National College of Arts

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The National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan is usually referred to by its acronym NCA. It is the oldest fine arts training institute in the country and one of the oldest and best in all of Asia.

The NCA has a rich historical tradition dating back to the days of the British Raj. During the 1860s, it was established in Lahore, in the Punjab region, as the 'Punjab School of Arts' and was then renamed the 'Mayo School of Arts, Lahore', after Lord Mayo, a Viceroy of India. In the 1890s, it moved to its present location next to the Lahore Museum and became the 'Mayo College of Arts' and after Partition and Independence of Pakistan in 1947, it was formally designated as the 'National College of Arts'.

The old Mayo School and College had the unique distinction of having as its first principal and head, Mr John Lockwood Kipling, father of the writer Rudyard Kipling, who was also Curator of the Lahore Museum simultaneously.

National College of Arts
Former name
Mayo School of Industrial Arts
Mottoکسب کمال کُن کہ عزیز جہان شوی Kasb-e-kamal kun ke Aziz-e-Jahan shavi
Motto in English
Seek excellence in your work, so you can be admired by the world
TypePublic, art school
Academic affiliation
Higher Education Commission (Pakistan)
Pakistan Council for Architects and Town Planners
PrincipalProf. Dr. Murtaza Jafri
Academic staff

The National College of Arts, formerly known as Mayo School of Art was established in 1875, with the intention of having a centre that served the demands of the local and British peers and the government, by preserving and patronizing the craft of Punjab.

The foundation stone of the Kipling Block (now the Administration block) was laid on January 3,1880 by Prince Albert Victor, and presents an early example of the utilization of Mughal imagery. Referred to as ‘late Mughal’ style in contemporary accounts, its construction was supervised by a famous engineer from Lahore, Khan Bahadur Ganga Ram, who later became well known for his philanthropy. Initially, the building consisted of six rooms. Temporary additions were made to it in 1881. In 1891, these temporary structures were made permanent in accordance with a design prepared by the Principal. Now the school had proper workshops equipped with tools and machines. In 1902 four large machine workshops and photolithography studio were already functioning. The fountain in the front of the main entrance was designed by Sirdar Bahadur Bhai Ram Singh, much admired as a designer and craftsman when selected to decorate a section of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House. Kipling utilized his crafts and sculpture background to construct a comparatively simple but elegantly detailed structure. The beautifully laid brick masonry of the walls ends at the roof with an outer cornice of red sand- stone, which, historian Latif informs, had been obtained from Delhi.

The Mayo School of Industrial Art was set up in memory of the assassinated British Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo. John Lockwood Kipling (father of author Rudyard Kipling), a teacher of painting, sculpture and architectural embellishment and proponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement working then at the J.J. School of Art Bombay, was appointed as the Mayo School of Art’s first Principal. He also held charge as the curator of the Central Museum Lahore.

The Mayo School of Art was established in 1875 on the lines of the Kensington model, in conjunction with the Central Museum. The School was to document the arts and crafts of the Punjab, with the aim of training excellent craftsmen who would serve the demands of craft production. The Mayo School became a centre of craft excellence under the direction of a line of accomplished heads, including J.L Kipling, Sir Percy Brown, Lionel Heath, Bhai Ram Singh and S. N. Gupta. The school was also tasked with the monitoring of craft institutions of the Punjab and in such capacity, was well connected with other institutions throughout the province. Over the years, inclusion of the fine arts became part of the school’s curriculum, along with architectural drafting and drawing, embellishment crafts, woodwork, wood carving, weaving, embroidery, blacksmith, metalwork and bookbinding.

Following the partition of the Indian Subcontinent, the Mayo School underwent many changes. From 1956 to 1958 the Mayo School went through a process of restructuring by the Government of Pakistan to become the National College of Arts. Professor Mark Ritter Sponenburg (1916-2012), a graduate of the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, and the L’ Ecole des Beaux Arts Paris, was given charge as Principal. A celebrated artist well versed in American and European art and design education, Sponenburgh introduced the modernised curriculum which is the root of today’s National College of Arts. He encouraged an understanding and exploration of indigenous craft and culture. The exhibition ‘Folk Arts of Swat’ based on research in Swat, in collaboration with NCA students, is still on display at the Lahore Museum.

The departments of Fine Arts, Design and Architecture were established in 1958 and the Mayo School was finally transferred to the Ministry of Education. The College was sanctioned a Board of Governors as recognition of its superior quality of education. The new breed of artists, designers and architects filled many professional voids. A new policy introduced in 1972 recognized the achievements of the College and further planned its development as a centre of excellence in the arts. A unique measure of autonomy, under the Federal Government, was ensured from this point on. In 1985 the College was granted a degree awarding status. This also empowered the NCA to institute graduate programmes in the field of Visual Arts and Interior Design (1999), Multimedia Arts (2001) and Communication and Cultural Studies (2005). The College offers MA degrees in Visual Art, Interior Design and Multimedia Design and an MPhil leading to PhD in Communication and Cultural Studies. The departments of Musicology, Film & Television were established in a few years later, along with the Centre for Conservation and Cultural Heritage Management.

The Research and Publication Centre was established in 1999, and has produced milestone publications on history, art, and the social sciences. A project for the restoration and conservation of the archival records of Mayo School of Arts was also initiated in 1999. Today the NCA Archives is considered an essential resource for research on art history and the history of art, craft, design and architecture of Pakistan and pre- partition Punjab.

NCA is ideally located in the heart of the cultural capital and enjoys a historically rich neighbourhood. The College is flanked on either side by the Lahore Museum and the Town Hall respectively, with the Punjab University Old Campus across the road. The lure of the city for students is not just limited to the magic of history and the world heritage sites. The area between the Badshahi Mosque and the NCA is a treasure trove of materials, from the traditional to the contemporary. This is a city where people make things on site and a living is made from ideas; from metalwork and plastics to print workshops and digital art. This is an extraordinary space for research, collaboration and innovation, one that is utilized by NCA students as a home away from home from the first day of their entry into the College.

The National College of Arts has two campuses i.e. Lahore (Main Campus) and Rawalpindi. The Rawalpindi campus was set up in the historic, Liaquat Memorial Hall in January 2006. The iconic Liaquat Hall was designed by the Greek Architect, Doxiadis. This multilevel building lies in the heart of Rawalpindi city. It has a long thriving history of performing arts. The Rawalpindi/Islamabad area has an active body of professionals, many of whom are NCA alumnus, as well as other bodies who have been working towards the setting up of professional art schools. Their resources are utilized in addition to the inputs that the current NCA faculty provides. The project is said to be a turning point in the history of the NCA.

Recently, the Ministry of Federal Education has allocated an auditorium space in Islamabad with the aim of making our local art and culture accessible to a larger audience. The initiative has proven especially beneficial in the exchange of art and ideas, perpetuating a soft image of Pakistan internationally. The National College of Arts holds art exhibitions, cultural symposia and conferences, as well as NCA productions, documentaries and films at the auditorium. A space in the capital city, dedicated to artistic endeavours has increased access for foreign missions to view art and engage in artistic activities. The National College of Arts also offers short courses on various traditional and contemporary arts for the international missions in Islamabad and for the public at large.

NCA Lahore has a hostel facility approximately 1.5 km from its main campus located at 4-Sanda Road Lahore over an area of 36 Kanals (165000 sft). The hostel building was handed over to NCA (Mayo School of Arts then) in 1921. It was originally an orphanage run by Cathedral of Lahore. Its original historic block is double story building and assumed to be constructed in 1860’s. The architectural style and vocabulary identifies early Indo-British style with semicircular arches, Symmetrical floor plan, ideal orientation i.e. North- South and insulated walls in the form of 22 ½” thick brick wall. The roofing at ground floor is made by Jack Vaults in Bricks incorporated through Mild Steel I-Girders while the first floor (Top) roof is erected through Kail Wood Rafters and Planks. The building has verandah on three sides and two spiral staircases in octagonal minaret structure with an elegant central porch.

The Hostel building went through several changes by addition of a New Boys hostel building design by a faculty member Architect Professor Javed Najam in 1976, a girls hostel designed by a faculty member Architect Professor Dr. Ali Akbar in 1985, staff residential quarters designed by a faculty member Architect Professor Fauzia Hussain Qureshi, a new girls hostel building by Architect Professor Shakeel Qureshi and most recently a student cafeteria building by Architect Professor Dr. Syed Faisal Sajjad and Architect Naveed Hussain.