With my car’s engine still running, two wide Ghanaian smiles beam down at me through the passenger window. The car door opens with handshakes and a hearty welcome to the Accra Arts Center.
Located on High Street/28th February Road, the National Center for Cultural Arts (as it is formally known) is the place to go in Ghana’s Central Accra to buy good quality crafts from there and neighboring countries.
The Accra Arts Center is not exactly a nice, big, orderly building. Rather, it is a crowded collection of vendor stalls; for first time visitors, entering the dimly lit market can be overwhelming. Vendors will do anything to lure buyers into their stalls: cajole, joke, sing, tug at sleeves… ahem, meet you at your car in the dirt parking lot and personally accompany you to their stall.
For the tourist looking for generic nick-nacks, there are many things to buy at the Accra Arts Center – brightly colored trinkets and clothing, jewelry made from melted down, out-of-circulation coins. But with patience and will, the market also reveals unique handmade items for purchase – woodcraft and contemporary pottery, tribal masks, drums of all sizes (on the spot engraving included), and textiles woven by the Ewe and Ashanti tribes.
But on this particular trip to the market – for many a tourist to Accra, there is more than one trip to the Arts Center – I walked accompanied by my greeters, Blakka and Abu, away from the market’s center entrance and to the left. We walked alongside the “building,” which is really a cluster of stalls, towards the back, past old men leaning on scraggly wooden canes and bored children sitting in the dirt, glancing our way with feigned interest.
A man approached, proffering weather-worn postcards – the same postcards, in fact, on display in pristine condition at my hotel. Abu swatted him away with a sharp word before turning to me with a smile. “Up ahead is my stall,” he says. “This is where the real goods are. You don’t want to bother with the center of the market.”
Of course, this is untrue. Regardless, we head to the back row of stalls because by this time, Blakka, Abu, and I are fast friends.
As advised, money is tucked into various pockets and sections of my wallet – not only for bargaining power but for self control. First timers at the Accra Arts Center beware: you will want to buy way more art, and at a much higher price, than necessary.
In addition to artists hawking their work in the street, visitors to Accra can find worthy items for sale in hotels. The Novotel Hotel in Accra City Center (at Barnes Road and Liberia Road) provides space for artists, like the painter Francis Amoah, to display work for a period of time. The Afia Beach Hotel (2 Liberia Road Extension Osu) includes a gallery of wood crafts and masks for sale which have been personally collected by the hotel owner over the years.
True, the Accra Arts Center is not the only place to buy regional art, but where that sale takes place depends on what kind of story you want to tell about the purchase.
Originally from the Northeast United States, Kerry Parke currently lives in Madrid, Spain where she works for an international business school. She writes about life in Madrid on her blog Nothing but the Start and can be found on twitter @kelissa.