The St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre was opened on May 22, 1967 by the Hon J R Smallwood, P.C., Premier of Newfoundland. The first performance was held that night - TOMORROW WILL BE SUNDAY, by Harold Horwood, presented by the St. John’s Players as part of the 1967 Dominion Drama Festival.
The building was officially declared operational on October 1, 1967.
Built at a cost of approximately eight million dollars, the Centre was the Province’s major Centennial project. The cost was shared between the Federal and Provincial Governments, with the province contributing five and a half million; the federal government provided the remaining two and a half million.
Ground was broken for the construction in April, 1965. The actual site of the building was originally the Church of England Boys Orphanage, and the double line of mature trees to the south of the building formed the driveway to the orphanage.
The building was designed by architects from two companies – Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopulos, Lebensold & Sise of Montreal and Cummings, Dove & Whitten of St. John’s. Construction was by Lundrigans of Corner Brook, and Newfoundland Engineering and Construction of St. John’s.
Included in the building were the Theatre, the Memorial University Art Gallery, the provincial libraries, a crafts teaching facility and a full service restaurant. In the intervening years, the Art gallery has moved to become part of the Rooms, the craft teaching section has become part of the College of the North Atlantic, and regretfully, the restaurant is no longer functional. A wonderful addition to the building is the Basement theatre which has recently been renovated.
Since 1967, the Theatre has been host to a multitude of local national and international artists, enjoyed by approximately 100,000 patrons annually.
The Centre was designed primarily to be used by and for the people of the Province, and attendance figures for both the Theatre, and the Centre, have attested to the correctness of this concept.
To quote from the original mandate given to the architects …. The facilities of the centre are to be grouped together in one building, centred around a top lit central concourse which will give access to all the principal spaces ….. it is hoped that the experiences of the public, with respect to the various art forms will be enriched by bringing these facilities together in one complex …. the architectural plan has been devised in a manner that stresses the interrelatedness of the various arts … the form of the building is conceived as a strong ‘castle-like structure’ which it is hoped will give appropriate expression to the qualities of both the people of the Province and the striking local environment.