What we should have done
Having unfortunately witnessed many crimes in my life I can now say that the most grievous next to murder must be “waste”. Having battled for 15 years for small budgets to enact transformative plans for disenfranchised communities and the cultural sector (plans outstanding for eight generations) it’s sickening to watch hundreds of millions thrown away on pointless twat that evaporates the moment it’s launched. During the oil and gas boom of the Manning era it is estimated over $300 billion was spent at just state level. What do we have to show for it? How has the landscape been transformed in terms of capacity? How many empowered and moved into the middle class and beyond?
This repeating tragedy haunted me throughout the entire $100 million spend on the 50th Independence anniversary whilst new millionaires were minted and many “eat ah food” veterans gilded.
The problem is, in the public’s mind money was spent on “art” — and since most was mediocre, ugly and amateurish, or pretty but fleeting — people conclude that “art wastes money”. This misrepresentation of art because of ministerial ignorance of what it is — and art’s use as a funnel between the Treasury and certain people’s friends, family and constituencies must end. It’s an insult to real artists, real art, and its potential to transform consciousness, communities, and the economy.
Two years ago the Artists’ Coalition with sector groups submitted a template for the 50th anniversary with warnings that all aspects of the celebrations must leave something institutional and lasting. In defence of real art, and those who dreamed, I’d like to share those plans with you.
Firstly, we knew the celebrations must understand context: T&T culture has collapsed for 15 years in audience, earnings, indigenous retention, technical skill, and global cache for indigenous forms. Our politicians and private sector failed to create facilitative policy and legislative environments whilst not building properly programmed or purpose-built museums, academies, archives, and community centres.
Since 2000 we lost 18,000 of 20,000 Golden Age VIP Elders whilst not recording stories or passing on skill. Seventy per cent of the population is under-35 having no clue of legacy. This crisis of inheritance is resulting in the collapse of institutions and communities. Every single tradition — including our 300 Trini-styled carnivals — is in jeopardy. We’ve a year to utilise surviving elders.
Ironically at this same moment there’re Trini artistes poised in the global mainstream — Nicki Minaj, Heather Headley, Sam Mendes and more — who’re presenting us opportunities to create local initiatives which can release home-grown genius to maximise the global moment. Done right, these gambits can elevate the lives of thousands and the life of the island forever.
Here’s how it was supposed to happen.
The celebrations should’ve started in 2011 with the Prime Minister declaring 2011 into 2012 “The Year of Memory” — a period celebrating “Eldership and Legacy”, calling the population to submit old pictures and artefacts to networks including libraries. A climate-controlled curated heritage warehouse was to be created to store collected artefacts until processed for distribution to heritage sites. Carlisle Chang’s recreated mural “The Inherent Nobility of Man” was to be installed at Piarco Airport as the PM’s first gesture.
A national arts council was to be established based on the British and Canadian models. Its purpose was expediting the 50th anniversary and implementing creative sector short-to-long term initiatives. It was supposed to have individuals like Terrence Farrell as grants and venture capital fund-manager whilst the board would have experts like Minshall, Ravi Ji, Joseanne Leonard and trustees like two-time Tony-award winner Geoffrey Holder on board. An experienced arts administrator would’ve been repatriated.
The medium-term plan is to create a heritage economy earning $1 billion annually. The heritage buildings to be mobilised are: a national hall of fame; a museum of T&T music; a natural history museum (geology, flora, fauna); a heritage museum (people); a national gallery (artwork); a Carnival, steelband, and festival museum; 365 heritage sites; among others. The 50th anniversary was the period to collect and curate artefacts, audio-visual histories, and create exhibitions to inspire — whilst infrastructure was being built.
Politicians haven’t understood “content” and “administration” must be built alongside the concrete institution, so the vehicle for content creation would’ve been a unit called “Project Memory”. Its job would be recording elders and working with historians to create a virtual museum. Commissions and grants were to be established through agencies like the Film Company for creating memoirs and films of local history.
A guild of masters was to be established where master artists worked with master artisans recreating masterworks from Carnival kings to hosay tadjahs — the entire process recorded and codified. This would ensure traditional skills don’t die. These artefacts were to be exhibited country-wide, and then sent on global tours. Skills would’ve been patented, a unique curriculum generated for UTT giving it global competitiveness…
Instead, in the “Year of Waste”, geniuses who were to lead guilds died: Pat Bishop; Geraldine Connor; Sullivan Walker; Ja Jah Onilu; Aldwyn Chow Lin On; Ralph MacDonald; Geraldo Vieira… Others like Jit Samaroo and Tony Williams were lost to the ravages of senility…
To be concluded