“You can’t build a brontosaurus rex—or a Ferrari—from a pompek skeleton,” I tell my film-writing class. The lesson is about “structure”. There’re laws of structure. Laws of causation and resolution. Like the laws of gravity— they cannot be disobeyed. How you start will determine how you proceed. In your beginning is your end. A “first principle” is the ultimate starting point. It’s the one principle that cannot be deduced from any other. First causes. The prime mover. The unmoved mover. It’s about origins.
In art and culture it’s about the immortal mythical laws that make up art and craft. The building blocks of an artifact, a tradition, a civilisation… It’s why a musical note possesses a certain character; why sequences of notes affect you a certain way; why certain narratives bring you to tears… It’s the foundation upon which beauty and great art is built. Spoiler, Tagore, Fela, Bruce Lee, and Frank Lloyd Wright understood this. In their cells. That’s why they’re genius. Get it right in the beginning. Ensure the enterprise is built on fundamental truth, on tradition fully understood… That’s why things that are genius work: as extraordinary as they are, they’re simply evidence of “first principles” at work, excellently…
This Government is continually trying to breach first principles. Through the Minister of Planning it’s seemingly trying to do it in our culture and creative industries.
For the first two People’s Partnership budgets the Artists’ Coalition with stakeholders won revolutionary gains. Seventy-five per cent of the progressive agenda of the sector — ignored since Independence — was passed at parliamentary and cabinet level. Elements in these proposals were arrived at through generations of consultations, debate, research, and innovation.
Suddenly all these initiatives seem to have disappeared in the last budget — without explanation. In their place has arrived the idea of a “Creative Industries Company” (CIC) formed from the wrapping up of the T&T Film Company, T&T Entertainment Company, T&T Theatre Co., and Fashion board. This company is supposed to look after the entrepreneurial trust of the sector. This is also precisely the idea that Pat Bishop died fighting against…
The CIC is precisely the kind of idea created by people who don’t understand “first principles”. The idea of a super-company was roundly rejected by most who sat on the expert panel. Now after three years in which no budget projects were implemented this super-company has re-emerged displacing all else. What’s the agenda here?
The institution the sector demands is the National Arts Council — an arm’s length institution based on the British and Canadian models. The Council is supposed to roll out the 129 projects approved by cabinet for which $100 million was set aside in budget 2011 — all misappropriated for 50th Independence anniversary fiascoes. The programme for our creative sector — in decline for 17 years — was simple: heritage, incubation, then entrepreneurship.
Firstly, you must consolidate our dying heritage by protecting sites, documenting, collecting, patenting, curating, and institutionalising legacy.
Secondly, we must create proper systems for the incubation of our artists and their products — from idea all the way through prototype, artifact, registration, management, exhibition, distribution, marketplace, critical analysis, canonisation, to curation as heritage.
Thirdly, we must create sustainable entrepreneurial and industrial systems. None can work without the other. T&T has done none. That’s why everything is collapsing.
We must begin with first principles. The CIC is not first principles. Where has it emerged from? The sector is in uproar over the high-handedness and shadowiness in which this is being conducted. Things conducted in this manner foster rumour. Rumours that there’re plans for an industrial estate in Caroni that will centralise pan, mas, and fashion factories with a film city — that local big boys are already lined up with international Bollywood financiers. That plans for Invaders Bay and to consolidate ownership of all factors of production in a few hands are afoot… rumours… This happens when there’s no consultation…
During the budget the sector sent letters to ministers of Planning and Trade requesting explanations (copied to the Prime Minister). “Trade” replied immediately asking for recommendations. Minister Tewarie replied a week later saying: “I am unable to take time out to respond to you at this time, Sorry I am hoping that you will understand.” Since then — silence.
Here’s what we know — this is the CIC board: chairman: Derek Chin of MovieTowne; Joe Pires of Caribbean Chemicals and mega farms; Donna Chin Lee; fashion photographer Calvin French; tour guide Stephen Broadbridge; Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam; Christopher Laird of Banyan; and an unnamed member of UTT and the Ministry of Trade.
Full disclosure — when I asked questions I was offered a board position. It’s the reason I got a meeting with Senator Karim and know what I know. This article may revoke my “board invitation” but I’m stating categorically that I’ll only accept under the following conditions: that the agendas won in the first two budgets be implemented under an arts council formed according to its original mandate; and that the sector be immediately consulted on the fate of the CIC.
Pat Bishop’s death shall not be in vain.