It's that time of the year

when I disappear from view. The reason? The E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival. For those who don't know, the spring period in the Department of Culture (as they call my division) is the other great programme that we do. Unlike Junkanoo, however, the vast majority of Bahamians seem not to have heard about it. I don't know why not, really. It's true we don't advertise the Festival, but then we don't advertise Junkanoo either, so it may not be that. It could be because the government has traditionally spent one-tenth or less of the money it spends on Junkanoo on the Festival -- again, I don't know why. (This year, thankfully, is different; we have authorization to spend one and a half to three times as much on Festival than we have ever had in the past). But there it is. My department produces the Festival, we cover the archipelago in doing so, and we do it in relative secrecy.If I weren't bound by General Orders, I'd speculate on what the problem traditionally has been. I'd ruminate about the way in which our independent Bahamian governments -- forget the party, forget the leaders, because there has never been any difference, ever -- have spent money on our people. I'd suggest that we've always been more interested in events and things than we are in human capital. It's true that our education system gets the lion's share of the national budget, but it's equally true that we are not getting our money's worth; it hasn't yet bought excellent educations for our children, and yet we're playing the same old game. And none of it allows the children themselves to choose -- really choose -- what they wish to be in life, because the tools that they're being given aren't equipping them for the world they find themselves living in.I say that because the world they're living in is a world that should, by all lights, provide opportunities for thousands to make money from private enterprise of various kinds. It could be the perfect world for self-employment, if our society were set up that way. The fact that millions (I'm not going to quibble with the number; anything over a million is enough for me) of people visit The Bahamas annually should be able to provide our mere thousands of Bahamians with tourist money of all sorts. We should be performing, creating, manufacturing, and branding our creations in such a way that we are all benefitting; but that is not how our society or our economy works. There are too many gatekeepers between the visitor and the creative Bahamian. There are too many contracts that allow resorts to occupy our land without respecting our culture, to permit them to furnish their buildings and entertain their guests without reference to who we are and what we have to offer. There are too many walls and too many gates, and too many reasons for people who grow up on islands other than New Providence to leave their homes and look for work.Here's what I know from almost five years of observing culture in The Bahamas and suffering from being in cultural administration.We Bahamians are almost impossibly creative. It's true of all of the Caribbean, but it's peculiarly true of The Bahamas. Though things are changing, the comment of almost every foreigner who is exposed to the talents of the Bahamian people is that every Bahamian is a creative artist.But

  • We Bahamians have no nationally sanctioned outlet for our creativity beyond Junkanoo.
  • We Bahamians have no nationally sanctioned or supported avenue to develop our talents, with the exception of the (absurdly underfunded and underrecognized) National Arts Festival. And so we almost universally hide them -- or worse, ruin them through misapplication.
  • We Bahamians have no avenue to market our talents.
  • We Bahamians have no respect for our talents.
  • We Bahamians have no space to exercise our talents.
  • We Bahamians are making too little money from our talents.

And we wonder -- or let foreign editors wonder for us -- why our society is too violent, too cruel, and too crime-ridden.The answer's right before us. There are none so blind as those who do not see.