Fri | Jan 15, 2021

Re-Ward or reprimand? - Contentious responses to muralising Ward Theatre ceiling

Published:Friday | March 30, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
The Ward Theatre
Rosina Moder

For centuries, the Sistine Chapel has remained a leading example of timeless art, representing the religious histories associated with Christianity. As The Ward Theatre undergoes its latest renovation, one can suppose the decision to have artist Chalik Campbell muralise the auditorium's ceiling with the essence or facades of Jamaica's theatrical and historic figures was motivated by the reportedly enchanting work of Michelangelo.

However, long-time advocates for restoring the theatre to its original glory, have come out of the woodwork, claiming that a mural on the auditorium's ceiling may modernise the space meant to stand as a national, historic monument.

"Old can meet the new, but the old cannot be destroyed and damaged. Be aware - the Ward is the only place in Jamaica that comes close to an opera house," executive director of Music Unites Jamaica Foundation, Rosina Christina Moder, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The Ward is the only place in Jamaica which has an orchestra pit. We need a place for the orchestra to play. However, this pit is still small. I'm hoping in the course of restoration it can be expanded," Moder continued. Her suggestion, to make a change without compromising the auditorium's design, is to cut one or two rows from the audience floor, opening the pit to accommodate more musicians.

"The Ward is the Grand Thame of theatre in Jamaica, as a building. We want to see it come back to its old glory, because it is a national heritage site, and Jamaica doesn't have many national architectural sites. People of Jamaica should have an architectural treasure, a design from the early 1900s. It's for architecture students," she continued.

"To put murals doesn't mean going against what was there before. I think that there is nothing wrong, and it could be appropriate to decorate it to be current and relate to the theatre as we know it in Jamaica today. But it should be done within the framework of the architecture of the building," Pat Stanigar told The Sunday Gleaner.




Stanigar is an architect who has twice worked to restore the theatre. In the 1970s alongside Eric Coverley, Louise Bennett-Coverley and Henry Fowler, Stanigar revealed that his restorative work included decoratively painting the lobby's ceiling.

"It was very colourful. I think it's good to have an artistic person make their input. It wouldn't be appropriate to paint the ceiling of the auditorium," he continued. Instead, the seasoned architect suggested a painter may paint framed panels against the side walls of the auditorium.

"[The Ward] is declared a national monument under the Jamaica National Trust Act, so that anything done should be done with the approval of the Heritage Trust, and I trust them to make sure things are done properly," the architect said. The response of the National Gallery to the contract is contiguous to Stanigar's, reading: "At this time the National Gallery does not have any knowledge of the artist selected for this project. The Ward Theatre is listed as a historic building and a national treasure that belongs to the people of Jamaica. In order for such work to be done, approvals must be granted from the relevant authorities."

Moder relayed the story of a church in Dresden (Frauenkirche), which had been bombed in World War II.

"Stones and artefacts were kept and today you can see that church as it was hundreds of years ago."

As that church currently stands as a historical monument, a replica of centuries past which attracts visitors from around the world, Moder wishes the same treatment be offered to The Ward.

"We are aiming and endorsing the wish that Kingston shall become a cultural destination, because it's also declared by UNESCO as a Creative City of Music," the career musician continued.

Approximately five years ago, Music Unites Jamaica Foundation launched the Re-Ward Project.

"Part of our passion, our mission and our belief is to see The Ward being restored to its old glory."

In 2013, the Re-Ward Project hosted a concert staged on the outside of the theatre. In 2014 and 2015, local arts festival, Kingston On The Edge, hosted concerts of their own.

"There was a big community project to clean the inside - kids and parents from Trench Town came and helped - and those who helped went free to the concert," Moder recalled.