WIT Press

Preservation, People, And Politics In The Restoration Of The National Theatre Of Panama: A Case Study


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WIT Press


A. Rajer


This paper describes the complex international aspects of the recent restoration of the National Theatre of Panama and the technical, political, and aesthetic compromises that occurred in order to restore the building to working condition. Located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the old quarter of Panama City, the National Theatre is an Italian opera house built between 1905-08. Italian architect Gennaro Nicola Ruggieri designed the building to emulate great Italian opera houses such as LaScala in Milan. Panamanian artist Roberto Lewis was commissioned to paint the murals. In June 2000 a large section of the theatre’s main ceiling mural collapsed during a ballet rehearsal. Fortunately, no one was killed. This prompted an evaluation of the structure and an urgent call for restoration and repair of the leaking roof. Emergency funds were donated from the German and American governments through the Panamanian Institute of Culture (INAC) and in 2002 just the ceiling was restored. The First Lady of the Panama took an interest in the theatre’s poor condition and secured funding from the government of Taiwan, with additional donations from the government of Japan for a complete restoration. Architects prepared a study of the building’s condition and a five million dollar construction budget. Conservators were hired to restore the painted decoration. Work began in June 2002, and it was to conclude on Panama’s centennial on November 3, 2003. However, because of numerous bureaucratic problems the work was not completed until August 2004. The conservation staff educated the public about the project through the media, web site, publications and guided tours. The technical aspects of the work included conservation of the art, and putting in a new stage, seats, lighting, air conditioning, and new dressing rooms. Nearly every problem was taken care of except a new roof, the cause of the mural collapse in the first place. Roof leaks had prompted restorations in 1941 and 1971-74. Now after nearly 100 years, the theatre is again awaiting a new roof and government action. Keywords: Panama, preservation, budgets, art conservation, politics, National Theatre, restoration, priorities.


Panama, preservation, budgets, art conservation, politics, National Theatre, restoration, priorities.