NAPA IS THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL OF TRINBAGONIANESS
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Your descendants shall gather your fruits.”
“I have drunk deep of the waters of my ancestors. “
“There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children… one is roots, the other wings.”
REWARDING THE FOREIGN, PUNISHING THE LOCAL
FOR THE LAST 2+ YEARS DOZENS OF FOREIGN PROFESSORS HAVE BEEN LIVING HERE IN TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, BEING PAID OVER $20, $30, AND $40 THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH WITH HOUSES AND CARS FULLY PAID FOR- DOING NEXT TO NOTHING- WAITING FOR NAPA TO BE FINISHED. Nearly all of them are teachers of European Classical symphonic music. These professors make up most of the staff of the Academy for Performing Arts at NAPA which is due to open in September. In some circles it is stated that the students of these music programmes will exist solely to fill positions in the Prime Minister’s Symphonic Orchestra. There are no local professors rewarded like these foreigners.
During this same 2 year period, literally hundreds of T&T Elder Master Artists and Artisans have died in abject poverty dreaming of passing on their skills and traditions to another generation. There was no money, no Academy, and only the poor-house for the local Geniuses! Their traditions are not part of NAPA’s curriculum…
Is this how you treat your heroes? Is this how you treat your Elders?! THIS IS NOTHING LESS THAN A SIN AGAINST THE LEGACY AND ANCESTRY OF THIS COUNTRY! The dream of NAPA which artists have dreamt for 48 years was to honour the traditions and lives of those dying local giants. Instead that dream has now been betrayed.
THE DEATHS OF THE LAST DECADE
In the last 10 years: Sylvan Bharath, elder of the Tassa tradition- dead. ‘Diamond’ Jim Harding, elder of the Sailor Mas tradition- dead. Edgar Wylie- master of the traditional bat mas- dead. Cito Velasquez, master wire bender- dead. Nearlin Taitt- panman and the Trini who invented Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae- dead. Clive Bradley- master pan arranger- dead. Isaiah Boodhoo, Boscoe Holder and Carlyle Chang- master visual artists- dead. Frankie Francis, Ellis Chow Lin On, Anthony Prospect, Norman ‘Tex’ Williams, and Cito ‘Seeto’ Fermin- master big bandleaders- dead. Lloyd Best, Kwame Ture, John La Rose, Frank Rampersard, and JD Elder, master elder scholars- dead. And there are thousands more!!! ALL OF THIS IS WASTED POTENTIAL. ALL OF THESE WERE POTENTIAL TEACHERS TO OUR YOUNG. ALL OF THESE REPRESENT WHAT NAPA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT- AND WHAT IT CURRENTLY BETRAYS!!!
The recent flurry of NAPA activity by the Prime Minister, Professor Ken Julien, Minister Kangaloo, and Minister MacDonald allows us to focus on the most seriously flawed part of NAPA- the Academy. Some people still do not understand why artists are vexed with NAPA- and saddened by the continuing arrogance and ignorance of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Culture. It is the equivalent of a person killing their grandfather and burying them in an unmarked grave in the back of the house whilst holding a dinner for foreign strangers, bringing out the best china and silverware, and preparing the best meal and best rooms for them in the front. It is the height of self-contempt and self destruction.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO HAS LOST UP TO 17,000 GENIUS ELDERS FROM OUR GOLDEN AGE GENERATION IN THE LAST DECADE. T&T’s Golden Age lay between 1930 and 1950- a period of phenomenal achievement for the country. That generation is now 75, 85 and over- and is passing on… In the Golden Age period of the 30s to the 50s Pan, Mas, and Calypso emerged in their modern forms, the entire festival character of the nation took shape, it was the period of the growth of the trade unions, religious and secular organizations, and the birth of Independence. It was a period of all-round national achievement.
In one week in this last decade we lost Beryl Mc Bernie, Sundar Popo, and the Lord Kitchener. Every new week there are more deaths- too numerous to mention. We all have lost parents and grandparents from that generation as well… It has been the era of the passing of giants. Most of these giants have died without their legacies and their lives being honoured or their gifts passed on.
Artists demanded that money should have been spent documenting Golden Age Legacy. Those recorded Legacies should have been the curriculum of NAPA and should have provided the DNA of the building! It is not. Instead, a handful of historians like myself ran all over the countryside trying to document what we could. Collecting the biography is one thing, but setting up an institutional framework to pass on specialized skills is another. That requires investment and resources. NAPA was supposed to be that- amongst many other things.
THE LOSS OF THESE 17,000 GENIUSES AND THEIR STORIES IS TANTAMOUNT TO CULTURAL GENOCIDE. IF AN INVADING FORCE WANTED TO WIPE OUT THE SOUL AND MEMORY OF OUR NATION THEY COULD NOT HAVE DONE A MORE COMPREHENSIVE & EFFICIENT JOB THAN THIS GOVERNMENT.
Since 2003 the PNM government was warned that we had until this year- 2010- to document, celebrate and pass on the Golden Age generation traditions before most of that generation passes on. THEY REFUSED TO HONOUR THE ELDERS AND FUND THE PROGRAMMES WHILST BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WERE BEING SQUANDERED ELSEWHERE. We are now in a race against time to capture the MEMORY of our nation before the point of no return- before this year is out! WE DO NOT HAVE TIME TO WASTE WHERE NAPA IS CONCERNED. WE NEED TO LOCALISE THE CURRICULUM URGENTLY. AS A NATION WE NEED TO RECORD, CELEBRATE AND PASS ON THE LEGACIES OF OUR ELDER GOLDEN AGE GENERATION IMMEDIATELY.
The tragedy is that the PNM Government was only interested in concrete and steel and UDECOTT. NAPA was only for show and boast. They cared nothing for the human beings who conceived of NAPA, nothing for the human practitioners of culture, and nothing for the traditions of the grassroots people who created the most vital aspects of the culture of this great land. Thousands died and the memory of their skills and lives disappeared with them.
Because of this many local traditions are collapsing and some have disappeared altogether-TRADITIONAL MAS TRADITIONS SUCH AS MINSTRELS, COWBANDS, AND BOOKMAN, BEASTS AND IMPS HAVE ALL DISAPPEARED FROM THE STREETS ON CARNIVAL MONDAY AND TUESDAY. There are many other traditions that are on the verge… There is one Pierrot Grenade left…
In 5 years time this country will be unrecognizable in its vibrations- if we do not engage this process of the rehabilitation and remodeling of the NAPAs now!!!… ACTT and stakeholders have given the government all the blueprints for years…
THE PRESENT POLITICKING
And so it seems this battle will happen in chapters. During the first engagement of the NAPA battle the press focused on the ‘technical’ flaws of the Performing Arts Space. ACTT was able to show that NAPA had a badly conceived operatic stage- completely unsuited for local traditions and the kind of productions that local practitioners create. The completely ‘out-of-timing’ stage and seating has even compromised NAPA’s ability to pay for itself- and in its present state it is set to be a drain on the Treasury like Caroni 1975 Ltd. A host of bad choices in equipment, installation and in construction in NAPA has also led to flaws which are leading to major cost over-runs. Complete cluelessness in administration, programming and sustainability has led to running losses to date and into the distant future.
A one-year ‘warranty’ has been ‘mentioned’ (that no one has seen) and it is stated that repairs will be covered therein. Questions remain such as: Does the ‘warranty’ cover instances where the flaws were actually things that the government ordered? Would the warranty cover the upgrading of the ‘Hotel’ from 3 star to 5 star status? And aren’t all these questions moot since the entire project was funded by a foreign Chinese loan, is owned by the Chinese until paid for, and will all end up in their bank anyway?
NAPA IS NOT A GIFT, IT WAS FOUGHT FOR WITH SWEAT, BLOOD AND TEARS FIRST WE MUST MAKE IT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THAT NAPA DOES NOT BELONG TO PM MANNING. IT IS NOT HIS IDEA. A HOME FOR THE ARTS, AND AN ACADEMY FOR TRINIS TO GET TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION IN THE ARTS IS NOT A PNM OR A PATRICK MANNING IDEA- IT IS THE IDEA OF ARTISTS.
ARTISTS FOUGHT FOR THIS INSTITUTION SINCE THE 1950S. They fought successive PNM administrations- including Manning- who all refused to build such a facility when money was available to do so. It was only after massive stakeholder lobbying (and when NAPA finally coincided with PM Manning’s CHOGUM objective) that NAPA was built. The Manning version of NAPA deeply betrays many of the core values that NAPA was conceived for by artists and grassroots communities who fought for it for decades…
It is necessary to make this declaration of citizen ownership of the idea of NAPA. Normal citizens must assert ownership over their Ideas because it is becoming habit for government to claim propriety of initiatives which they themselves fought against with their every breath- and which citizens battled for tooth and nail. As soon as projects are initiated and successful, suddenly they now automatically become tagged as ‘owned by government’. The press has also been conspiring- by lack of research- to erase the fingerprints of citizens from off institutions they fought for. Government has facilitated this sleight of hand. This is dishonesty of the highest level. This is criminal. It is theft. And it has the effect of dis-empowering citizens and communities- whilst giving an inflated idea of what the government does. Such a culture of theft of ownership is the handmaiden of dependency…
Most of the progressive initiatives taking place in the Ministries of Sport and in Culture exist because of the never-say-die battles waged by courageous citizens who sacrificed to fight the power of government to get dreams implemented. These citizens risked and endured victimization and alienation to get progress. It is criminal now to add insult to injury and make them suffer the final indignity of being written out of history. I will not allow this in the Cultural sector! We shall write the real history…
In a piece that will soon be released I will trace the evolution of the idea of the Home for the Arts (NAPA) from its first beginnings with people like CLR James, through its first blueprints in the 1960s by mas geniuses George Bailey and Terry Evelyn, through to the dozens of ideas that emerged under the NAR consultations by some of the country’s greatest architects. When we look at this treasure trove of ideas it will be very clear that there were absolutely no consultations on Manning’s NAPA.
What will also be clear is that Manning’s version of NAPA did not reference or even give the most casual glance to any of the profound documents that preceded it. The entire local philosophical, architectural and technical plans for NAPA that existed before 2005 were completely ignored in favour of Manning’s and Calder Hart’s ‘foreign-used’ NAPA plans. This ‘foreign-used NAPA’ is now poised to undermine and destroy Trinidad and Tobago’s 500 year local traditions.
WHAT IS AN ACADEMY?
An Academy is defined as ‘the institution responsible for the passing on of your traditions’. Which begs the question- what then are T&T’s traditions? Any citizen could give the PNM a long exhaustive list of the hundreds of components of T&T’s glorious cultural traditions. Then why are these things not part of NAPA? If NAPA does not care about our traditions then it should not exist…
The Manning NAPA Academy as organised by Professor Ken Julien is nothing less than a betrayal of Trinidad and Tobagonianess. In the last 7 years, in a period of unprecedented wealth, in a $200 Billion boom, the PNM oversaw the collapse of large areas of the cultural sector. Every single T&T cultural tradition is in decline. There was minimum investment in the sector and less in preserving Heritage. It is one of the greatest missed opportunities in our region’s history.
In that period there should have been a Trinidad and Tobago cultural Renaissance- instead there was an Apocalypse.
In the last 5 years over $700 Million was spent on the concrete, steel and glass of the north and south NAPAs- and nothing in the human component of culture. Except for foreign European classical professors… NAPA’s present curriculum is a bad foreign joke with some local stuff thrown in for flavor. We need to get serious. There are hundreds of Trinidad and Tobago Geniuses who need to be at the heart of NAPA- Leroy Clarke, Minshall, Pat Bishop, Geoffery Holder, Aldwyn Chow Lion On, Senor Gomez, Deryck Walcott, and much, much more…
NAPA was never meant to just be ‘another art school’. It was not meant just to teach students basics. It was not meant just to ‘certify students’. It was to be much bigger than that. It was supposed to be the Centre of our Civilization. It was supposed to be our cathedral to our best self. It was supposed to graduate students who would have been rooted in our genius traditions and the other traditions of the world. It was supposed to matriculate students into the sources of the 5 civilisations that have made us unique!
A graduate from THE REAL NAPA that was envisaged by stakeholders would become invaluable to the planet because of the unique creative problem-solving and creative skills they possess. NAPA would then have become a centre of innovation for all aspects of our culture- from Carnival and international festival costume production, to steelband technology and much more… The present conception of NAPA fails to do this- and as a nation WE DO NOT HAVE TIME!
LESSONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT
This government needs to understand that you cannot disrespect local artist traditions, refuse to hold artist consultations, and disrespect artist representatives- and then convincingly try to sell Arts as a career to the youths of the nation. You cannot preside over a genocidal decimation of your cultural Memory and artisan class and expect to be taken seriously as a ‘Champion of the Arts’!… You cannot stand up in front of 10 year olds and ask them to dream of becoming an Artist if your version of an Artist is a slave. Or a mimic…
What you are then defending is ‘self’ and ‘ego’- not Arts and Culture. If you care about Culture and the Arts being a pillar of a diversified economy the first place to start is to respect the Genius Legacy of the past and respect artists enough to consult and sit and break bread with them and their representatives. We artists are waiting for that consultation and that Respect.
I know this sounds rough and hardcore, but this is real. This is life and death business. The fate of everything we call Trinbagonian stands in the balance. Below is a link: on that page is the reason why we are so hardcore. It is just a short list of some of the Elder Masters who have died- many who I knew personally. In the last decade we have had the opportunity to attend hundreds of funerals. There are 3000 Geniuses still alive. Let us treasure them. Their stories and lives must be documented and honoured. Their skills must be passed on. They are our touchstones to a Golden Past and our inspiration, guides, and launching pads to a Golden Future. Let us make the present moment Golden! Our duty is to them, to our history and to our future.
ACTT has stated before LET US DECLARE 2010 ‘THE YEAR OF MEMORY’- AND BE ABOUT OUR GRANDPARENTS BUSINESS.