As part of activities marking its 10th anniversary, the Management of Freedom Park, Lagos Island, have unveiled new offerings to further delight patrons and bolster its rating as a leading arts and culture space.
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. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Herbert Macaulay were some of its popular inmates.
Speaking at a media briefing where they presented their scorecard, the head of LORK Enterprises LLP, the special purpose vehicle that birthed the park, Architect Theo Lawson, and Chief Operating Officer (COO), Ms Iyabo Aboaba, also disclosed innovations.
Highlighting some of the park’s milestones at the occasion where the 10th-anniversary logo was unveiled, the duo disclosed that it got the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015 and hosts about 12 festivals in a year. It has also remitted N50 million to the coffers of the Lagos State Government in just a decade.
Aboaba, a former General Manager of MUSON Centre, disclosed that it was touch and go at the inception of the park.
She said, “We started not knowing what Lagosians would want. We tried all kinds of things, plays, music, book readings and poetry. Over the years, we figured out what the people liked the most, which is music. The most developed part of our programmes was Afropolitan Vibes. Also, we had the festivals: iREP, Lagos Book and Art Festival, Lagos Theatre Festival, Felabration, Jazz Fest and Lagos International Poetry Festival, among others.”
Lawson also admitted that the early days were tough: “To make it thrive, we invited the art community and were happy to have Jahman Anikulapo. We reached out to Segun Adefila and his theatre group. Crown Troupe was one of the first theatre troupes to occupy this space. When we started, we had no chairs. However, we have now built a name for Freedom Park. We are in the top ten places to visit in Lagos.”
Lawson also touched on the park’s challenges. “The partnership with the government was that we would run it. We didn’t want it to be an event place for weddings, birthdays and stuff. We wanted it strictly for the Arts. But the infrastructure is becoming extremely difficult to maintain, and we also have parking issues,” he said.
He added that there are pressures to commercialise the space by showcasing premium music stars against fledging talents currently being promoted and a suggestion to turn it into a hotel.
On the new measures to continue promoting talents and increase revenue, Lawson said, “we are attracting more daytime traffic by expanding the variety of food available at the park and providing day time entertainment.
“We are also looking at those who will come here for lunch, exhibitions and visit the museum. We will provide accommodation for resident artists, a pod hotel. We are working on creating more dedicated parking space along Campbell Street and having community outreach programmes that target Lagos Island communities.
“We want to use mentorship programmes to help the youths to find some outlet for their energy. We also propose a gym. We hope to be in the frontline of arts, live music and social engagement. These are the plans we have to upgrade the Freedom Park.”
Lawson also said Management was looking at installing a retractable roof over the amphitheatre for better use during the rainy season, and improve lighting and water features around the park.
A children’s arena that provides adequate and comfortable space for children during visits is also on the schedule as is various partnership opportunities, including tourism.
“We will create a unique tourism experience with a tour-specific special viewing experience that uses film to present a digital 3D tour of Lagos State, history, monuments, sites and governance structure.
“We will aim to operate a tour bus as well with a route that showcases the beauty and grandeur of our city. It will be for foreign visitors and persons from outside the city. It will be jointly designed, operated and owned by our company and Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture,” he said.
Lawson added that there is also a new membership scheme to ease entry into the park for visitors. The membership categories are Ambassador, VIP, Regular, Artiste and children. Each has exclusive benefits including free entry with three guests, special discounts on use of facilities and purchases, members lounge, quarterly members’ night and magazine and discounted services in the lounge.
On specific events for the 10th anniversary, Lawson said they would happen monthly until December.
On Friday, the park hosted an all-female concert tagged ‘I am Amazon’ dedicated to the womenfolk. It featured Adunni & Nefretiti, Illest Nana of Afrika, Temidayo Abodunrin, Gloria Ibru, B Magnifica, Oyemi, the Bandittude. Singer, Ego, hosted the gig.
The Lagos Theatre Festival and exhibitions marking the Black History Month will still happen in February.
The 10th-anniversary edition of the IREP International Documentary Festival is scheduled for March while Eastervaganza, Lagos International Jazz Festival and Popo Aguda Brazillian Concert will happen in April.
Children’s Day, Bob Marley Day and Irie Vibes are on the bill for May while art exhibitions will commemorate Democracy Day in June.
Activities for Professor Wole Soyinka’s birthday will be hosted in July with drama and music occupying much of August. The Eko Theatre Festival, Afro-centric Concert and Kayefi’s concerts will happen that month.
All the anniversary activities 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.