For those of you who have not heard and are not aware, I ceased to be Director of Culture on 31st December, 2008.It's a move that has been a long time in coming. For those people who wish to speculate that my return to the College has to do with politics or changes in government or any mundane reason like that, let me attempt to set the record straight right now.I took up the position, initially in an acting capacity, on 20th October 2003, on the understanding then that it was a secondment from my position at the College of The Bahamas. In July 2004, however, I was transferred from the College to the Civil Service, and given a letter signed by the Governor of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, as is customary for civil service appointees. I queried the move, and indicated that I had no intention of making a full-time move to the Public Service, and requested that the arrangement be rectified. However, the wheels of government turn slowly when they turn at all, and nothing came of that request.At that time, things were looking vaguely bright for culture in The Bahamas. The National Commission on Cultural Development had been established, and was meeting on a regular basis to craft a new way forward for Bahamian cultural life. The period was revolutionary, in that for the first time in decades cultural experts from every different field sat in a room together, hashed out policy and made recommendations directly to government, and fashioned real visions for the way forward for a country that has been impoverished intellectually, socially and emotionally by too-rapid, uneven material development and a lack of reflection. During that period, the Commission drafted three pieces of legislation for the government, travelled throughout the Islands of The Bahamas, touched base with Bahamians everywhere, and highlighted the extent of what we do not know about ourselves.Out of the Commission also came a draft National Cultural Policy for The Bahamas, the beginning of a way forward for us as a people and a nation that goes beyond the surface and beyond the material.As time passed, however, it became evident that the Commission was more revolutionary in title and composition than in any other manner. Its role was treated as instrumental only in so far as it met the specific goals of the politicians. Two of the three pieces of legislation were adopted, and in a watered-down fashion; the specific recommendations contained in those two -- recommendations that reflected the will of the Bahamian people, as determined through nation-wide surveys, in town meetings, and from radio discussions -- were ignored. The Heroes and Honours Bills were pushed through the House of Assembly in a hurry, and ignored their most fundamental elements -- that the successful implementation of Bahamian honours would require the abolition of the British ones, and that the recognition of National Heroes would have to acknowledge, depoliticize and recognize and celebrate the milestone that was Majority Rule. The change of government affected Bahamian cultural development in a very basic fashion -- by ignoring the vision developed for the country by the NCDC (not because it was a bad vision, but simply because the Commission was instituted by the previous administration, and most things so establlished were dismantled, as had happened five years before), leaving culture in the position it had been in 2003, when I first took the position.Here's why I'm returning to COB, then.
- I always planned to do so, the fact that my secondment/temporary appointment was botched notwithstanding.
- After five years, culture is right back where it was in 2003 -- entirely dependent on the personalities who head it, and on the goodwill of those politicians and civil servants who might look upon it favourably. If those people exist, as they have done over the past five years, good things will happen in culture. If not, then culture will continue to die, as it has done for the vast majority of our independence. I am temperamentally unsuited to walking in circles. I have a pretty good sense of direction, and I know futile wandering when I see it.
- Conflict of interest. I was a cultural worker before I became Director, specifically in the fields of theatre and writing, and my husband is a theatre director who has worked for all of his career in various capacities on various contracts for the government of The Bahamas. His first government job came in 1983, when he was contracted to mount the folk opera Sammie Swain for the Tenth Anniversary of Independence, and he has been involved in the production of national events on a fairly regular basis ever since. However, my position as Director compromised the extent to which he was able to work with the government, and certainly for the Department of Culture (more accurately, the Cultural Affairs Division), even in situations when he was the most experienced/best qualified/most available director. Further, as a playwright and member of a theatre production company, my work was curtailed by the fact that I was a government official.
- The strictures of the civil service are at fundamental odds with my calling as a writer and with the democratic principles on which our country is founded. General Orders prohibits any civil servant from speaking about his or her job without permission. As a civil servant, very simply, I could not say what I thought outside the confines of boardrooms and the offices of Under Secretaries, Permanent Secretaries and Ministers.
- I see more potential for change among people under forty than among those over it, and the vast majority of the people in the civil service are over forty. There is far more potential for national development outside the service than in it, and the soon-to-be University of The Bahamas is poised to be a catalyzing force in that development.
- And last, but not least: so my career has some room to grow. I'm forty-five, with a statutory 20 more years of service ahead of me. In two or three years, though, I will have reached the top of my particular Directorial scale, and will be stuck at the same salary, with the same perks, with no hope of advancement, for the remaining 18 years, unless I choose to leave the technical field and move into exclusive paper-pushing. That is the situation that has afflicted most of the people who work in the Cultural Affairs Division, and there is no good reason why it will not happen to me. COB offers far more scope for career advancement and potential earning. (And, not incidentally, I have come to equate salary scale with respect for one's field and position. The dead-endedness of every long-term position in the Cultural Affairs Division, in which no senior officer has received a promotion of note in a good twenty years, and the concurrent impossibility of hiring new blood, are the best indicators that I have ever had of the complete non-importance of culture and its development to the politicians and civil servants that have run the country for that period of time. But more on that later.)
So I'm leaving government and going back to the College because, ladies and gentlemen, it's the twenty-first century. We've almost closed the first decade of that century, and we're still running our country with a late eighteenth century institution, developed exclusively for colonization and for the subjugation of hostile populations. I'd rather work for a late twentieth-century institution, thanks. At least the College was established in my lifetime, and has changed more in its short thirty years than the Public Service has changed in 230.It's a no-brainer, really. But more on that to come.Cheers.