Dear Minister Tewarie

Dear Minister Tewarie, greetings from the local cultural community! This message meets you on the day the canny Mayans earmarked as the End of Ages—so either this missive meets you throat-deep in water, avoiding the flames, or experiencing the molecular re-alignment of harmonic convergence. However the day meets you, may my message reach you, too!

How did we reach this pass? How can the country of CLR James, Beryl, Sundar, Carlisle Chang, Attila, Spoiler, Kitchener, Bailey, Constantine, Butler, Rienzi, and so many warriors and artisans of Light lie so ruined? So far off-course? So bereft of Hope and Dream? How did we become such a dirty, harried, mangy shadow of ourself? And in particular—how have the dreams of artists who slaved so hard for this place been so completely betrayed with such bloodless ruthlessness by politicians? Of course I’m talking about your Cabinet kicking off the boat the 129 line-items which embodied the dreams of artists, to then smuggle on-board the “Creative Industries Company (TTCIC)”, with its cargo of businessmen and hidden party-financier agendas.

The great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca delivered our own Minshall’s favourite quote about the role of Art, “The poem, the song, the picture is only water drawn from the well of the people, and it should be given back to them in a cup of beauty so that they may drink—and in drinking, understand themselves.” The phrase at centre that resonates for me is: “the people”. The people… It’s always “the people”. If you destroy “the artist”, you destroy “the people”…

US President John F Kennedy said, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” CLR took this further, saying the nation must nurture “a supreme artist” of whom James said, “a supreme artist exercises an influence on the national consciousness which is incalculable. He is created by it but he himself illuminates and amplifies it, bringing the past up to date and charting the future…” This artist is important to succeeding generations, but James obsesses about “the immediate influence of the great artist upon the society in which he lived”. In our age, those who came closest are Sparrow, Beryl, Carlisle Chang, Rudder, Minshall, Leroy Clarke… Internationally—Louis Armstrong, The Beatles, Michael, Speilberg… Artists who infected the DNA of the world…

I’m clear that governments have been aborting our country’s supreme artist—by strangling all artists—from novice to genius. I’m reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “Every artist was first an amateur.” Minister, a cornerstone of the plans you’ve blocked is the idea of a National Arts Council—precisely the institution that blossoms “amateurs”. JK Rowling was a struggling, divorced single mother living on welfare—struggling to write a book about an orphan. She got a £8,000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council. She used it to finish Harry Potter. Potter became a multi-billion dollar industry—saving the English film industry and international publishing!

That’s what I’m talking about. Recognising genius at seed. Not riding the coat-tails of Machel. That’s easy. I’m talking the prescience of seed-funding joint pop, Ataklan, Sean Thomas, 12, John John, Gyazette, a_phake, Boogie Brown, Isaac Blackman, Buzzrock, Manchilde, Gail Ann, and others. Do you know these names? I know dozens of local properties as powerful as Harry Potter. Seismic game-changers. Your actions abort them…

You were supposed to implement 129 items—instead we suffered crucial deaths, from Geraldine Connor to Sullivan Walker. Collectively they cost us billions in lost opportunities… I kept warning you. The first frame of my budget presentation to the Honourable Prime Minister and ministers was a picture of genius masman Cito Velasquez—dead in his coffin. I explained the worth of that dying legacy, and that we didn’t have time. When your own father died in 2011, we mourned. I secretly hoped the intimation of mortality would alert you to the finality of the nation’s losses. I hoped you’d understand this truth: death is the thing that makes everything we do sacred and significant…

Instead it seems politicians are redoubling plots to murder dreams.

We will not ransom the cultural sector to your businessmen. The only people I’m more wary of leading the arts are our university-educated elite. The conduct I witnessed from them these last years—especially in that chamber where Pat Bishop met her death—has confirmed my instinct: the problem with our country is its doctorate class.

You’ve spoken with pride of stocking your Ministry with UWI grads. Let me be brutally honest and say: the people from whom we stakeholders experience the most opposition for progressive indigenous ideas are UWI grads. Apart from the penance Dr Kublalsingh committed for your class, I now approach doctorates with a healthy dose of wariness—and the African equivalent of a crucifix…

This magical island… I feel if this letter is to mean anything I must invoke Iere—island that’s the shining dream artists and patriots mean when we speak Trinbago’s name. It’s love we “the people” speak of when we invoke that name, and, as William Blake said, “If a thing loves, it is infinite.”

In closing I leave you with the immortal words of another great poet, Langston Hughes, who coined words I feel have hovered over our island since Independence: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” What happens to a dream deferred?

Posted on December 21, 2012, in President's Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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