Arts and Crafts Festival: What Happened to the National Cultural Center?

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Game Changers Liberia, a relatively new organization,  last weekend staged a Festival of Arts, Crafts and Culture Exhibition at the Monrovia City Hall.  Two government institutions, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the National Social Security Corporation (NASSCORP) co-sponsored the event, along with a private one, the Cocoa Cola Bottling Company.

That is strange, is it not, that two GOL institutions, which have little or nothing to do with culture, co-sponsored the festival. What happened to those GOL institutions that are culturally related but were nowhere around?

The foremost among them is  the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT), in which the National Cultural Center (NCC) was based.  Others are the Ministries of Education (MOE) and Youth and Sports (MYS), under which the Monrovia Vocational Training Center (MVTC) falls.  It is not known whether these Ministries were contacted.  But if not, why not?  Does this  suggest that MICAT, in the absence of the National Cultural Center, has now  become totally irrelevant?

We mentioned the MOE because the Booker Washington Institute, under MOE’s leadership, ran an Arts and Crafts shop.  That is where the celebrated Liberian sculptor, R. Vanjah Richards, received his first formal training in Arts and Crafts.  Graduating in 1952, he taught there until 1957 when he was awarded a GOL scholarship to study Sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute.

Beginning in the late 1960s most Liberian schools following the lead of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) and its flagship, the Tubman High School, started a cultural revolution.  They organized cultural troupes in all the System’s  schools, enabling their  elementary through senior high students to  learn and display traditional dances, drums and other traditional musical instruments and sing songs in all Liberian languages.  Soon, most schools, including the elite ones, started their own cultural troupes. 

The MCSS administration sent a team of research scholars throughout the country gathering information on the culture, history and mores of every tribe. 

It appears that the coup d’etat and the war ended this major cultural thrust that was seriously introduced in Liberian education.

The full text of this MCSS   African Studies curriculum can be found in Kenneth Y. Best’s book, Cultural Policy in Liberia, published by UNESCO in 1974.

By the time the book was published in June that year,  Mr. Best was in Nairobi working with the All Africa Conference of Churches.  In his absence, the government of Liberia, notably the Ministries of Education and Information, downplayed the work and it was never circulated.  But while it disappeared in Mr. Best’s own country, thousands of students and scholars have been using it to do research on African culture in the world’s universities, colleges, schools and other institutions.

Fortunately, the book can still be found on the Internet, on the UNESCO web site, on Amazon.com and elsewhere.  On a recent check, used copies of Cultural Policy in Liberia were being sold for US$78.

But the main thrust of this editorial is not about this book, though it is very relevant to the current theme.  This editorial is about arts and crafts, culture and tourism in Liberia.  One of the key features of the NCC was its Arts and Crafts Workshop, where a lot of wood, iron and bamboo artistry was created.

But that was only part of the NCC.  There were at least 16 huts at the Center, inhabited by cultural dancers, musicians and acrobats from every Liberian ethnic group.  They lived there together, daily practicing their traditional crafts, and performing locally, nationally and internationally.  The Natural Cultural Troupe, under the leadership of Liberian cultural icon Bai T. Moore, Mother Wilhelmina Dukuly, Jangaba Johnson, Jallah K.K. Kamara and Peter Ballah, won many prizes from international competitions in Africa and elsewhere.

The overriding, indeed compelling question of this editorial is, What has happened to the National Cultural Center?  It has not been heard of ever since the current government closed it down and deeded the land at Kindejah to Robert Johnson for his modern hotel resort.

The government must give the Liberian people an urgent and serious answer to this burning question that will NOT go away: What has happened to the National Cultural Center?

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