UNWTO: Restoring A National Landmark – Leadership News


Until very recently, the National Arts Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos, once an edifice of remarkable architectural elegance, was a ghost of its former self as it sank into disrepair and became home to all manner of usages that were outside the original concept of it as Nigeria’s primary centre for the performing arts.
Following the completion of the first phase of an extensive renovation, the national landmark will open its doors to host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and Federal Government of Nigeria conference on ‘Linking Tourism, Culture and the Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and Inclusive Development’ between November 14 and 16, 2022. There could be no better topic to discuss at the venue built to be a living embodiment of Nigeria’s culture; a venue to showcase, convene and celebrate it.
For most arts enthusiasts, National Theatre was, and still is, a home of entertainment. The monument which construction was completed in 1976 in preparation for the Second Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977 had, as its aim, to serve as a focal point for the presentation, preservation and promotion of arts and culture in Nigeria.
But over time, regrettably in our view, the Nigerian factor set in and the structure that was designed as a living demonstration of Nigeria’s cultural and artistic heritage was allowed to deteriorate. It was comatose for nearly 30 years at a time when younger generation of Nigerians should have had the opportunity to experience the physical art that was literally built into the walls by leading artist Erhabor Emokpae; at a time when some estimates claim that more than N300 billion in potential income could have been collected through the delivery of cultural events.
It is important to note that the idea of the National Theatre was for it to be one of those instantly recognisable landmarks that people connect with in a city. A feat of architecture and celebration of culture that Nigerians should proudly point out to visitors. The Theatre’s exterior was designed, shaped and built to look like a military hat. It originally has capacity for a 5,000-seater Main Hall with a collapsible stage, and two capacity cinema halls, all of which are equipped with facilities for simultaneous translation of eight languages among others.
We are enthused by plans to restore its lost glory. In 2020, following a series of failed attempts at privatisation, the federal government decided to launch an innovative public-private partnership. The Bankers Committee collectively agreed to rehabilitate the National Theatre and return it to its former glory, working closely with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC), the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, and the Lagos State Government.
By bringing together the FMIC mandate to promote and capacitate Nigeria’s creative sector, enhanced by banks’ development finance capabilities, focus was on deepening the creative sector and convening power. With the resources and commitment of Nigeria’s banks, the right partners were put in place to finally address the problems. Despite initial scepticism about the model’s viability, the fact that the Theatre will host a significant international tourism event next week, and is on track for completion in March 2023, is a clear demonstration that it has delivered on its mission. Nigeria’s national theatre is set to retake its position at the heart of the nation’s cultural renaissance.
It is also pertinent to point out that this project is not just about restoring a building; it is about creating an ecosystem of support for the creative sector as part of what is called the Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre (LC&EC). The theatre will be at the heart of a more significant development of hubs focused on supporting emerging talent in the music, film, fashion, and Information technology (IT) sectors.
We stress that achieving this vision will require discipline, support, and focus. Learning the lessons from the past, the project is putting in place a robust governance structure, separating responsibility for maintenance and operations from the commercial arm, which will drive revenue and ensure a sustainable business model.
The unique feature of this monument is that it sits on a large plot of land with significant eco-diversity. On that score alone, the authorities ought to have listened to conservationists who have been advising on how to ensure that the unique environment around it is restored and maintained.
It is gratifying, in the opinion of this newspaper, that at least something is being done to restore the theatre to its former prestige. The work going on now, in our view, could not be happening at a more critical time. Today, just like in 1976, when Nigeria was building up to FESTAC 77, Nigerian art, food and music are growing in popularity globally, driving a wave of interest in our country and culture. Nigerian art is at the vanguard of a renaissance in African art, with interest growing progressively over the last decade. Nigerian food is now available to the Diaspora and crosses over into the mainstream restaurant scene in cities worldwide.
© 2022 Leadership Media GroupAll Rights Reserved.
© 2022 Leadership Media GroupAll Rights Reserved.

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