This morning, my heart and mind will be at Christ Church Cathedral, where my former minister and colleague, Charles Maynard, will be laid to rest. My body will not; I teach a class at the same time which I have not yet met and which meets once a week, and my first obligation is to them. But my heart and mind will be with Zelena, Charles' children, Mr and Mrs Maynard, Andrew, Nina, George, and the family at large.Charles and I worked together for some eighteen months. He was the Minister of State for Culture; I was the Director of Cultural Affairs. Unlike his colleagues on both sides of the political divide, Charles got it. He was the first Minister of Culture to have had his own conscious, real investment in the business of culture, and he understood what we in The Bahamas needed in that regard. He and I didn't always agree, but he always allowed room for healthy discussion, and would always listen to dissenting views; even more strangely (for a politician), he would even allow himself to be convinced by another person's position if he felt that it had more merit than his own, or if he felt it could bear fruit. In other words, he made room, when I worked with him, for the possibility that he might be wrong. The rowdy persona that he adopted in the House of Assembly was miles away from the person he was in his ministerial office. There, he would join in a debate in his usual vigorous fashion, but as minister he would never ridicule you or dismiss your position outright. The typical malaise that we associate with Bahamian cabinet ministers, that of having instant expertise conferred upon them by God or the Governor when they take the oath of their office, did not afflict him; he had respect for the experts in the field and would bow to their expertise when necessary.I loved and respected him as a minister. I knew that his desire was the same as ours—to develop Bahamian culture in such a way that it would become a beacon of pride for all citizens, an integral, perhaps a primary, part of the tourist package, and a source of income for many. He believed in us, in our worth, in our ability to create greatness. That he could not infect his colleagues with the same belief was not his fault; and so, like us, he deferred his dream.He told me once, when we were in a passionate discussion about CARIFESTA and why we should hold it in The Bahamas at the time we had committed to do so (and he went to bat for us, all guns blazing, because he understood what it could do for a nation), that he was advised as a cabinet minister to make a choice. "Either you are a cultural activist, or you are a cabinet minister," he was told. "You need to pick a side." He was passing the choice on to me; "Either you are a cultural activist," he was saying, "or you are a civil servant." He made his choice. He believed, as almost all politicians do, that maintaining a position of power was the best way to effect the change that he wanted to see. I was not so sure about that; I knew which one I was. Our paths parted, and we continued working in the ways our consciences demanded. I am more committed than ever to make his dream real.Perhaps coincidentally, today, August 24, is the day my father died, twenty-five years ago. For those who don't know, my father, E. Clement Bethel, was the first Director of Cultural Affairs in The Bahamas. He had the same dream that Charles and I shared, but he had it forty years before us. When the idea of the Bahamian nation was both embryonic and impossible, E. Clement Bethel was imagining greatness for Bahamian culture. In 2007, Charles Maynard was imagining the same. That we have not achieved it yet is not the fault of either man. The best legacy for Charles now is to honour him by making the dream a reality. I'm committed to it. Come join me.And Charlie—rest in peace.
I've already blogged about why I think that our government's cancellation of CARIFESTA was a bad idea. (I think the word I used was "terrible"). Now the rumours I am hearing about the future of Bahamian culture and its development are as bad or worse. Rather than serious investment in the development of our cultural identity, "economics" appear to be inspiring the exact opposite -- the dissolution, real or effective, of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Government of The Bahamas.Now there may be not much wrong with a government's decision to gut the only agency that is even vaguely (if poorly) equipped to deal with cultural development. At the very least, it moves us one step away from the hypocrisy that has inspired cultural decisions throughout the 21st century (lots of lip service paid, no money, personnel, or real plans to back it up) and allows the Bahamian people to see the true value of our culture and identity to the people who we have elected to make decisions for us. There is something to be said for ending the pretence; honesty is good, and encourages honest decisions.However, it betrays once again what the cancellation of CARIFESTA made clear: that our politicians and our leaders, the people who make those decisions, have no comprehension whatsoever about the world, about history, or about what will keep our nation successful.Just in case people think I'm making this stuff up, here's a little something-something from Canada, where the citizens have sussed it out better than we have. (The highlights are mine).
We are living through a great turning point in world history. In just a few short months, our economy and our society are on their way to being transformed.The U.S. and Canadian stock exchanges have lost as much as a third of their value. Gone are the days when regions will grow wealthy from ephemeral finance capital. Only those that build their real economy from the only true capital we possess – the creative energy of our people – will enjoy sustainable prosperity.Gone, too, are the days when one’s identity can be purchased literally off the shelf through designer brands and a Sex and the City lifestyle. Times are tight, credit is no longer freely available, and the house is no longer an infinite piggy bank that can be used to finance luxury consumption. The regions that will succeed and be attractive are those that offer history, authenticity and realism – and where the price tag is more affordable.
You will note that the above has very little to say about harbour extensions or road improvements. The capital that Florida is advocating is not infrastructural; it's human.
And to say that our most recent track record in the development of our human capital is poor would be kind. From the Minister of Education's statement that the College of The Bahamas will not become a university for "two to ten years" to the Prime Minister's assurance that the only things he has not cut from this coming budget are the hundreds of millions of dollars his government will spend on roads and on dredging the harbour, while everything else, everything that has to do with laying the foundation for social or human development, has been slashed, our leaders are dancing us into obsolescence.
The solution? We, the people, need to show them they are wrong -- and we need to do that without waiting for 2012. We, the people, need to develop ourselves. We need to change the discussion, and we need to invest in the human capital that our leaders refuse to amass.
How do we do that? Pay attention to the world, to what our tourists tell us we want, to what we know we need in order to survive in the twenty-first century, in order to sustain our wealth. Invest in our own culture. Think out of the box. Support the initiatives that cultural artists are taking. Spend our money on Bahamian creative activities. Call Ivory Global Promotions this week and buy your ticket to one of this weekend's events during Jazz Summer Festival. Skip a movie or two and buy a ticket to see Light, or Guanahani, or Treemonisha, or the concerts put on by Eurhythmics Dance School or any one of the National Cultural Entities. Contribute to the discussions on Nassau's revitalization going on here and here, invest in the development of Creative Nassau, believe in the festivals that will occur as this year and next year develop. Spend your cultural money at home; believe in our culture, and support the music festivals that will take place on the Wharf this summer, attend the Seagrape Bahamas Literary Festival in September, Shakespeare in Paradise in October, Islands of the World Fashion Week in November, the Bahamas International Film Festival in December.
There's a good Bahamian saying that we'd do well to take to heart, especially if we believe that the world has changed, and that culture now lies at the heart of economic prosperity. I'm referring, of course, to the statement "I could show you better'n I could tell you." If you don't believe me now, believe me when you see the fruit -- Bahamian cultural artists are taking that attitude as we move forward. CARIFESTA may have been officially cancelled, but the festivals that will unfold as 2009 and 2010 go on will demonstrate that even though our leaders have committed themselves to wasting our money on frippery and nineteenth-century foolishness, we know which century this is.
Back to Montreal and the creative class, and imagine what could happen if we believed this here at home (again, I've highlighted what I like):
Creativity is in the region’s DNA. More than just about any other region, Montreal has the underlying capacity to broaden the reach of the creative economy to service business, manufacturing plants, and even agriculture.
But the city and the region need a government that can help get them there. Governmental structures in Montreal and most other places are not up to the task. They are fractured and fragmented and filled with contradictions – complicated and clumsy. Hardly anyone who isn’t involved full-time can understand them. In Montreal, there are local boroughs, municipalities, the agglomeration council, and a regional administration as well.
I saw similarly overbearing structures in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and many other places. It leads to what people in Montreal call “immobilisme” – the tendency for nothing significant to happen because governments, business, social groups and unions are so at odds and so stuck in their ways that no one can provide clear direction and make anything happen.
Many people say a strong leader is the answer. They look back to Mayor Jean Drapeau and the successes of Expo 67 and other landmark projects. They ask what’s happened and worry that Montreal has become gun-shy. How does the region get its mojo back?
But today’s regions are too complicated for top-down, single-leader strategies. The key is to create a broad shared vision that can mobilize the energy of many groups – an open-source approach that can harness the energy and ideas of networks of people.
We live in an age of true democracy -- where power truly resides in the actions of the people. Let's not complain about our government -- we after all get the governments we want. Let's focus once and for all on changing ourselves.
Now that the day is over and I won't be accused of trying to stop something, I will share my response to the Day of Absence. It is sad that we have reduced ourselves to behaving like a bunch of unionists. Jobs are NOT what being an artist is about. Noone owes any of us a living. If we are, as we claim, creative, we are in a better position than the rest of the community to make a living. The fact is that the reason most artists are broke (including me) is that there are other things in the world that are more important. As you noted, it is those things that will make the world of our grandchildren worth living. This constant suggestion that somehow the community should make it easier for artists to make a living is nonsense. It is the result of years of conditioning by governments that we should be taken care of. We are valuable. We must learn to make use of that value. The way to do that is not to beg (like we allow our children to do at intersections and outside businesshouses) but to use the creativity that manifests itself as painting, sculpture or poetry to create income-producing devices. I certainly don't want anyone top feel sorry for me because I didn't make the kind of money I could have. That would suggest that what I did do with my life (the music, poetry etc.) was less important than the money. It is not. I choose to do what I do. So do the rest of you. If expressing yourself in the forms you do does not reward you in the ways you wish, then perhaps you should do something else. The world would not stop if people who make their living in the arts did not show up. It would be a poorer world, for sure, but it would roll right on without you. I am an architect, and I must accept that while I might express myself creatively in that realm, the vast majority of this community finds my concerns of little interest. They are content with the crudest built environment they can have, as long as the price is the cheapest they can have. If I waited for the majority of the community to appreciate the creative efforts of architects, to reward me for being passionate about the way a porch works, I would never work. But I have no choice. This world is not mine. I hold it in trust for future generations of Bahamians. My income is not important in that picture. Si it is up to me to use the creativity with which I say I am gifted to create businesses, the unit of measure in the world of money. In any case, in this Information Age, the JOB is obsolete.Read More
wonder of the world: CARIFESTA X - An Alternative to the same old, same oldThe Bookman, a blog from Trinidad and Tobago, muses on art, CARIFESTA, and society. It's not coincidental, I think, that this week I've been to two talks already about the same thing: one on Wednesday at PopOp Studios about CARIFESTA XI to be held in The Bahamas, and one last night at Chapter One Bookstore about the role of the writer in society. At the end of the panel discussion from last night, where six of us, writers from very different backgrounds and with very different bodies of work, spoke about that role, we were answered in the discussion that followed by a visual artist who told us that our conversations were not isolated, that they were happening all around the country. Something is happening nationwide about the Caribbean arts. Perhaps we are coming into ourselves. The Bookman suggests that perhaps this something is happening regionally. Because I believe in the latter, I'm going to quote from The Bookman's comment on CARIFESTA X to illustrate, just a little, what I mean, and what I hope:
One cannot help but feel that art is held as a fringe. That artists are at the edges of society, almost invisible, except for moments when society is engaged with it and comments on talent. It is always the same trite comment at that, that there is so much talent in Trinidad and Tobago…and? What are we doing about it?...So I am going around in circles with my point. The public need to be educated about what is happening in the arts locally and regionally. The corporate world needs to get more involved in the arts and make it much more relevant to their own business mandates, and the artists themselves must start to hold themselves to the highest standards, look at their profession as deserving of much more than handouts and government support and we need to be very loud and clear about just how much we mean to our society by having alternative spaces to show our work and encourage the society to see that we mean business and that it isn’t business as usual.
Alissa Trotz makes some salient points (hey, Alissa!!)In the Diaspora : Stabroek News
In a presentation made at the Caricom Heads of Govern-ment Conference in July, Barbadian novelist George Lamming took Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo to task for the following comment “…and now we come to the lighter side, CARIFESTA in Guyana.”There is one way to interpret these remarks, as seeing culture as entertainment to engage in when the real work is finished. It is a view that allows ‘culture’ to fall by the wayside, to be addressed only after the ‘real’ priorities of so-called development are attended to, like building roads and paying off the foreign debt. As Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott observed in his exchange with the President at the opening CARIFESTA symposium, we have heard politicians rehearse these tired arguments for years. Walcott expressed his ambivalence about a festival that asks us to celebrate the wanton disregard for our artists in a region where with few exceptions artistic endeavour is not seen as a serious vocation. Here is the ongoing lie of CARIFESTA, illustrated by the profound gap between rhetorical pronouncements and the woeful state of our institutional infrastructure supporting the arts.
So please, El Presidente could you arrange just one more week of freeness, dancing and drinking? You know as a Moscow trained economist that this splurge of government spending, (you take $500 million of taxpayer’s money out of the economy and send it right back in) is not the zero sum game it would appear on paper. It multiplies throughout the truly long lasting, productive sectors: beer, rum, hair salons, boutiques and Red Dragon.And what a shining example of public/private partnership, the mega concerts were. For example, you invited the company that imported soda pop/beer to hold a concert for which people had to buy the same soda pop/beer to receive a ticket. This demonstrates how even-handed you can be even as your investigation into the customs scam grinds to a halt.The performers stay in the hotel you helped finance with our money and thereby reduce the hotel’s interest-free loan in a way that is impossible to verify.Then you get the newspaper whose owners your government gave illegal tax concessions to, to join an unquestioning cheerleading chorus for Carifesta along with your personal TV and radio stations.Let’s not even mention the Chronic, which ignored everything else in Guyana for ten days as it entered the magical world of Carifestaland. Not even the killing of those criminals – what are their names again? - could crash their party.No wonder it was a success. You proclaimed it was a success, the biggest ever… like your budgets, your tax revenues, and you were everywhere, omnipresent: you quarrelled with Walcott, avoided auditors at the Grand Market, addressed the gospel fest, declaring the country was in safe hands …you meant your hands of course, not God’s. Ha ha silly us!And the crowds! The multitudes came out for you, for your country. After all 30,000 people at the Banks Ultra Mega Concert-to-end-all-Concerts can’t be wrong! And in the process, they made the PNC look like fuddy-duddy party poopers.
The point, though, is that it didn't have to be government-funded only. My point was that the demand for such events is high, and is worth money. Governments don't have to make everything free to make something economically viable; in fact, governments often destroy the economic viability of cultural events by too much interference. Take Junkanoo as an example.We would do well to pay attention.
I'm sitting in Nassau now, with life half back to normal, the desk suitably christened with the muttered invective and laughter that it takes to get me through a bureaucratic day, with CARIFESTA X behind and CARIFESTA XI straight ahead, a target whose bullseye we Bahamians ought to shoot. We've had four years to prepare, after all. We've studied two of the festivals, the two most recent, the two that have happened since the design and adoption of the New Strategic Plan. We've got the resources, if we agree to free them up.But do we have the will?I don't know. Five years in government incline me to believe that we don't, that the collective we have neither the vision nor the balls to do what needs to do to host the festival as we could, that we trust neither ourselves as innovators nor the Caribbean culture as a whole enough to regard this as a valid investment. Five years of watching the government waste my tax money on Madison Avenue advertising agencies who know nothing about us and who must be taught what elements to emphasize, and who sometimes get it very wrong ($12 million in supplementary funding midway through a tough budget year, this after the Bahamavention cockup, with no guarantee that a similar failure won't be the result of that $12 million reinvestment), five years of hearing that while an average of $2 million of my tax money is allocated to the development of our own indigenous culture (that's all, and I challenge you to find it in the National Budgets for 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, or 2004), about twice as much of that same tax money is spent on promoting Atlantis every year, five years of being told that we don't have the money to offer workshops in the Bahamian Family Islands for those people whose talents are discovered through the National Arts Festival, of being told that we don't have the money to fix the only government-owned performing arts centre (even though that centre collects revenue every week), that we don't have the money to hire dance teachers or to find government-owned quarters to house either the National Dance School or the so-called Department of Culture.We've got the resources; we send more than enough of them out of the country to promote a Bahamas that has nothing to do. We have yet to invest even a quarter of that money in ourselves here at home.Will CARIFESTA change that? I don't know. I rather doubt it, unless we ourselves change. Will we host CARIFESTA well? We are certainly capable of doing so; but that ability needs nurturing and investment, neither of which we have done for the thirty-five years of our independence. That ability needs faith in ourselves -- and that is something that we Caribbean people find in short supply.
For future reference, I'm closing out my commentary on CARIFESTA X here. There's lots more to say and share, but it'll take place over at the Ringplay blog, as it's largely theatre-related, and has to do with The Children's Teeth mostly. Check the blog: the RSS feed is here.
Well, we're back home. Those of us who travelled in the advance party returned on the charter, which was fine, one direct flight, then off the plane in Nassau. We flew through the turbulence of Tropical Storm Hannah, and though we had to wait for our luggage for some time at LPIA (there were only two men working the baggage carts -- no clue why that was, maybe Mondays are slow) we were home in less than six hours. Of course, given the fact that we had checked out of the hotel at 3:30 and arrived home at 2:30 that makes it 11 hours door-to-door, but that's part of the challenge of travelling with large groups.Back to work today. It's hard to imagine that I'll be sitting behind a desk in a couple of hours, fighting the usual fights of trying to get money released for cultural activities, trying to to get people paid for work they've done for the government, troubleshooting situations that are the result of half-assed jobs done by other people, wrapping up the CARIFESTA work and wrapping up other work I began.In government, projects almost never end. Even projects that have natural endings drag on longer than they should, largely because there are too many people involved in the process of executing them. Perhaps that's by design; perhaps it's because in The Bahamas (and, presumably, in most places, since politics and government are bedfellows) governments are places to house people who can't find work elsewhere, and so tasks are divided into tiny little pieces, all of which have to be completed before the task can be done, and most of which are shared among people of below-average competency, and so all the bits and pieces are almost never finished properly. And so wrapping up goes on forever, until budget years close, and the loose ends are either gathered or left to fray on their own.I'm pretty clear on one thing. For me, work is a series of projects to be completed, and to be completed well. Creative work is that: inspiration, design, creation, revision, polishing, presenting, ending. Beginnings and ends, like life itself, not infinite futile repetition, spirals that lose efficiency and quality as they turn.The Bahamas received the CARIFESTA Scroll for the second time. This time it wasn't Winston Saunders who accepted it on behalf of the Bahamian government, but the Minister of State himself, standing on the cricket field in the Providence Stadium, flanked by the contingent in full Junkanoo regalia, which probably means that we will actually host the event in 2010.It's a project that needs management, that needs design, polishing, and efficient, high-quality presentation.It's a project that could be mangled entirely by government.More on this later, when I've worked out how to express my reservations and hopes in ways that don't contravene General Orders. But for now, we're home again.
Well, so here we are again, at the tail end of the CARIFESTA adventure, and I'm writing this post on the date I'd originally planned to be my last day working as a civil servant. (Circumstances, as my paternal grandmother used to say, alter cases -- a testament to flexibility from a woman whose circumstances certainly altered hers.) Philip and I are still sharing the hotel room Buddy's assigned us from the beginning -- a huge cavern of a thing, with generous proportions, lots of glass, and a heap of wasted space. This update is unlikely to make it to the web anytime soon -- the connection is unreliable at best, not entirely awful but unpredictable -- I haven't been able to download mail for three days now, though it's coming in as I type.My feelings are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I'm elated not only that we pulled it off again (the travelling of a pretty huge contingent from one end of the Caribbean to another) but that Guyana has succeeded in making CARIFESTA national, regional and international, laying the ground for the development of a world festival that people will plan to attend. We have an IFD (Interim Festival Directorate -- the regional governing body for CARIFESTA) meeting today, the traditional end-of-festival meeting, where we will discuss the way forward for CARIFESTA; it is likely to by my last such meeting, unless something else takes place between now and December. It's a shame, but there it is.There's so much to share! There's the finishing of the recounting of the Anna Regina trip, which was in every way the highlight of the trip, from its organization to the reception of the play and the players in Essequibo, to the experience of staying at Lake Mainstay and swimming in black water, to the return journey, which was more exciting and efficient than the outward bound one.There's the summarizing of the Bahamian activities, the bungle of the container and its remaining in Freeport, my disappointment that we were not able to see many other presentations, the mastery of the activities in the Grand Market, the glitches we had and the mistakes that we made (by "we" I mean the Bahamian contingent), the hospitality of the ordinary Guyanese, the incomprehensibility of the closing ceremony preparations, the ending of the Fineman reign of terror, the success (at last!) of our literary artists in finding a way onto the programme, the disappointment of the choir (who never sang anywhere they were sent as the places were unsuitable for a choir -- choirs, my people, are HARD to mike, and good ones will not take kindly to being placed before two little unidirectionals which will mess up the balance and distort their sound. Let's get that right in the end), the triumph of that same choir at the final Bahamian country presentation, my disappointment in the second Junkanoo rush-out, the major SNAFU with the Berbice performance, and finally being able to attend someone else's show -- Jamaica's offering of Love Games at the Theatre Guild.And there's the serious discussion of what we need to do, and how, if we want this festival to move forward. But all of that will wait. I fly home on Monday, on the charter (! YIPPEE -- no braving that stop in Trinidad with Caribbean Air!) and on Tuesday I'm back at work, climbing on the hamster wheel one last time to wind down, I hope, my responsibility to the Government. My plan now is to serve out the fall, wrap up the CARIFESTA activities, collect the revenue as well as clean up the container mess, submit a report, wrap up the more long-term projects, like the National Cultural Policy and the numerous draft pieces of legislation prepared since 2003, and move on to more productive activities at the College of The Bahamas.And finally, there's the experience of staying at Buddy's International Hotel, a most interesting establishment. It's always an education for me to travel in the Caribbean as a Bahamian and to experience other (potentially competing) arms of the Caribbean tourism enterprise. More often than not, it highlights what we have done well, what we have mastered. We have our challenges, most certainly, but more than a century in the hotel and resort industry does have its value, let me tell you, and often our experience shows when we travel elsewhere.Unfortunately, our experience isn't the only thing that shows; our arrogance also shows. We are often considered the Americans of the Caribbean -- rich, brash, unlettered, scornful, and ignorant -- and even when we do not entirely live up to that reputation, we behave in manners that are open to that interpretation. If we are to host CARIFESTA well, we will have to address that fact in a serious way.But first things first: finish the reports on CARIFESTA, and then move on.Cheers.
Internet connectivity has been really slow over the past couple of days -- none at all yesterday, and slower than dial-up today, so that's why you haven't heard from me.Tomorrow we are scheduled to take the play to Berbice. Time to go to sleep, methinks.I'll be home on Monday, and will post more then.Till then!
I can say right now that Anna Regina was the highlight of our trip. Protocol and prudence would have me add "so far", but I doubt that there will be anything more to come that will rival our Anna Regina (Essequibo) experience. I offer my public thanks to the organizers and schedulers of CARIFESTA X Guyana for sending Teeth to Anna Regina, and allowing me to go.That said, let me start.The Children's Teeth was scheduled to appear in the Anna Regina Multilateral School in Essequibo at 6 p.m. Tuesday -- this after its finishing a two-night run at Queen's College in Georgetown. We waited for some time to get information about when we should leave for Essequibo, because the set would have to be built in the space we were performing in and we needed several hours of advance time. Philip and Terrance erected the set in Queen's College in four hours; if it would take as long in Essequibo, we would have to factor that into our journey planning. Anyway, by five on the night of the second Georgetown performance, Philip finally got to talk to Paloma Mohammed, CARIFESTA's Artistic Director, and work out what we would need to do. In the meantime, I took off for downtown, as I'd discovered that the one thing we'd forgotten to bring for our performance was a programme for Teeth, and I wanted to print and photocopy the one page of information that I'd prepared during the day.I was travelling with the liaison officer assigned to me, a young woman whom I call Shelly because she always introduces herself to me as "your liaison officer". We have two sets of such officers assigned to our contingent. The regular ones are assigned by the CARIFESTA Secretariat, and are detailed to work with the various elements of our contingent -- with the Junkanoos, the writers, the actors, the dancers, the musicians, etc -- and the other ones are assigned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and are detailed to work with the senior officials on the trip -- myself and Greg Butler (Directors of Culture and Youth respectively) and, of course, Minister. Shelly had agreed to take me to find a place to get copies made, and we ended up at the mall. Of course, my Bahamian eyes saw no mall -- they just saw a downtown block with lots of storefronts, until Shelly led me through a passage that reminded me of the entrance to the Prince George Arcade in Nassau, and we ended up -- yes -- in a mall, complete with roof and escalators up to second and third floors and lots of shops. Right near the entrance was a counter with a girl sitting behind it and a photocopier beside her. Was this the place to make photocopies? we asked. Yes, she said, and took the plastic cover off the machine and started it up. Can you print from a flash drive too? She turned the machine off and recovered it. No, she said, perhaps somewhere else ...We wandered through the mall, until we were advised that we should try an internet cafe. At that point Shelly -- who is very organized and efficient in an extremely quiet and understated way -- made a phonecall and walked me outside, and asked whether I'd have a problem taking a bus to get to City Hall.I said I didn't. And in theory, the anthropologist in me didn't -- indeed, that anthropologist was quite looking forward to the adventure of taking a bus. But the Bahamian in me was screaming Hell No!!! because she had seen the Guyanese buses before -- nineteen people squeezed into a fifteen-seater bus, the kind of vehicle we in The Bahamas might call an eight or nine seater (we like a little more personal space at home these days -- perhaps we can afford it). But I could see City Hall a few blocks away, and figured that the adventure of catching, boarding and deboarding the bus would be less efficient in the end than simply hoofing our way to the Hall. So we walked the three or four blocks we had to walk -- perhaps as far as it would be to get from the British Colonial to Rawson Square, if that -- and entered the City Hall compound.Now I have seen Georgetown's City Hall from the road, from a bus, every time I've been here. But I have never been on foot really till now. And the Hall looks imposing, majestic, and downright beautiful when it's seen properly -- it's white with pale blue trim and is made of wood and wrought iron and it has a tower and several storeys and it's a historically significant building. It also turns out that Shelly's mother was the Town Clerk, and she agreed to print the programmes for me.The second performance went well, with a fuller house than the night before, and loads of press -- Guyana TV, BIS, ZNS. And afterward, while we were being fed by our stagehands and liaison officers, Philip and Terrance dismantled the set and began to prepare the pieces that would make the journey upcountry the next day. The whole set couldn't go, because the stage was smaller than the one we had; but we would make do. Eight pieces went, and the truck arrived to be packed, and we packed it, and then we came on back to our residences and prepared for a seven thirty start in the morning.
For the past two days I have only half worn my director's hat. Most of my time has been spent with the cast and crew of The Children's Teeth, which played twice back-to-back in Georgetown, and which is now preparing to go out of town on a mini-tour. Because of the play, I missed seeing Walcott in person, missed his address at the opening symposium. In part because of the play too (though more because of the fact that when I was here yesterday I was playing director full-time) I missed Max Taylor's address at the CARIFESTA Symposium, which doubles my regret. Wholly because of the play I missed the rush-out at the Grand Market, which of course stopped the festivities cold and left people buzzing about The Bahamas, a good buzz.Teeth was mounted in Queen's College auditorium, which as I've described is a functional all-purpose space with a large stage and a big stage door which recognizes and respects the size and sense of the set, but with no lights, sound, or backstage. (At least they don't call it a National anything over here -- when they dub something National, that means something.) Garfunkel Auditorium meets the old GHS auditorium -- made of concrete and galvanize, not pre-fab like our new auditoria, with a ceiling that goes up to the gods and windows that go up that high as well, and breeze blocks at the back. It's the second time I've seen a Caribbean theatre with breeze blocks -- the other time was the Little Carib in Port of Spain -- and once again I'm left wondering whether that's even a possibility in Nassau. But no. Nights here (and in Trinidad -- somewhat -- and Barbados -- definitely) are cool and breezy, fresh like nights in spring and fall at home, and not still and deadly like nights in the heart of summer. And the blocks let in more than breeze -- they let in noise and creatures, and we Bahamians have lost the art (a) of listening so we can hear people who speak without microphones and (b) of dealing with the creatures who live on this earth with us. (There was a report of someone's encountering a frog in their bathroom here in Guyana -- something I certainly would have had a hard time overcoming!). The play was accompanied by the sound of the South American tree frogs that live here -- not the kwee kwik of Bahamian tree frogs, but almost a singing, a whistling that rivals the sound of crickets. A great night sound, providing ambience and accompaniment to the play.The production went well, on the whole. Sunday's performance drew a very small crowd, many of them families (! - Teeth has mature situations and mature themes, but not, I suppose, any more mature than what can be found on TV these days), but given the fact that Walcott was speaking elsewhere I think it was a good turnout. Last night's drew more people, maybe twice or three times more. It was also covered by various media houses -- our own ZNS and BIS were there, as well as Guyana National Television, and I was interviewed by a reporter who confessed that the play had made her cry, and which pleased me no end. I wasn't sure that the situations would play here. First of all, the Haitian situation is unfamiliar to the Guyanese audiences; second of all, the accents in the play are really pretty thick; and third of all, we have lost the technique of performing in live spaces like that.I was reminded, halfway through last night's performance, of all the elocution lessons I received from my elders, growing up as I did in the space between the acoustic and the amplified worlds. The overpronunciation of certain things, the technique of delivering things in a more stylized fashion, even the grander presentational style that we favour in the Caribbean -- these are products of an acoustic world where performance spaces have hard edges and echoes happen easily. It's the world of the microphone that has allowed the intimacy of the living room and the cinema to move onto the stage, and many of the techniques that we used in the play -- overlapping speeches, intimate confessional scenes, etc -- did not play as well in that space as they did in the Dundas. Something to know going forward.And afterward we struck the set we'd built on Sunday morning.So I sit in my room this morning, hoping that I'll be able to upload this. Today is the day I've looked forward to the most so far -- the play is travelling to Anna Regina, a town up along, a journey of about three hours over road and up river, with an overnight stay after the performance and a return journey tomorrow. I shall take photographs and record the experience: CARIFESTA the adventure.
SaturdayThe stuff from the container arrived today, air freight (far more money than one would ever want to pay, but that's another story), and was trucked from the airport to the hotel. Most of the costumes came, along with most of the drums, the set for Teeth and brochures for the Grand Market booth and some other things. But some things were not there -- like all of the Educulture museum, as well as the remainder of the costumes. It's a small disaster, but we need to make the best of it.I've been thinking about why this CARIFESTA has been plagued with more trouble than last time's, and have come to the conclusion that things always work better when they're done in the dark than in the light. When there's too much attention, especially from people who have different measures of authority, when there's too much, forgive me, democracy in the arts, there's confusion and, at worst, chaos. The arts are not democratic; they are elitist, because they are the expression of singular visions. Too much democracy leads to disaster.So anyway. The Grand Market booth, despite the adversity, looks great. The people who have suffered the most disappointment, the Fergusons from Educulture, have been supremely upbeat, and have risen to the occasion, while those people who bear the most responsibility for the container have not done the same. Cream rises to the surface, always.The first performance of the Bahamian contingent took place at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, and went off well. Billed as "Bahamas Country Performance", it was a variety show featuring the band and the choir as well as one or two individuals, and it had a good turnout from both the Bahamian contingent and the Guyanese families. Getting back to the hotel was a challenge, though, because the stadium next door was playing host to a reggae superconcert, and the traffic on the way there was several cars thick across, even though the highway had only two lanes. It was most interesting to watch the Guyanese drive through the traffic, using any means necessary: inside lane, the kerb, third and fourth lanes -- I had a suspicion that if cars could drive on water they would.SundayToday is the first performance of Teeth. I have spent the whole day at the theatre, which is a high school auditorium, something that makes me nostalgic for the similar spaces of my childhood. Coming to Guyana is an exercise in moving back in time for me, revealing my age (which exceeds that of many of the Junkanoo performers who objected so strenuously to their accommodations, and so which is more tolerant of Guyanese indoor spaces -- after all, we didn't have much better -- or as good -- in my childhood.) My entire high school experience existed without an auditorium at all -- we had the (Nassau) QC quad, which had its own value. The GHS (now COB) auditorium was a grand space, but was long and narrow and life and not air conditioned, but designed for fresh air and night breezes. So was St Mary's Hall at the Monastery, and Garfunkel Auditorium. But now, now that we have the money to centrally air-condition everything (something that occurred only in the 1990s, as I remember going to Miami in 1992 and marvelling at the air-conditioning everywhere, even in student residences), we associate fresh air and outside spaces with poverty and backwardness. Me -- I like the space, and once the sun goes down it'll be great.But -- it's live, and the projection of the actors is pretty good, so much so that there's enough of a natural echo/reverb effect that it makes it difficult to follow the richest voices. But we shall see.The set looks great -- it was put together today, and it is better in my opinion than it was in Nassau. The stage is wider than the Dundas, being entirely open, without any wings or teasers to hide the space at all, and so the set takes up the whole space across, and above it is plain wall.Coming to the Caribbean reminds me of what it feels like to sweat. I imagine it's a healthy thing. We've done our best to forget in Nassau.
The main thing that happened today was the opening ceremony -- that and the settling of the arrangement with the apartments. This was done with some discretion and some cowardice, and I'll say no more about that. (The cowardice was on my part, in case anybody's wondering -- shame might be another word. Say no more.) The move simplifies some things -- it saves us the trouble of pickups from the apartments, and makes movement easier.But the opening overshadowed it all.Buddy's is literally next door to the stadium, where the opening and closing and super concerts take place. With our accreditation, we participants can access the stadium without too much problem -- by walking, if necessary. But we did have 32 people to move from the DDL houses (the rum estate houses, as the artists are calling them) to the hotel. It took transportation some time to get to them, and so we all waited until everybody was at the hotel, then we moved.The opening was spectacular in a very literal sense. The stadium is huge, and green, and seats 20,000 people if they use the ground as well as the stands, but the access to the opening and closing ceremonies was limited by the fact that both had to accommodate performers and overseas contingents. The event was ticketed, but tickets were free, and were being distributed four to a person. Not sure what the purpose of free ticketing was, although it does provide a baseline for knowing how many people attend. Tickets were sold out to main events -- the business this festival is generating for Georgetown and Guyana is unprecedented. Our private driver -- we booked a car to assist with transportation, rather than be at the mercy of the CARIFESTA Secretariat's transportation, which has to move 7,500 people, and which is not as bad as we imagined it would be, though there are some hiccups!) -- told us that there is work for everybody who wants it, and there's money in people's pockets. Foreign exchange, too -- the hotels and banks are flush with US dollars.But that's an aside. The opening was performed on a huge stage (imported to Guyana at an exorbitant cost, but clearly an investment that could bring dividends) and on the ground, and that was where the spectacle came in. The actual acts were not so spectacular, with one or two exceptions, but the production as a whole was enviable. We will have our work cut out for us to equal it in Nassau -- and we will have to spend money far more freely than we currently do when it comes to culture. I have no real hopes for that, given my experience in this regard so far -- government accountants and other non-cultural officials always imagine they know better than cultural professionals what things should cost and are almost always wrong enough to cost extra money in the end.I think that the opening illuminated and inspired. We have always said to our politicians that they have no idea what they have taken on with CARIFESTA, that they don't know the magnitude of it, as it's so rare that any of them attend unless it's in their own back yard. Our minister came to me and told me that we were aiming too low, that we'd need the whole of the Western Esplanade and the ridge and the Botanical Gardens behind. The Minister is spending his time visiting venues, which should inspire and impress, especially if he visits the National Cultural Centre and the Theatre Guild. But we shall see what we need to go forward.
Walcott warns : Stabroek NewsRight, well I've been hinting at it for some time now on this blog, but now I think it's time to come out and say it straight. I've turned in my resignation as Director of Culture for the Bahamas Government. I had originally intended to leave at the end of this month, as of August 31st, but a series of situations have pushed the actual date back till the end of this calendar year, and turned the resignation into a requested transfer back to the College of The Bahamas. Courage!People who have heard sometimes ask me why. (People who know me and have known the tribulations of working as a cultural professional within The Bahamas government don't ask why; they ask when.)Derek Walcott, Caribbean Nobel Laureate for Literature, gives a very good reason why in his speech at the opening of the CARIFESTA Symposia. Here's what he says:
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott yesterday implored the region’s governments to resist prostituting themselves to foreign investors, warning that giving into tourism-fuelled gentrification would spell disaster.“The prostitution is a thing we call development,” he said in stinging remarks delivered during an impromptu presentation at the grand opening of the CARIFESTA X Symposia, at the National Convention Centre. He warned: “Don’t let this continue, [because] something serious is going to happen.”
“It is terrifying, all around there are huge hotels we are going to leave as monuments,” he said, with obvious disgust. “We are not leaving museums or theatres, because the governments say they can’t afford it.”
Walcott took the view that investors should also be encouraged to put money into the development of cultural infrastructure, like museums and theatres. He also challenged regional governments to be more supportive of artists, saying that younger people needed to have access to more scholarships.Walcott, who had once famously called for the scrapping of the festival, was featured as the Distinguished Guest at the symposium. Nonetheless, he admitted that he still harboured serious reservations about the fate of artists afterward. Indeed, he blamed the regional governments and institutions for keeping artists in what he described as a state of deprivation. “Is this what we are celebrating?” he asked. “You are killing your artists.”
Walcott challenged regional leaders to pursue development of the arts simultaneously. Though he was not optimistic that the idea would be realized, he said it was important for them to adopt a change in attitude. He said there be should be no question of competing needs; that governments should do both.***He also suggested yesterday that the governments consider putting a moratorium on the festival in order to ensure that it is professionally organized and that it features the best people that the region can offer. “You need the best,” he said, before quickly adding, “But it is self deception, because what happens afterwards? What are their futures?"
There you have it. My dilemma in a nutshell. On the one hand, there are the people who tell you that the country needs you, that we have come a long way, that we are on the move and things are gonna get easier. "Why now?" they ask. The answer is simple, and Walcott has stated it plainly. Caribbean governments do not invest in their people. Caribbean people do not see any real reflections of themselves.On the other hand -- and this is the reality, while the other is simply the spin -- the bare naked truth is that The Government of The Bahamas (gold, red or green, the party in charge doesn't matter) is no different from the governments of all our neighbours when it comes to cultural investment. The Nobel Laureate has stated the truth, and there is no getting around it. The President of Guyana has stated the excuse, and there is no getting around that either. To remain in the post legitimizes the active underdevelopment of our people that all of our governments have made the central policy of their administrations. To remain in the post restricts the criticisms that I can make; and to remain in the post compromises, whether we like to admit it or not, the attainment of excellence in all that we do.
So the container was definitely in Freeport, and we were faced with the issue of getting its contents here somehow. The call was made in Nassau, between the Minister and my Under Secretary. DHL was contacted and they agreed to fly the contents to Guyana by cargo plane. No explanation was given for the delay of the container, beyond the report that the cargo boat on which it was to go was full, and so the container didn't make it on (we also heard, though, that the boat was not expected to arrive in Guyana until August 28th, so that was in itself a problem). No apology was given either, and no refund yet.That was by the way. The contingent was scheduled to board the charter jet and fly out to Guyana at 3:15 and the Minister and party were to be on that. At the Guyana end we put the last things in place -- buying basic foodstuffs for the houses and arranging food at the apartments, and setting up room numbers and pre-checking in the guests at the hotel.There was a press conference in the morning to which I was invited -- there seems to be high demand for Bahamian participation in things, perhaps because we were the failed hosts, perhaps because we are the next hosts, who knows? and so I sat behind the table with the Minister and other officials. All went smoothly, the press conference took place, and then back I went to the hotel.And in the evening, a group of is -- myself, Ronald, Vola, and Luther, our liaison officer -- went out to the airport to meet the plane and get the contingent moving.We ran into a few small hitches. Though the transportation for the people was arranged without too much problem, it was overorganized on paper, and didn't take into account the reality of a press of 140 passengers plus luggage. There were too many people with too much to say, each of them responsible for a different aspect of things, and the result of course was confusion. But by 8:30 the first set of people -- the passengers for the hotel -- were on their bus and ready to go, and their luggage had been loaded on a truck for transport. And then we saw the problem. There was only one truck! We had asked for two, and we needed two, but there was only one, and the luggage was still piled up on the kerb. So as we debated and argued and tried to convince the people who'd worked out their plans on paper that the luggage left behind could NOT fit onto the buses they were sending, and that we needed a second truck, the passengers loaded on to the first two buses waited. And waited. The night was close and hot, and they waited on close, hot buses.Finally, after the paper plans didn't work as they had been designed, flexibility and pragmatism took over. The passengers drove off, all except for a few who were left to deal with the remaining luggage, waiting for the truck. And we waited. And waited. And waited. And made phone calls. And reminded the various people at the airport who had responsibilities but no real authority that we had requested two trucks, not one. And waited. And watched the rain fall, and waited.And finally we got the second truck, around 10:00, got it loaded, loaded ourselves onto the bus, and drove off towards the apartments.On the way there I got a phonecall. Just a headsup, said Philip. The Junkanoo fellas have gone to the apartments and they don't like them. They are refusing to stay there.Crisis.I won't go into details here or now, or maybe ever. All I'll say is that they didn't like the apartments, which were too small and too downscale for them, and they made their case to the Minister, and they eventually moved themselves into the hotel, which is where they are now and where they'll remain.I am a servant, not always civil, so I live to serve.
Well, I know it's been some time since the last update. The ideal would be to have daily updates, but it's not always possible. Even today I'm writing from the Queen's College auditorium, where The Children's Teeth is scheduled to take place, which is, frankly, a school auditorium, Caribbean style, with some very nice elements to it, but also with the kinds of things we Bahamians did away with twenty-odd years ago when we were building auditoria. Not to say that we were right to do so - but just that we did. Money changes many things, not all of them for the better.And anyway, what I meant to say about this post, being written from Queen's College, is that I'm not online here, and I'll have to wait to get back to one of the residences to upload it. So it may not appear till this evening.Or earlier, if the show is rained out.So let's get some history here. I'll split this into posts that can update on their own, so that there'll be some activity on this site. I'll start with Thursday (Thursday was a very low day indeed), then I'll move on to Friday and yesterday, and then there'll be today. Which is an underwater day.Check later.
First off, a note: though I want to update regularly -- every day if possible -- there's a teeny-weeny issue to do with connectivity. We're online intermittently today -- the hotel's upgrading its system and of course the accompanying result is less internet service rather than more. Presumably it's a temporary situation -- connectivity was better yesterday and the day before. On the other hand, it could get worse when all the people get here -- the hotel is full for CARIFESTA. We shall see.So today was a fun day. It really started yesterday, while we were at the DDL houses, and Vola got a phonecall from the man dealing with the trailers letting us know that the Bahamas' container was not in Guyana. This is the container, yes, that was packed during the first week of July and that was sent before Independence (July 10th). (What date is it now? Oh.) This is the container that we made a big deal about sending, this is the container that we engaged a broker (I will not call the name) to help us ensure it was going where it was supposed to go, this was the container ...Where is the container now, today, the day before the day before the festival starts?In Freeport, Bahamas.At the other end of the Caribbean Sea. Beyond Cuba.Further north than Nassau.Well, OK, it went from Nassau to Miami and then back (WHY?????). And then it stopped.And after all the hoo-ha and to-do about the bill of lading from the brokers, they couldn't tell us the container hadn't left The Bahamas to head south yet?Such is the fate of these things. A good deal of our presentation is in that container, including instruments, artefacts, books, costumes, and sets. Whoopee-doopee doo. So what next?We're still waiting for the accommodation to be paid in full.We're still waiting for our accreditation to be finished in full.We're still waiting for our contingent to get on that charter and fly out here without too many surprises.It's quite a job, let me tell you, waiting.
Well, here we are in Georgetown.After our late (LATE) arrival on Sunday night Monday morning, when we were met at the hotel by our liaison officer, we slept through a lot of the morning and didn't get started until midday. First things first: we changed US dollars into Guyanese currency (exchange rate yesterday - Bank of Guyana buying at $195:$1), and then moved on out to the CARIFESTA Secretariat. There we touched base with the people who've been working hard for the past several months, and tried to finalize our accreditation and the like. ASIDE: It's a very frustrating job, hosting this event, especially in a situation where people are worried about security and stuff like that, and at the same time dealing with Caribbean governments, all of which appear to operate in a similar inefficient fashion, providing final approvals at the nth hour, or (worse, as happened with Turks and Caicos) denying approvals at the very last minute. It's especially frustrating when, appreciating all the above, one tries to assist host country by sending them the information they need in advance, only to find out that the people in one's department who were charged with the task took their sweet time in sending the package to the couriers, so that one arrives in person before the information has been received and opened. And so Guyana had to prepare our accreditation at the last minute anyway.So anyway, on we went to the Secretariat to register and to get our information into the computer so that our participants can be accredited. The army has taken a key role in the hosting of CARIFESTA, access to the venues is to be tightly controlled, and anyone who doesn't possess a ticket or an accreditation will not gain access. We assisted in the accreditation process, too, and then we came on home. By tomorrow, we are told, we will have our passes in hand.Monday wasn't as productive as we'd hoped, thanks to the time we arrived. But today was much better. We dealt with our accommodation -- our contingent is 140 strong and we're spread out over three locations -- today. Once again, we've got an issue with long-distance payments and our accountants' performance takes on a centrality that it might not otherwise. Let's just say that some things don't have to be done at the very last minute, but that invariably when we deal with our governments, they are. Nevertheless, Caribbean people are very good at dealing in good faith, and so we were warmly received by the people at the DDL Estate, where we've booked 6 houses for our contingent, and we were shown around the houses and the complex. We were similarly warmly received by the people at Buddy's International Hotel as well; and tomorrow we'll go and deal with the apartment block that will house the rest of our people.We have also been dealing with scheduling and transportation issues. Tomorrow we hope to lock those down and be ready to receive our contingent when they begin to arrive on Thursday.But fellow bureaucrats, take note: the world's a whole lot bigger than the desk before us and the papers we slide across it. There's no really good reason for us to make the big world suffer any more than it already does. Let's try to see whether, just once, we can do things efficiently and well all by ourselves.
The biggest barrier to Caribbean integration is the difficulty of moving around in the region.All right, let's face it. We were travelling from the northernmost point in CARICOM to just about the most southerly; there's got to be some challenge from moving from The Bahamas to Guyana. But does it have to be this much?I don't know. It would seem that the barrier posed by Cuba and Hispaniola to The Bahamas, the so-called "Gateway" to the Caribbean, is real. You can't fly further south than Jamaica if you're flying directly from The Bahamas, not if you're flying commercial airlines. Everything else has to go through Miami, which is forty minutes to an hour out of the way. So this is the route we took, flying on the routes that the airlines provide for us. Now lest we imagine that the limitations on moving around the region are neocolonial, posed by the outside, barriers to movement controlled and managed by our former colonial masters, know this: there are any number of local and regional carriers that I can name. I'll start by calling the names of those I have already flown in my lifetime: Bahamasair, Havana Air, Air Jamaica, Caribbean Air (the airline formerly known as BWIA), Liat. Ooh, look: five airlines that belong to the region! And yet not one of them (Air Jamaica excepted) crosses the barrier created by the Greater Antilles to link The Bahamas with the Caribbean proper.The result: it takes forever and costs a fortune to travel from north to south in the Caribbean, and vice versa. Although it takes a mere 3 hours as the crow flies for a plane to get from Nassau to Port of Spain, and a mere 4 and a half, or 5 (depending on the Gulf Stream, I suppose) from Nassau to Georgetown, it took us from 12:13 (a quarter past noon) till 2 a.m. to get from Nassau to Georgetown yesterday.Part of the problem, let me tell you, was Caribbean Air. I won't go into details now, but rest assured I will post about it. There was a layover of 4 unscheduled hours in Trinidad and Tobago, a layover that was apparently foreseen but not foretold, a layover that has yet to be satisfactorily explained either to the passengers affected or to those people meeting us in Georgetown.We arrived here, eventually. And we were comfortable enough last night, very well received, and treated with courtesy by the Guyanese. But it didn't quite take the taste of our ordeal out of our mouths.