Friday, July 27, 2007


National Theatre: Concession or Sale – What Difference? (Part 2)

(Statement by the Committee for Relevant Art)

(In the first part of our statement "National Theatre: Concession or Sale – What Difference?" we ended on the following note:

"It is therefore our view that this concession which has not gained nor attempted to gain the buy-in of the key stakeholders in the Art and Culture community should be reviewed and a proper, transparent and formal agenda set for such an action, if considered necessary after a key review of the state of the funding and manning of the Art sector".

When we refer to the "buy-in of the key stakeholders", we do not mean a pacification of interest groups through unproductive patronage. That phrase should be directly linked to our call for a "proper, transparent and formal agenda" for the concession (or other form of public private participation) in the resuscitation of the National Theatre. Such agenda, we believe, should have taken benefit of the nature and structures of the governance and management of national and other official cultural centres world-wide. It should have inevitably led to the preparation of facts and figures as well as comparative analyses such as was presented in regard to the Rail, the Mint and NITEL, among others in ‘BPE’s – 7 Key Things You Don’t Know About Privatisation – A Privatization Factbook’.

It is our objective in this second part of the statement to give an overview of our thoughts on the way forward in this regard.

Common Grounds
It is common grounds among all interested parties (BPE and the preferred bidder, Infratsructica, inclusive) agree that the National Theatre is a national monument with roles and functions worthy of preservation. Amongst other structures that have been so-referred, the National Theatre occupies a unique place in the sense that it is the grandest single infrastructure for cultural expression in the country. Its historical role as the venue for the second, last and biggest festival of black Arts and Culture and Civilisation (FESTAC) on the continent and the home to the records and archives of that event, more than any other reason, helped establish the now sadly wasted perception of Nigeria as the ‘Giant’ on the continent.

Nonetheless, the idea of a deliberate national intervention by way of erecting and preserving structures to signalize a nation’s cultural arrival, embody its artistic values, warehouse its artifacts and incubate the progressive development of its creative expressions is not unique to Nigeria. The United States, home of commercial abandon, took just such a step when, through public-private partnership, it raised funds for, built and continues to sustain such institutions as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution. The United Kingdom has the British Museum and the British National Gallery. Cities and states are not left out, as the New York State has the Carnegie Hall and the City of London’s Barbican Centre for the Arts.

Let us examine the nature of the governance, management and funding of some of these institutions briefly.

KENNEDY CENTRE: Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. opened in 1971 as the materialisation of President D.D. Eisenhower’s 1958 legislation on the establishment of a National Cultural Center for the United States. Although, the enabling National Cultural Centre Act stated that the Center was to be an independent facility, self-sustaining and privately funded, the US Congress backed the building to the tune of $23 million and has received Federal subsidy since its opening, purely for the maintenance of the building. While shows and events are expected to pay for themselves, contributions from individuals, corporations and private trusts have ensured that the artistic focus of the Centre remains. The Centre continues to partner with the private sector through such organs as its Corporate Fund Board for the promotion of its objectives.

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION: The Smithsonian Institute is originally a private endowment, which received public charter and today runs a complex of museums, galleries, educational structures and research centers. Its governing body is the publicly sanctioned Board of Regents which has the responsibility for mobilizing a mix of funds from private and public sources, including trust funds and corporate sector donations, although a chunk of its annual budget still comes from the federal budget. Access to the exhibit of the Smithsonian Institution venues are free and, as late as June 2007, the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee carried out public hearing on the state of funding and finances of both the Institution and the Kennedy Centre. The Chairman of the Committee noted, in his opening speech, the suggestion that the Institution would start charging admission fees.
"The fact that the Smithsonian has remained free and open to the public for entire history is an important and distinguished legacy to maintain. If that tradition is to be changed Congress should look very closely at why a change is necessary and only Congress should make such a change," opined Congressman Eleanor Holmes Horton.

CARNEGIE HALL: Carnegie Hall in New York was a private initiative of Andrew, the steel magnate after whom it was named and was built in 1890. A concert hall, it was home for many years of the New York Philharmonic. In 1925, it passed from the Carnegie family into the hands of a real estate developer whose son would attempt to demolish it in order to make way for a commercial skyscraper in 1960. Protests from artists compelled the state of New York to buy the property in order to preserve its historical and artistic value. A not-for-profit Carnegie Hall Corporation (a form of public trust known in Nigeria as a Company Limited by Guarantee) was formed to take over the governance of the Hall and it was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1962.

THE BARBICAN CENTRE: The Barbican Centre for the Arts is a property of the City of London which has been central to the cultural agenda of the City as well as the United Kingdom since its opening in 1982. Hated somewhat like the Nigerian National Theatre for its leviathan sprawl, it was nonetheless designated as "a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project" on the advice of English Heritage, the government advisor historical environment in 2001. The Barbican continues to be governed, managed and funded by the City through a mix of public and private initiative regular with official cultural structures all over the world.

Summary of Models for a National Cultural Centre

From the above, it would be gathered that national or official cultural institutions differ in a number of ways. In terms of origination, we have a range from structures that were conceived and build substantially through public sanction (such as the Barbican) through those conceived and build by a mix of public and private sanction (such as the Kennedy Centre) to those that were conceived and built through private initiatives or endowments but later adopted and sustained through public sanction (such as the Carnegie Hall and the Smithsonian Institution). In terms of funding, whether at inception or ongoing, the same range and mix of public, private or public-private sources of support is also noticeable. Also, in terms of commercial motive, while profit has never been the motive of any of the Centres we examined, there appear to be two options in terms of commerciality – from the Centres offering free admission into many of their venues (such as the Smithsonian) to the Centres which accept fees although subsidized through public and private endowments and funding (as in most of the other Centres).

It is in the nature and structure of management and governance that we have noticed a worldwide consensus. Although the Nigerian style of leaving both governance and management of national or official cultural centres or national monuments in the hands of state bureaucracy is rather unpopular, we have yet to come across situations in which both governance and management are handed, whether through a concession or otherwise, into private hands as the BPE has moved to do in the case of the National Theatre.

What Private Participation Is Not

We noticed that, Infrastructica, the preferred bidder has been parading its partnership with a number of foreign institutions, including investment banks such as HSBC and Merrill Lynch and certain entertainment companies with records in traveling circuses and other commercial fairs. Our understanding of the way investment banking works is that these institutions would be investing on grounds of assurance of return on investment within a time limit when they would be ready to exit the venture. Also, while commercial circuses and other road show spectacles could bring in much-needed attraction and some technical expertise, we are not aware that these are necessarily compatible with the essence of a National Cultural Centre.

Our Proposition
It is in apprehension of the easy manner in which the very original purpose of the National Theatre could be trampled underfoot in the profit melee of this commercial journeymen (we understand Infrastructica’s original target in the Nigerian privatisation market was the Rail) that we called for a review of this concession, which has not been well thought through.

It is therefore our view that THE CONCESSION SHOULD BE REVIEWED, a study group of stakeholders and experts commissioned to analyse the nature and structure of successful public private participation in the operation and funding of National Cultural Centres world-wide and the appropriate legal and other frameworks for such a PPP established before inviting private participation under the framework.

Without jumping the gun on the outcome of such an exercise, we take the liberty to propose strongly, delineation between the management and governance of the National Theatre. This is contrary to the tenets of corporate governance as we now know it today. It is certainly alien to national cultural governance. The governance of the Theatre should be handed to a publicly sanctioned Trust constituted by reputable artists, art connoisseurs, business men and statesmen under an enabling national legislation. The governing Trust would define and oversee the margin of commerciality and profitability permissible, having regard to the need to maintain a balance between our national cultural interests and the commercial necessities of the private participation, especially in view of the funds expected to be mobilised for the resuscitation work. Also, the governing Trust, working with the management, would mobilise funds from private endowments, corporate tax-deductible sources, and government budgetary sources, to subsidise the operations of the Theatre.

The management of course would be concessioned to qualified private entities with demonstrable interest in the Arts and capacity to resuscitate the Theatre. With regard to how Infrastructica had professed its love for the progressive development of the Nigerian Art, we have no doubt that the consortium would be willing to participate under the new arrangement.

The Federal Ministry of Education already showed leadership in this PPP model with its public-private initiative on the Unity Schools. A Unity Schools Trust (UST) serves as the overall governing organ of the initiative and private partners who win the management of the schools are expected to function within a framework to be overseen by the UST. BPE, our privatisation fount head should be humble enough to take a cue from the Ministry. It is the only way to salvage our generally agreed ‘national monument.’

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