideas to life is what I love the most. Conceptualizing and seeing those ideas come to fruition brings me a profound sense of fulfilment.

What is the thing you like the least about what you do?

Chasing talents. It’s always better to work with talents who understand the hustle and are willing to get up at any time to do what needs to be done.

What significant challenge have you encountered in your career, and how did you handle it?

I’ve faced various challenges that have contributed to my growth and development throughout my career. One noteworthy experience was serving as the Lead Producer for the Global Citizen Live event in Lagos. This high-profile event involved live streaming across four continents and required precise talent management, conducting interviews, and overseeing live sessions.

Simultaneously, I produced The History of the Shrine documentary, featuring renowned personalities like Davido, Tiwa Savage, Femi Kuti, and more, in collaboration with DoneandDusted.

Handling such a complex and multifaceted project demanded meticulous coordination and organisational skills. Yet, working with a talented team and successfully delivering the event and documentary brought immense satisfaction and made the challenges all the more rewarding.

Speaking of accomplishments, congratulations on being recognized as one of the best female filmmakers at the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival for your movie Doubt. This is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement. Could you share your role as a producer in making this accomplishment a reality? We’d love to hear more about the creative process and the challenges you faced in bringing Doubt to life on the big screen.

Last year, our team embarked on the exciting journey of producing two short films. The experience was a rollercoaster ride since we had just wrapped up shooting a feature film for Africa Magic a few weeks earlier. We simultaneously handled post-production for that project while diving into pre-production for the two new short films.

As part of the scriptwriting process, we carefully crafted the story to ensure it aligned with our production budget and accommodated the availability of the talented cast. It was challenging but rewarding to manage time and resources effectively. Notably, Joseph Benjamin was away in the United States during the production, and Bisola Aiyeola had a limited window of just three days to work her magic. Despite these hurdles, both received well-deserved nominations for their exceptional performances.

Working with Director Kayode Kasum was a fantastic experience. His expertise and vision added immense value to the final product of the short film. Once the production was complete, we submitted it to film festivals, and our delight, we received our first nomination—an exhilarating milestone for the team.

Let’s shift our focus to the broader context of your field. What is the most brutal challenge women face when advancing their filmmaking careers?

Breaking through the stereotype that they are not good enough due to various responsibilities and challenges they carry, often without even attempting to challenge this notion. Women in the field might internalize these perceptions, which can hinder their confidence and ambition to pursue their passions fully. As a result, they may hold back from taking risks and exploring opportunities that could lead to significant career advancement. Encouraging women to challenge these preconceptions and supporting them in balancing their responsibilities while pursuing their filmmaking aspirations is crucial to fostering a more inclusive and diverse landscape in the industry.

As a thought leader in the art and creative industry, how have you been able to promote gender equality and support other women in their endeavours?

As COO of The Grid, a female-focused talent management company, I’m dedicated to empowering women economically through sustainable solutions. Recognizing women’s historical role in nation-building, we offer limitless opportunities in entertainment and film. I manage and represent numerous female talents, like Bisola Aiyeola, Bimbo Ademoye, Mimi Onalaja, and more, striving to bridge gender disparities. Encouraging these women to excel and seize opportunities, I aim to inspire others to break barriers and succeed through dedication and determination. Collaborating with female creatives has been rewarding, and my efforts intend to foster increased female participation in various fields. Success is achievable for women when backed by commitment and passion.

This journey has come with its fair share of challenges, and overcoming inevitable obstacles may require time and effort. However, I always focus on the bigger picture and remain committed to the cause. Just like my path to success, which took thirteen years to achieve my Master’s in art, I believe that every effort is worth it to empower and uplift women in their careers and lives.

Moving on to a more lighthearted topic, let’s talk about work buddies. Do you believe in the power of having close friendships with colleagues in the workplace?

While work buddies might not be essential for everyone, they can make the transition into a new environment smoother and create a more comfortable atmosphere. Building relationships with colleagues can foster a sense of camaraderie and support, which can be beneficial in various aspects of work. It’s all about finding what works best for each individual!

Speaking of work relationships, what are your thoughts on ‘work spouses’?

Having a ‘work spouse’ can create a strong sense of camaraderie and support in the workplace. It’s like having a reliable partner in crime, someone who understands the challenges and joys of the job. This connection can lead to better collaboration and a more enjoyable work environment, knowing you have someone you can count on and share experiences with. It’s all about building a positive and productive work community; having a ‘work spouse’ can undoubtedly contribute to that.

As a multi-arts production and direction expert, what stereotypes do you find most annoying, and how do you handle them?

One of the most annoying stereotypes that professionals in the creative industry, particularly in Africa, may have to confront is the belief that Africans lack imagination and the ability to compete or work competently globally. This stereotype is untrue and unjust as it undermines the immense talent and creativity within the African creative community.

Thankfully, efforts are being made to challenge and dismantle these stereotypes. Initiatives like the Gidi Creative Centre Program, which I designed for The Temple Company in partnership with Henley Business School and the Lagos State Government, are crucial in bridging the gap between creative skills and business acumen. By infusing growth, business, and leadership sessions into skill acquisition programs, creative professionals can gain the necessary tools and knowledge to excel in their artistic endeavours and manage their careers and businesses effectively. 

While stereotypes can be frustrating, efforts like the Gidi Creative Centre Program and others with government support are instrumental in empowering African creatives to shine on the global stage and demonstrate that they possess the imagination, skill, and professionalism that can be matched anywhere in the world.

In addition to your impressive career in the arts and creative industry, do you have any side careers, hustles, or hobbies to which you passionately devote time?

My Movie club hangouts, Dancing, and Sip and Paint activities. I love teaching kids to paint and go Salsa dancing when possible. 

On the entrepreneurial side, I run an art store in Lekki, Lagos, known as Xan Artshop. Through this venture, I provide art and craft activities, retro gifts, and art materials, catering to the needs of artists and art enthusiasts alike.

Beyond my creative pursuits, I have a deep interest in travelling to places of historical significance and immersing myself in different cultures. Exploring new destinations and learning about their rich heritage broadens my horizons and nourishes my curiosity about the world. My friends can attest to my love for Egyptology.

As a woman constantly in motion, can you share a tip you swear by for successfully managing a work/life balance?

As a woman constantly in motion, one tip I swear by for successfully managing a work/life balance is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Embracing new challenges and stepping out of your comfort zone allows for personal growth and adaptability in both work and personal life. It may feel daunting initially, but pushing yourself beyond your limits can lead to rewarding experiences and a more fulfilling balance between your professional and personal aspirations.


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