The National Cultural Centre: Holding steadfast as the premier stage for performing arts
The National Cultural Centre officially opened its doors on May 16, 1976. The idea behind the institution which is located on Homestretch Avenue, D’Urban Park, Georgetown, was to create a space whereby the performing arts in Guyana could flourish and be exposed to the wider public. Plays, concerts and dance recitals are among some of the events which are held at the national institution regularly.
Originally, the building was intended to be constructed where the Bank of Guyana sits since a foundation stone was laid there in 1951 signifying the intention. However, the decision was finalised in 1971 and local architects submitted their impressions of what the Centre should look like. There were four entries and that of Norris Mitchell Associates was chosen.
It was hoped that the construction of the facility would have finished in time for CARIFESTA 1972 but its completion was delayed. Notwithstanding, interventions were made whereby canvas tents and coconut palms were used as roofing and walls so as to accommodate some of the activities of CARIFESTA.
The NCC continues to be the premiere choice for many large cultural and performing arts events which require indoor facilities. For the most part, the NCC has maintained a high degree of standard, despite some setbacks along the way.
In 1986, a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation funded Technical Report revealed several issues which the NCC faced. The report was done at the request of the government of Guyana. Mr. John Wyckham of John Wyckham Associates, Theatre Consultants, Epsom, United Kingdom undertook the project.
Wyckham noted that of paramount importance, there needed to be a refurbishment and re-commissioning of the entire air-conditioning system for the building. Additionally, he recommended that small separate air-conditioning units should be installed in the stage lighting control room.
The auditorium lighting was highlighted to have been in poor condition and the government was urged to upgrade and refurbish as soon as possible. The seating was also recommended to be re-upholstered and seats with poor sightlines were to be upholstered in a different colour from the main seats.
The aforementioned represents just a snippet of changes which the 1986 report had suggested to be undertaken.
Fast forwarding to 2014, the government had approved a sum of $80M to facilitate rehabilitation of the NCC since it was criticized for its old-fashioned operations and degrading standards.
Of critical importance was the upgrading of the air conditioning system, lights and sound systems. Then Culture Minister Dr. Frank Anthony had said that there was no substantial work done to the building as it relates to the AC units.
The Minister had also highlighted that the NCC was experiencing problems with the lighting and sound and it was recommended that the systems be upgraded to a digital system.
As the institution stands today, there are still areas for improvement with regard to controlled lighting and seating particularly. At the recently held investiture ceremony at the cultural centre, the need for a complete rehabilitation of the seating at NCC was made obvious.
Usually, the seats retract automatically with a spring effect when vacated. However, the mechanical implements have become worn to the point that seats have to be folded manually by the departing guest.
Additionally, when the audience was asked to stand in welcoming President David Granger into the auditorium the combined squeaks and screeches made by the seats signalled the need for refurbishment.
Maybe it was timely since there were so many high profile private and government officials in attendance, who hopefully would be inclined to contribute to a rehabilitation of the seating accommodation. The upholstery of the seats have also passed their time.
Back in 2014 Minister Anthony had said that the NCC is not making enough money to be self-sufficient. He noted that the operations of the institution are largely subsidized by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, now the Ministry of Education.
As it relates to lighting, there either needs to be an upgraded system to manage the lights or an investment in having better trained personnel to operate the lights of the auditorium. On many occasions, particularly at some of the recently held pageants, hosts complained of the brightness of the spotlight making them uncomfortable to perform their duties as it impaired vision. This may seem minor but if we are aiming as a country to have internationally recognised standards, we have to eliminate the small nuisances before tackling the bigger issues.
On a brighter note, the NCC does still facilitate the hosting of very successful shows. Much credit must be given to the staff and management inclusive of ushers who make sure everything goes according to plan.