Minutes of Extraordinary meeting of Artists (Groups and Individuals) of Trinidad and Tobago
ARTISTS COALITION OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Minutes of Extraordinary meeting of Artists (Groups and Individuals) of Trinidad and Tobago
Discussions on the Draft National Cultural Policy Document & more
Saturday 12 December 2009
Seamen and Waterfront Workers of Trinidad and Tobago Union Hall, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain
Jointly Chaired by: Rubadiri Victor and Gregory Fernandez
Mairoon Ali; Fabien Alfonso; Stuart Fortune; Dave Wiliams; Muhammad Shabazz; Clive Nunez; Vijay Ramlal; Steve Cupid Theodore; Elsworth James; Rachel Collymore; Nestor Sullivan; Calvin Scantlebury; Joanne Johnson; Claudia Pegus; Curtis Bachan; Dean Arlen; Jack Alexis; Shaun Randoo; Mrs. Randoo; Michael Nobreaga; Blues; unidentified 1; unidentified2
Sheldon Manoo; Camille Selvon Abraham; Sean Thomas; Akilah;
- The meeting started at 3:00pm with an ecumenical prayer conducted by Rubadiri Victor.
- Gregory Fernandez introduced Rubadiri and himself as the chairpersons of the meeting and apologized for the late start (originally carded for a 2:00pm), as invited artists who called and indicated they were on their way, were given added time. He outlined the objectives of the meeting, to discuss:
- The Draft National Cultural Policy,
- The present state of the distribution of national resources for national cultural development with particular reference to the recently opened National Performing Arts Centre (NAPA) and
- The ‘National Culture Scholarships’ Fiasco.
He made the point that what happens in the cultural sphere is almost totally dependent on the decisions of (political) personalities who may not necessarily be in touch with the general broad national interests.
- Rubadiri Victor was then invited by Gregory to give a general outline of the Draft National Policy document and the importance of this meeting. Rubadiri began his contribution by stating the importance and necessity of ‘meeting now!’ . . . that we must address the NAPA and the issues of non -existent consultations between the Government and the Nation’s stakeholders. . . that there are endless issues and questions on the relevance of the ‘Academy’ . . . that there are several Acadamies currently in varied stages of planning and construction which are being funded without any ‘national’ input as regards conceptualization, design and labour . . . . that while massive amounts of money is being spent on monumental projects, The Little Carib Theatre remains a largely rejected project that only recently received some attention by the authorities as regards the long overdue restoration plan. . . that 46 million dollars are attached to a recently unearthed Ministry of Culture ‘Scholarship’ scandal, while the actual needs of local culture are being ignored. . . that ‘the passing’ of the Golden Generation is upon us , and the dire need for the documentation, collection and transmission of information on these stalwarts needs the immediate attention of professional archiving. . . . that that history of the Golden Generation could be captured and romanticized and passed on to the present and future generations, where biographical data will marry the practice of each of the varied discipline’s peculiar language, manner and medium, and possibly conducted in the age-old tradition of the ‘master and apprentice’ model. . . . that there is a crisis of inheritance. . .that there is no ‘centre’ . . . that no mainstreaming of ‘genius’ has occurred during the post- independence period . . . that the issue of ‘Local Content’ is far from reaching a satisfactory level of acceptance.
- Rubadiri then dealt with the question of ‘solutions’. . . he started by giving a brief overview of the history of the Draft National Cultural Policy Document. . . . that it started off as a Government commissioned exercise made up of a 12 Member Committee . . . that within two weeks most of the Committee started to drop out until it came down to three members strong : The Ministry of Culture’s Eric Butler, Dr. Bruce Paddington and Rubadiri Victor . . .the three of whom met for about a one year period working on the document (completed in2007), which was culled and created in the ‘language’ of our country’s Vision 2020 with the view of getting Cabinet’s approval for the first phase of Public Consultations. . . He made the point that there was no correspondence whatsoever after an incomplete document was literally taken from them without much forewarning, and before any definite completion date was previously given. For some time thereafter, they were left to wonder as to : a. What was Cabinet’s response to the Draft Document? ; b. When would public consultations on the document begin? ; c. Would the services of the Draft Document Committee be further required? ; and d. When would the question of monetary compensation be discussed ?
- Rubadiri went on to explain that despite the delay in the advancement of the Draft Document, there were major victories for ’Artists’ that were won through a lot of activity that took place on ’the ground’ – that as a unified force, while speaking the’ language of the politicians’ through petitioned correspondences with the relevent Government agencies, the Artists staged a ‘March for Local Content”’ (during the UNC time in Government). . . That through consultations thereafter with then Government MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, promises were made for the implementation of the Artists’ concerns on the issue of Local Content . . .that no sooner had favourable headway was made, the Advertising Media and Broadcasting magnates blocked the passage of the ideas for the increased percentage of Local Content on the local air-waves. Rubadiri went on further to point out that more recently we saw the eventual opening up of ‘licensing’ with the advent of considerably more Radio Stations coming on the national air-waves. He mentioned too, that promises made for Tax exemptions on imports of up to 150% per every one million dollars spent, were never implemented. This was followed by another promise of 100% Tax exemptions per every one million dollars spent, that proved to be just ‘empty talk’ . He emphasized the point that an apparent 0% investment in the nation’s Human Resource has been perpetuated with the recent façade of the distribution of ‘Culture Scholarships’ and its ensuing scandal being the ‘end result’ of Government’s ‘investment’.
- Rubadiri then made a call for the end of the ‘vai-que-vai-ness’ in the manner in which business is conducted and the necessity to deal expeditiously with the NAPA issue. Gregory then expressed his view that the NAPA is seen by many as a very successful and beautiful monument for the Arts and Culture. He furthered this point by quoting the PM”s recent pronouncement that “We have the best Opera House in the world!”. Gregory emphasized that this is a dangerous mind-set, when in reality, NAPA falls way below our Cultural art-forms’ varied and peculiar needs. Rubadiri then called for:
- the need for stakeholders to have their own consultations on the Cultural Draft Policy,
- the need for stakeholders’ draft reports on the NAPA as regards Technical and Specification relevance to their respective art-form’s peculiar needs, so that they may be collectively addressed to Cabinet and UDECOTT,
- the re-tabling of the issue of Local Content, and
- the Public launch of:
- The Guild of Masters series (in conjunction with the UTT in January 2010) – a project-oriented initiative built upon the Elder/Master-Apprentice model, with 144 Elders already on board, and;
- The Inheritance Lecture series to be hosted in conjunction with the National Museum.
- Rubadiri then opened the floor for comments by members. Dave Williams : Dave illustrated his discomfort with the continuous use of the word ‘Culture’ throughout the meeting. . . .that it was an overused word that held no definite meaning in Trinidadian society . . . that it seemed to be a spoken word that passes through the head then out of the mouth then into space . . . He made the point that he was more interested in the question of ‘How do we reach our people ?’ . . . He emphasized that there is no culture of teaching. . . He questioned ‘where is the soul ?’. . . that we needed to get to the minds of the public and not necessarily to the politicians . . . . that a re-direction of our focus was necessary.
- Mohammed Shabazz: Shabazz started off by declaring the recent formation of his own group, ATEC, (African Trinidadian Equality Commission). . . . that the need to form his own movement is a result of his past experiences. . . . that his experiences with ‘groups’ and ‘organizations’ over the years have been largely disappointing . . .that with his comrade-in-arms, Clive Nunes, he was part of a pressure group years ago ,the Committee of Ten, (forerunner to the Calypsonian’s Association), who picketed Cabinet on the issue of Local Content . He expressed that he found it ironic that he walked then behind leaders marching for that cause, only to find himself walking behind new leaders marching for that same cause years later. He made the point that little has changed. He went on to illustrate one particular battle that organization fought and won, where a radio announcer was wrongfully fired from a local radio station over radio programming issues ; the programme director, Judy Gonzales was eventually forced through the Committee of Ten’s protest action to reinstate Billy Reece to his position . Shabazz emphasized the point that we needed to record our history.
- Gregory interjected that there truly is the need to fight ! . . . that there does exist ‘ a history of struggle’.
- Steve Cupid Theodore : Steve emphasized the importance of and need for a ‘historical narrative’ . . .he went on to point out that in the matter of championing causes, no ‘one’ strategy works. . .that working smartly should be the goal in ‘strategizing’ . . .he posed the question; ‘why do we need to learn from NAPA ?’ –why is this important and to whom is it important? . . . He challenged everyone to think about how the very stakeholders could be served – through ‘work’ , lecture series, ways of ‘supporting ourselves’ ?
- Rubadiri then interjected with the information that a History of Trinidad and Tobago’s Art and Culture is to be exhibited as a documentation of stories and memories at the National museum. . . . that it would remain as a permanent exhibit at the National Museum.
- Elsworth James : Elsworth shared his own story of struggle in Canada, where he led a march of 500 Trinis strong (June 9, 2006, after the historic FIFA World Cup 0-0 draw vs Sweden ) to protest the then imminent take-over of the running of CARIBANA from ‘the people’ by the Toronto authorities (Festival Management Committee). With such a strong show of force, the authorities called a truce and consultations were held and brokered by the lawyer Charles Oates on behalf of ‘the people’, only for agreements to be subsequently broken and undermined through the ‘ wheeling and dealings’ of the said lawyer with the FMC ! Elsworth expressed his concern that this Association not go down a similar road . . . that vigilance is always kept . . .that it does not end up being just a ‘Paper Tiger”.
- Rubadiri then interjected with a call for all Artists’ groups and individuals to write/record their histories. He pointed to the recent passing of the Tassa specialist,_________, whose ‘story’ ironically, was recorded mere days before his untimely death.
- Rachel Collymoore : Rachel made the observation that today’s young people do not know what is being fought for. . .that they are the ones who would need to carry the fight forward . . .that we have in Trinidad and Tobago a very diverse ‘youth culture’ that needs to be tapped into in order to get to them. . . she then questioned if this ‘tapping into’ was going to come from the ground level up and into the Educational Curriculum.
- Nestor Sullivan : Nestor posed the question ; ‘Who is it that we have to address ?’. . .He responded to his own question with the declaration that we have to address ‘the people’. . .that we should make the Draft National Cultural Policy Document a ‘living document’. . . .He proposed an educational drive be started, where a simplified version of the Document be made available for public ‘consumption’. . . Finally he made the forceful call for the lobbying of the National Carnival Commission to be ‘democratized’.
- Dave Williams : Dave then illustrated the deep importance of educating the people about our histories and stories of struggle. . .that it is in understanding the actions of those before our time , that we better understand self. ..He emphasized that this was all about ‘realizing self’.
- Dean Arlene : Dean shared his experience of dealing with ‘language’ as an artist . . .that we need to educate on ‘how to activate’ . . .that there is the simple way of getting through to and learning from others by “beating the streets and ‘talk’ “. . .that it is important that we develop an understanding of how we ‘activate’. . . .He illustrated a technique he practiced in communities he worked in where he would ‘sit’ with 12 people and talk.
- Jack ; Mr. Jack complained that this meeting was a badly chaired one . . . He made the point that the goals and objectives of the meeting were unclear . . .He argued that we needed to go back to the people to bring them back together. . .He argued that the works of the People’s Democracy to be an example of failed activism. . .that black people are not taken seriously . . .that their undoing emanates from a lack of knowledge of self . . .that the literary piece, Black Studies, penned over three decades ago , holds the same relevance for today as it did at the time of its first publication. . .that not enough black people are reading that type of literature . . He concluded by saying we must pay particular emphasis on proper organization.
- Curtis Bachan : Curtis began with the declaration that in Trinidad and Tobago, ‘Talents run riot’ . . .He went on to describe the deficiencies in NAPA’s ‘first show’ . . .that there are grave issues in NAPA’s Tech infrastructure . . .He pointed out that the recent passing of the local Theatre icon, George Williams came so soon after his ‘story’ was recorded .
- Mohammed Shabbaz : Shabbaz brought up the question of how we will go about financing our activities . . .He questioned too the recording of what we are doing as a group . . .He then spoke about leadership and leaders . . that ‘We are the leaders !’ . . .that “We ‘doh follow leaders !” . ..he emphasized the point that ‘when in battle’, we have to fight for and support each other almost unconditionally. . . . that this fight is for Generation Next . . . .that we must be aware that those in authority do not want us to fight.
- Fabien Alfonso : Fabien questioned ‘Who are the stakeholders?’ . . .He made the point that we are ‘the stakeholders’. . .that we understand this, especially in the light of Government’s own view of who the stakeholders are . . . .that their view on who are the stewards and beneficiaries of ‘culture’, is not the same as ours.
- The question then came from the floor as to ‘what’s next ?’Rubadiri then called out for volunteers for a Special Committee that would address the issues brought up in this meeting and chart the way forward for a united Artists organization.
- Rubadiri then asked Myroon Ali if she had any contribution she would like to make. Myroon asked to be excused as she was just about to leave the meeting since she had a prior engagement to attend. Rubadiri begged her to ‘speak her mind’ first, before she left. Myroon then went on to lament that ours was a sick nation . . .that it is about healing a sick nation . . .she observed that we have a new cultural language to deal with. . .that today’s language is about ‘hate’ and ‘getting’ and ‘having money’, and of ‘getting more’. . .that it is about ‘being sexy !’. . .’being Beautiful !’. . .She then expressed disappointment in the meeting’s apparent low turn -out of cultural members of the nation’s East Indian community.Rubadiri then asked her if she would like to be a member of the Special committee, to which she declined, citing lack of time due to the various projects she was currently engaged in.
- Stuart Fortune : Stuart questioned if there was any available information on cultural activism strategies.
Rubadiri responded to this, citing one of the most sophisticated cultural apparatus as the Canadian model which he has studied. He went on further to describe an encounter he had with Canada’s most celebrated cultural activist,_________, who advised him on strategies in activism, leaving him with the advice that in order to be effective against the adversary, ’you have to be an ass-hole . . . be an ass-hole’ .
- Steve Cupid Theodore : Steve again made the point that the History of the struggle must be recorded. . . . that an Agenda ought to be set for the next meeting . . . that there must be an educating of particular individuals who would be trained in this activism and then sent out to in turn inform and educate the people . . . that a team must sit to get down to the business of strategy building. . .that the issue of consultations with the stakeholders and the relevant authorities would be carefully addressed. . . that the pros and cons in the proposed engagement of consultations would be weighed and examined before -hand. . .that the question of whether or not Parliament need be addressed on the critical issues be discussed and examined.
- Gregory then called for volunteers for the formation of a Secretariat for future meetings . . . that an Action Plan be devised for the ‘next step forward’.
- Rubadiri then invited Joanne Johnson to share her thoughts.Joanne Johnson : Joanne made the point that ‘We are all connected to the history of wrong doing, regardless of race and skin colour” . . .that ‘We share in the burning of conscience”. . .that through her extensive research on and discussions with children, she found that we have the same hopes and dreams. . .She cited Dean Arlene’s communication ‘technique’ of ‘sitting and talking with 12 people’ as a strong strategy in connecting with the people. . .She drew the parallel with that and the work currently being orchestrated by an elderly Scottish couple in their home-town, where they are compiling a series of interviews of the elderly folk, native to that town – a way of preserving their town’s memory .. . . .She urged the embracing of the electronic media in the areas of record keeping and information-dissemination, emphasizing the importance of being relevant and accessible to the youth . . . . She stressed too the need to tap into the resources of the corporate citizens. . . that through the media and advertising a broader sense of ownership to the cultural cause would be possible . . . She pointed out too that a management entity within the organization should be set up to deal specifically with the finances that would be attained through the various donations and investments that would come from patrons. . . . that small percentages from these funds be invested and managed for the sustainability of the organization.
- Claudia Pegus: Claudia made the point that a meeting of this magnitude needed to be properly recorded. . .that having the press as part of this ‘First’ gathering would not necessarily have been a good idea. . . that in future meetings the Press should be invited . . . . . that a great opportunity has been lost if this meeting was not recorded. . . . that strategic points should be noted for the next meeting’s agenda . . . that the Young People’s language ought to be understood and ‘spoken’ so that we keep in touch with them. . . that we build on the positives without looking back too much on the past and the setbacks we have endured. . . that we look at the new and modern as opposed to old and out-dated ways of the implementation of ideas and strategies. . .that a report on this meeting should be sent to the Press.
- Rachel Collymore : Rachel agreed with Claudia on the issue of utilizing the ‘modern’ tools that works with today’s youth . . . that the setting up of social networks and using the media should be pursued in getting the word out.
- Gregory then made a last call for volunteers for the Secretariat, to which Dave Williams suggested it be made clear what positions needed to be filled. . . Dave further suggested personnel necessary for filling those positions could be out-sourced by the people present at the meeting who may access appropriately skilled individuals who may best fit those positions.
- Rubadiri then quickly re-capped the generally agreed upon points that were shared throughout the meeting. . . that everyone was committed to ‘action !’ and to ‘community outreach’ . . .that individuals and groups get down to the documentation of their work, their histories and their current endeavours.
- Rubadiri then brought the meeting to a close, ending the way it started, with an ecumenical prayer .
1. An Artist Coalition Website- with minutes of meeting, past work, a history of artist struggle, and projects, a video link
6. INHERITANCE- Grounding with the Elders
7. The Guilds of Masters
9. Collecting artefacts for the History of the Art and Culture of Trinidad and Tobago Exhibition in May/June
11. Minutes of the meeting
27. National Cultural Policy committee for implementation