Artistes worry over accessibility to national theatre after renovation

by Araayo Akande

While some in the arts community are rejoicing over the handover of the National Theatre to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bankers Committee for renovation, others have sounded a note of caution. 

The Chief Executive of Freedom Park, Lagos Island, Architect Theo Lawson and musician, Seun Olota, are worried about its accessibility to artists post-renovation.

Lawson, who also converted Fela’s private residence into a museum wondered if struggling artists would be able to stage shows at the theatre after its redevelopment with the reported N25 billion. 

The Architect asked in a Facebook post if the likes of Segun Adefila and Wura Samba would have access to the theatre after its renovation. 

He explained that nothing stops the CBN and Bankers Committee from involving the artists in the renovation to foster a sense of community.

Lawson wrote: “After N25,000,000,000 is spent on rehabilitation, will @segunadefila, @laspapi, @wurasamba @lagosjazzsociety @labaf1, still have access to the facility? After the hotels and casinos and expo halls etc. fill up the grounds, where will we place the Artistes Village and the Ajegunle poets and the Bariga dancers and the Island skaters and the Egungun rehearsals?!!

“Will the Bankers Committee allow our currently out-of-work Artistes community opportunity to paint, carve, inspire and add local value to what should be their future home? My thinking is that part of the funds used to fix the mechanical and electrical services; this is major and should be done proficiently, then commission the arts community to reupholster, paint, furnish, landscape and beautify the edifice. Let them feel a sense of ownership and earn some livelihood… that’s the least the country owes them.”

Olota, a composer and multi-instrumentalist, expressed the same sentiment in a lengthy Facebook post.

The leader of the ExTasl Gang Band, who hosts a weekly live music show (The Free Spot Show) at Freedom Park, wrote: “Will the National Theatre continue to house, permit and tolerate the presence of the die-hard artistes who sustained the tempo of its survival and revival at the darkest testing epochs with little or no capital and bodily sacrifices when it was time to voice out against being sold or used to play political cards? 

“Will the National Theatre not strip the thespians of the benefit of securing rehearsals, conducting auditions, paint the environs with their various Art-activeness that sustains the enkindled spirit of what the place and places of its kind are all about? Will the National Theatre thereof be left to abide with creativity void of the elitists’ view of plasticity under the disguise of branding and to create class?”

The artist with albums including ‘Home Made’, ‘Home Brew’, and ‘Why Worry? also wondered what will become of the Artists Village and if the complex will continue serving the arts or just become an event centre.

Olota said, “Will the National Theater be utilized for what the founding fathers initiated it for? Artistic offerings and not become another event centre or be put under lock and key after completion?

“Will the National Theatre chart a new course and story for itself as another government venture and national monument gotten and put, right unlike the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) returning to status-quo even under the guise that it was ceded to private management to run it effectively?

“Will the thespians’ yearnings for a befitting, standard and well run home be put to an adequate rest with super project performance and delivery at the completion as we pray and wish for with this very delicate window-of-opportunity for the arts? My thoughts amidst the jubilations. However, congrats to the conglomeration of Nigerian artistes for this. May our expectations not be cut short.”

The duo’s intervention is best viewed from how Freedom Park, run in partnership with the Lagos State Government and which has since become a leading culture and art space, operates.

The park, inaugurated on October 1, 2010, by ex-Governor Babatunde Fashola to commemorate Nigeria’s 50th anniversary, emerged from the ruins of the old Colonial Prison. It hosts about 12 festivals annually and is home to several fledgeling talents.
It also hosts the iRepresent Documentary Film Festival, Lagos Book and Art Festival, Lagos Theatre Festival, Felabration, Jazz Fest and Lagos International Poetry Festival, among others.

All these are in addition to quarterly, monthly and weekly programmes like SPAN Music Concerts, Kofo Wonder gigs, Big Band Friday, Old School Music Night, Society of Nigerian Artists exhibitions and lectures, and Freedom Park Film Club.

The Artists Village, a significant centre of creative enterprise in the country is currently on the grounds of the expansive theatre, but its fate is uncertain with the handover. The livelihood of over 100 artists would be affected should they be sent packing from the edifice after its renovation.

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