“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.
DID NAPA BRING THE GOVERNMENT DOWN?
It began with one headline declaring NAPA a Tragedy of epic proportions and it continued with a running battle with the Minister of Community Development , Culture and Gender Affairs and the interim President of the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago trading blows throughout various media. In the end the battle surrounding NAPA captivated the population and punctured the government’s and Prime Minister’s prize accomplishments. ACTT interim president Rubadiri takes us behind the scenes of the battle of NAPA that the organization did not know was about to happen.
The esteem that the average Trinbagonian has for local art and culture has plummeted in the last 15 years to an all time low. Local TV does not exist in the public consciousness (apart from late night news and despite Gayelle); the Dimanche Gras and calypso feel irrelevant as does the King and Queen of Carnival; when last did anyone go to an exhibition that meant anything to them; Rudder and Minshall are in exile; Kitch, Tanker, and Shorty are dead. All the things that connected ‘art’ to Trinis lives- no matter how tenuous- have dissolved. Everywhere now is the slam of junk American pop culture from TVs and, radios- and available from seemingly every street corner from your pirate DVD guy. Jamaican dancehall fills in all the spaces America doesn’t command… Local art and culture have been overwhelmed and do not seem to factor into Trini consciousness, and the population is so numb they do not even miss it 99% of the time.
Even in the midst of an unprecedented boom when other countries would be debating issues such as aesthetics and quality of life (which normally emerge during periods of great wealth), you would still hear most of T&T people talking about baseline necessities like health, roads, water supply, and crime off the top of their heads. Concerns like the link between cultural industries like music, TV and film as pathways to employment and economic diversification remain completely abstract to Trinis. Art and Culture are just not thought of as serious fields of endeavour. The role of ‘Beauty’, ‘Heritage’ and ‘Leisure’ to a citizen’s standard of living never ever crosses the Trinbagonian mind. We are completely innocent of Culture and the Art’s impact or potential in our lives…
With this then being the Trini ‘default mode’ it is passing strange then that the singular protagonist that has propelled so much of the nation’s convulsions, maturation and self revelation in the last couple of months has been its bastard child- Culture. Culture in the form of the Home for the Arts that is supposed to be the National Academy of the Performing Arts on Princes Building Grounds (NAPA). It is arguable that it was NAPA that set into motion the first round of events that led to Trinbagonian’s swift growing up- the Rowley controversy and the Commission of Enquiry. And it was NAPA again that arguably propelled the government into collapse upon the revelation of its multi-million dollar flaws. The revelation hastened a sequence of events that has now cast the country into a zone where it is faced with- not so much an election as a serious face-off with its maturity and ability to level with its soul.
NAPA, somehow, has had that leverage- and I will go so far as to say this: that whatever the result of the next election NAPA will continue to be the lightning rod and centre of the country’s stirrings- despite the country not understanding this! I predict that until the issues at the heart of NAPA are resolved the country shall not know peace. This is so because our leaders may just have trespassed seriously on something very sacred- in NAPA they may have transgressed against the very soul of the nation.
THE ROAD TO COLLAPSE
It is strange. Art is not something you get the impression matters much to the modern Trinbagonian. The knee-jerk protectionist way we talk about ‘Culture’ seems very much an echo of an earlier time when we actually used to believe in it. In the heady thrust of the 2020-bound T&T- ‘Art and Culture’ seem to be an also-ran in the race for what matters. This is why the events of the last year have been so extraordinary.
In April 2008 Prime Minister Manning dismissed his standing Minister of Trade and Industry under the pretext of ‘wajang behaviour’. It would emerge from MP Rowley that the real reason for his dismissal was an enquiry into a 60 room hotel that had mysteriously appeared in the architectural plans for NAPA. The hotel’s out-of-timing architectural inclusion was- it would seem- just the tip of the iceberg in the influence of the all-powerful Calder Hart, who we were to learn was a private citizen who had been granted powers higher than possibly the entire Cabinet combined- sans the Prime Minister. The NAPA issue thus uncovered not only the extraordinary powers granted to Calder Hart, but also an administration itself gone rogue. Things collapsed further. NAPA then opened the door for the phenomenal Commission of Enquiry into UDECOTT chaired by Professor Uff. This televised Commission was an extraordinary ‘growing up pill’ for the country who finally were able to see the dealings of big boys, big money and government high handedness- peeled back for all to see the dirty machinery.
During this entire procedure NAPA and the Arts – the thing that got us there- disappeared… In the billion dollar cut-and-thrust it was deemed unimportant. Art again relegated to the sideline. Nonetheless the artist representative group the Artists Coalition of T&T (ACTT) appeared on the Commission and placed their long struggles to make NAPA purpose-built as an immortal part of the public record. ACTT’s submissions were not mentioned in the mainstream press at all. However for anyone with eyes to see, NAPA obviously remained near and dear to Calder Hart and the PM- twice Calder Hart extended private guided tours of the facility for Professor Uff- the final time even breaching protocol to do so. So obsessive was their need to sell NAPA as the jewel in the crown. It would prove to be of no avail.
But first some context: Since Independence the artists of Trinidad and Tobago have clamoured for a Home for the Arts to be built- and Princes Building Grounds became the site designate. Elaborate architectural plans, feasibilities and programming specs have been drawn up since the 1960s by geniuses like master masmen George Bailey and Terry Evelyn. The building was promised in nearly every single budget since then to the present until it became a sick joke to artists. They fought every government for it to no avail- the PNM administrations in particular treated it like a sick game of political football. It took the NAR administration to take it seriously and it was they who conducted widespread consultations and held a competition for its construction. The site was now in Mt. Hope around where the Arthur Lok Jak School building currently is. For this reason there are actually dozens of versions of what a Home for the Arts- a NAPA- is supposed to look like. All done by Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest architects like Colin Laird and more.
Artists continued to dream and lobby for this building until 2005 when finally it was announced in the Budget. Unfortunately there was no consultation- and the plans that artists saw made it clear to us that the persons who conceived of this version of NAPA had never received a local brief and could never have read or saw any of the previous plans for the place. NAPA it seemed was bought ‘cat in bag’ from the Chinese because it ‘looked pretty’, reminded someone of something he had seen before, and suited someone’s purpose. That purpose according to designs were not the purposes of the Arts and Culture community of Trinidad and Tobago and her threatened traditions. For 5 years artists tried to get government to consult and take on board the corrective specs- the PM, Calder Hart and UDECOTT, and the Ministry of Culture refused to do so.
In the subsequent period NAPA was opened for the very purpose it had been appropriated for- the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The facility was introduced with major fanfare and a multi-million dollar show by Brian MacFarlane. The PM and Calder Hart believed that the spectacular show had done its due- the building was declared a ‘masterpiece’ and the PM then went all over the world proclaiming it so. The concerns that stakeholders were expressing about the unsuitability of the facility were still being frozen out of the media. As far as the public was concerned all was well. One poll put NAPA’s national popularity rating at 85%. Shortly thereafter another poll declared Minister of Culture Marlene MacDonald the most popular of government ministers. In short months all this would be in tatters…
Meanwhile hundreds of complaints were coming into ACTT from producers, technicians, actors, dancers, senior UTT professors and administrators, and visiting experts. NAPA was grievously flawed just as artists’ had warned and predicted for 5 years. Publicly however the government’s propaganda machine rolled on and was now being used to push forward $3 Billion of more cultural buildings. All massively flawed. Work began again on the San Fernando NAPA; and the Savannah Carnival Centre was announced for an April start-date. Plans became advanced for a 200 Community Centre building spree and the secretive John D NAPA. It was full steam ahead with the wind in the sails of the government given the trumpeted ‘fact’ that NAPA was a masterpiece.
Meanwhile artist representative groups tried to do what they could- given the fact that they were locked out of the press. An ACTT Report called “THE TRAGEDY & THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF NAPA” was compiled of all the complaints. On Sunday 17th January 2010 4 generations of theatre and dance practitioners gathered at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) for a seminar entitled The Way Forward. Part of this exercise involved a tour of the NAPA facility for the first time by the stakeholders who are supposed to be its most important tenants. The visit conformed many of the complaints and the ACTT Report was finalized.
For 5 years government had refused to meet with stakeholders to discuss NAPA. The Minister of Culture had refused even to reply to ACTT correspondence. The PM himself in turn deferred all matters to the Minister. There was no dialogue with government on the billions of dollars of mistakes they were about to make. An audience was sort with the President His Excellency Professor Max Richards. In March that audience was granted. The President asked what he could do, ACTT suggested that he make a statement, but he wanted to do more, he then suggested that he try to get the parties to sit and meet. We eagerly accepted the offer. But events were going to overtake even this.
From 2005 to 2010 artists had sent in 40 press releases to the daily press voicing our concerns about NAPA- not one release ever came out! With a track record like that we did not expect that our 45 page Report was going to get any kind of visibility. The ACTT executive did not even meet to discuss a strategy as to how to get the Report heard. The only interest shown in the Report at this time was the TT Review- whose deadline had actually helped speed up the Report’s finishing! The Report was distributed to about 5 people- friends. It was these people who started circulating the Report online. Soon the Report began to spread like wildfire.
Despite all efforts for NAPA to be used as a smoke screen NAPA was going to raise a real fire again. This time many claim NAPA destroyed the jewel in the ruling party’s crown and removed their veneer of invulnerability and last shred of seeming competence. Many now claim that what happened next was the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced the collapse of a standing government.
On Sunday March 14th- 5 years after the first objections to NAPA was raised- the artist got their first report in the papers. This time without trying. It was the headline! It read: NAPA TRAGEDY: $80 Million in flaws. The Report had succeeded where 40 press releases hadn’t. From the time that the Newsday headline broke and for the next 4 weeks it was war. The back and forth in the papers, radio and TV and through press conferences made it clear that something massive was at stake. How big that ‘something’ was no one could have predicted.
INSIDE THE WAR FOR HEARTS AND MINDS
The government’s response was swift and the next day saw dueling press conferences. The Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) led by Winston Riley scented blood and coming on the heels of the Prime Minister calling for an all-out war on the local construction sector called ACTT to join a major press conference. The conference was a massive show of force by the local construction sector which resulted in the PM recanting his earlier call to war the following day. At the same time the Minister of Culture the Honourable Marlene MacDonald was called into service to defend NAPA- even though her Ministry only oversees less than 1/3rd of the facility and she herself was not in office when any of the shenanigans had gone down. All players knew that the buck really stopped at the Prime Minister’s Office and his executor Calder Hart. The previous Minister of Culture hardly knew what was going on in NAPA and what it was for during her tenure…
The Minister’s press conference accused the head of ACTT of being a closet politician and tool of the Opposition and also said that there was widespread stakeholder consultation and no flaws. ACTT responded with their own press conference hours after.
ACTT’s conference stood by the findings and spirit of the Report and turned its gaze upon the sitting Minister of Culture. It revealed that the Minister had gloried in making stakeholders cry with abusive and bullying ways- shouting and raging at innocent citizens and senior practitioners. It revealed a bearing totally unbecoming of a Minister and not just a representative but the standard bearer of our phenomenal culture and Legacy. It revealed a policy of interaction which had silenced thousands of practitioners by a fear of reprisals, of panyards being seized, of meager state subventions being cut or reduced, by the threat of losing jobs, by a withholding of patronage. The fearlessness with which ACTT expressed these truths freed many stakeholders from their bondage and loosened tongues.
The Ministry then launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign on TV and newspaper making a number of claims and disparaging ACTT and its principal. ACTT not having any budget for such a salvo relied on free radio and TV talk-shows. This was a war for the hearts and minds of the population. Within 2 weeks the Ministry’s campaign lay in ruins.
The Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs claimed that cultural stakeholder groups were consulted on NAPA with a list in their print ads. The following groups publicly denied her claims:
- National Dance Association of T&T NOT CONSULTED;
- PanTrinbago NOT CONSULTED;
- National Music Festival NOT CONSULTED;
- SWAHA NOT CONSULTED;
- Secondary Schools Drama Fest NOT CONSULTED;
- Emancipation Support Committee NOT CONSULTED;
- National Council of Indian Culture NOT CONSULTED;
- and more…
In the press and media many independent stakeholders became coming forward and testifying to the truthfulness of the ACTT revelations. Acclaimed dancer and choreographer Dave Williams, who performed at the opening ceremony of the CHOGM described aspects of the design of NAPA as “dangerous” for dancers and criticised the building as being “nothing more than a very ornate twig.”
…the NAPA stage has featured dangerous gaps in (its) flooring panels… When they move and change, the gaps between the moving segments become hazardous as they are of varying and unpredictable sizes, from almost seamless to the size that a big toe can be snapped in…the rehearsal spaces and studios are built with concrete floors.
Williams agreed with other criticisms of the building as noted by ACTT: “the orchestra pit is too deep”; the “lighting board is analogue”; and that “the loading doors to the theatre are too small. And they’re glass.”
Hazel Franco, Ex-president of National Dance said: “…I did see the building during a site visit and the concerns raised by Rubadiri are all legitimate. The building is not appropriate.”
The Ministry also was caught attempting to manipulate the words and image of artists to perpetrate a view that NAPA had widespread stakeholder support. Interviews conducted months before on the opening of the facility were edited to appear as if certain artists had stepped forward to endorse NAPA in the light of ACTT’s revelations. The Ministry received lawyer’s letters from Twiggy, Ravi B and the Original De Fosto Himself demanding they cease and desist from the use of their images for such purposes. The multi-million dollar ads had back-fired. These 3 lawyer’s letters betrayed a greater crisis for the government- Twiggy and De Fosto are from Laventille and this meant that they were being disciplined by the ‘street’. It meant that government had lost the battle even within the streets of its supposed safe seats. Things got even further complicated for them when it was revealed that the Minister had turned down a request by the Chutney Foundation to hold the International Finals in NAPA stating that ‘that kind of thing would not be allowed in here.’ This resulted in a complaint being filed with the Equal Opportunities Commission by GOPIO. Even popular comedian and everyone’s sweetheart Errol Fabien felt the backlash when his 2020 ad campaign was used to propagandise NAPA. Errol’s image unfortunately has not recovered yet.
The Ministry mis-stepped again when in the maelstrom of all this it was caught attempting to silence Ms. Pat Bishop- a holder of our nation’s highest honour- the Trinity Cross from speaking at a public function at the National Museum. The Museum itself was embroiled in the controversy as it was revealed that the Acting Curator had suddenly received notice that they were to be evicted. NAPA it seems had not been conceived with offices- so the Museum had to be moved into Knowlsley where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was based. The Foreign Affairs community also was up in arms as they themselves received their eviction at short notice as well. Ms. Bishop was an earlier Curator of the Museum and was also the fired principal of NAPA. She had been removed because of her objections to its non-purpose built architecture and foreign curriculum. It was a perfect storm. Uproar to her censorship and ban was universal- starting with Master Artist Leroy Clarke who delivered a speech in her absence. The method of this administration of dealing with criticism by censorship, victimization, and secret deals whilst employing massive multi-million dollar media propaganda was collapsing.
Meanwhile within NAPA work had been commanded from the highest levels- the Chinese and GENEVAR were secretly working around the clock. From outside the facility looked quiet, but through the underground car park hundreds of workers were offloading to try and correct many of the flaws identified. A date was announced for a Press walk-through. Artists, experts and citizens were not invited. An attempt would be made to completely discredit ACTT. On Friday- to get the Sunday papers- the Press was led through a carefully stage-managed tour. It was not enough. The Sunday Guardian of 27 Mar 2010 led with the headline ‘NAPA FLAWED’ Junior Minister Regrello admits $20m to fix NAPA flaws. Nearly all the technical flaws identified by the report were confirmed by the press, the Ministry and government were discredited and now the attempt was to try a different spin- yes, there were flaws, but they weren’t a big deal, and there was a one year warranty…
Even here the Ministry continued to get itself into even more hot water, regarding Vijay Ramlal’s (President of the National Chutney Foundation) claims that the Minister of Culture Marlene Mc Donald had not approved of chutney being staged there. Regrello said, “NAPA is not the ideal venue for tassa, chutney and parang.” He said, “What the Minister really meant is NAPA is not the space for that. It is infectious. People respond to that kind of music with a real amount of energy, vivacity and joie-de-vivre. “The Minister had also denied Pan Trinbago the request to stage Champs In Concert there, too. “She never meant it as any disrespect. But merely she wanted to keep it upscale… keep it to a certain type of entertainment. We may even have to upgrade a Best Village show to bring it in here.”
These words raised a firestorm. Was local culture too ‘wajang’ for the NAPA? Is that why NAPA wasn’t built to accommodate local traditions? If the PM’s policy is so anti-wajang then how can one explain the conduct and license given to Madame Minister?
The response of the public to these words was immediate. This is just a sample from the Guardian blog under Minister Regrello’s words:
“STEUPS!…” Submitted by Nimala.
This is the ‘good work’ that Manning praised Calder Hart for? It is a national scandal. Shame on Manning and his PNM government . Mr.Regrello sees the NAPA for upscale performances for the big-ups, so when the elections come around, don’t ask the poor people them for votes, go to the big people and let them vote for the PNM.
Chutney, parang and tassa, so too soca monarch ought not to be held at NAPA” -I do take offence at the message being presented here…. Do you realise how demeaning these statements sound? Not good I must tell you. If we do not sell alcohol at these events, no one will consume same nor get drunk inside this Centre for the Upper Crust. The event you have mentioned I would assume are for the ‘common-folk’ while this NAPA was built only for persons in the ‘Upper-Class’? All these events are cultural and belong to our people. I think that it is about time that we stop this ‘colonial system’ – class system, we have in T&T and come to accept all our people as equals. Mr. Junia Regrello, I am witnessing you lot in government as pretentious frauds posturing your love for culture that’s certainly alien to you. You have invested some $900M in 2 Centres and instead of it being carried out to serve the interests and needs of the people we are finding that it is becoming a hornets nest and/or a bottomless pit to further empty our dwindling resources. You failed to do a thorough job of research, consultation, etc. before sticking that shovel in on the day you turned the sod. You operated like thieves who got their hands on our money and rushed to spend it on anything you fancied, and do so before you were caught. ..… It appears that this Gov’t has allowed those ‘foreigners’ to come ashore and take charge of the affairs of our country and blindsided you all, to the detriment of the people of this country. You have made us look like a low level 3rd world country with an ignorant population who could be taken advantage of by persons whose aim it is to dazzle you into make-belief by simply a slight of hand. Enjoy your illusions and delusions of grandeur while it last.
Mr Regrello I hear what you say, with you performing in the Royal Albert Hall and all, but be honest, in every country there is culture, something held as sacred to every family and passed down for many generations. T&T have their culture, be it Chutney, Calypso, Soca, Best Village, Heritage (Tobago), these are the things that make people belong & identify, like in any other country. To build NAPA may be a fine thing, but the way you want to sell it to the public does not identify with them. The businessman is there to make money and a profit, he is hardly likely to invest in something like the opera, unless that is his interest and in T&T it is not a money spinner. The percentage of that type of interest in the nation is very, very small, especially among the younger generation. Before building your grand NAPA to show off to the Caribbean countries, did you do a research (Who would be your customers, How & why would you get them involve, when would they be involved etc) to see what cross section of people will attend to the particular type of programs/shows your ministry intend to hold there, NO.
The Prince wrote:
GLASS ELEPHANT? If this NAPA is ill-suited for the expression of most of the country’s art and culture, then what is its purpose, apart from being a monument to the legacy of Manning’s misguided governance of the country?…… On top of all of this, contrary to what is being touted, this is not owned by the people or the government. Until the Chinese gov’t is repaid the loan that was given to build this non-priority, the ownership of the structure technically and legally belongs to the Chinese. JT wrote- “Our tax dollars are good enough to build NAPA but we’re not good enough to sit in NAPA. When did the PNM become an elitist party? Since Manning has been the leader. You build this monstrosity with taxpayer’s dollars so the elite can dress up and play themselves. Meanwhile we bacchanalians must play ourselves outside NAPA on Carnival day. How ironic that a judging point for Carnival sits diagonally opposite NAPA. The incompetence of this government to build a multi-million dollar facility without input from the people it was intended to serve is dwarfed only by the arrogance of this government to pay a contractor for a facility before it was approved by architects and engineers. As for Mr. Regrello, he is just another in a long line of scamps who have been co-opted by politicians and become sell-outs to the very organizations to which they once belonged. A never see come see.
And finally justin2 wrote:
Mr. Regello I guess you have to tell Ms. McDonald that she owes an apology to Mr. Rubadiri Victor and the nation for her childish tongue lashing after he made what was a well put together presentation of the problems at NAPA. Please be reminded that you can’t fool all the people all the time.
The government had lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the population. The jewel in the crown of the PM’s vision had been destroyed. All the strategies of propaganda that had worked in the past had floundered. A multi-million dollar campaign had failed against an organization that had no real working capital and had only truth as its shield and sword. Truth and the new media.
THE NEW MEDIA- SAYING EVEYRTHING: FULL DISCLOSURE AS A WEAPON
Throughout the entire ordeal ACTT’s approach was completely counter-intuitive. ACTT never used clever sound-bytes and brief accessible press releases. Instead in that fertile period after the NAPA headline ACTT released entire documents with the intention being ‘full disclosure of hidden histories’. After posting the 45 page report online, ACTT created a Facebook page and posted several long notes documenting every cut and thrust of the conflict. This culminated with a document called ‘The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: No Consultation- a Pathway to Disaster’. This was a long document that itemized in great detail every single attempt to get consultation in the last 5 years. It included dates, times and personalities involved. One newspaper editorial even complained of ACTT’s penchant for releasing these long documents. However, in fact, it was these long detailed documents with verifiable truths that won the day for the organization. This mode was in direct opposition and contradiction of the government’s preferred mode of secrecy, spin, and non-consultation. ACTT on the other hand was almost obsessively open and coversant! It proved to be what people wanted. They wanted to know what was really going on. They wanted the truth and were willing to work a bit to get it.
The document in question traced every single act by the principals from the time the PM announced the building of NAPA along with other facilities on the 28th September 2005. Following the entire stand-off, ACTT then sent a letter to Honourable Minister of Culture asking for massive stakeholder consultation as the way forward. She replied with her last attack which again called ACTT’s Interim President (my good self) an opposition politician and did not deal with any of the substantive requests made in the letter, which read:
Dear Honourable Minister
ACTT is officially and politely calling for a massive stakeholder consultation with the Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs the Honourable Marlene Mc Donald to determine the way forward for the Arts and the Cultural Industries.
We believe that the National Academies for the Performing Arts are central to the survival and health of the cultural sector and the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. As a fraternity that has fought for this institutional complex for 48 years we have collectively given the issue of the institutional character of the NAPAs a lot of thought. We believe that this expertise must be brought to bear on the architectural specifications, the outfitting, the programming and most importantly the curriculum and content of the Academies. We are not interested in battling the Ministry and its partners. We are interested in working with all parties- the Ministry, the UTT, and all stakeholder bodies- with the broad national interest of fashioning institutions that can become leading lights in the world and the source for all that is best in us. We believe that together we can resolve the issues of the sector and create pathways and institutions that are legitimately amongst the best in the world.
Thanks again for your kindest attentions in this urgent national matter and we await your response at your earliest possible convenience.
The letter was cc-ed to: His Excellency The President The Honourable Professor George Maxwell Richards; The Honourable Prime Minister Patrick Manning; Professor Ken Julien Head of the Utt; Acting Principal Of Napa Mr. Scott Hilton-Clarke; And Acting Chairman Of The Udecott The Honourable Ms Jerlean John. None have since replied.
For some reason NAPA has been able to make historic shifts happen- despite the fact of Trinis’ seeming divorce from matters cultural. But what I am saying is that Trinbagonians do not have to know their soul for their soul to be working. What I am saying is that the ancestral power of what NAPA was supposed to be is strong. The real ‘jamette’ culture Legacy of T&T cannot be denied its rightful place. The Legacy of Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony, BET, NAACP, Nobel Prize, Bollywood Oscar, and Commonwealth Book Award winners in our past cannot be denied a fitting place. The Legacy of Pan, Mas, Calypso, Soca, Ramleela, Hosay, Tobago Heritage, Craft and creole innovation cannot be denied a proper hearing. The Legacies of Laventille, South East Port of Spain, Belmont; St. James and Woodbrook; Chaguanas and Couva; Moruga and Princess Town; Arima; Pt. Fortin; and Tobago cannot be disrespected and shut out and there be business as usual. Until NAPA deals with the soul of the nation- as was its original intention by the artists of Trinidad and Tobago- then NAPA and the country shall not know rest.
End of Part One
(This article was published in the T&T Review http://www.tntreview.com/?p=1319)