Bahama Pundit's Larry Smith - Running Hot on Culture

We Bahamians are considered such philistines around the region. They laugh at us for stooping so low as to blow up our own culture, and that's not a joke - it actually happened in 1987, when the government demolished Jumbey Village with explosives.The village was an offshoot of a community festival launched in 1969 by musician and parliamentarian Ed Moxey. An earlier and more 'cultural' version of the fish fry, it featured music and dance performances as well as displays of arts and crafts, and local produce, and was aimed at locals as well as tourists.In 1971 Moxey persuaded the Pindling government to let the festival take over a former dump site on Blue Hill Road and build a permanent facility. In the period leading up to independence in 1973, there was a lot of buzz about a popular enterprise promoting Bahamian creative arts."We put the homestead site up and in '73 we had a meeting with all the teachers. And they agreed right there that all the teachers in the system would donate a half day's pay and every school would have a function...and we came up with $100,000 in the space of three months," Moxey recalled."We put up a special cabinet paper, cabinet agreed, and when I pick up the budget, everything was cut out. Everything." Moxey told University of Pennsylvania researcher Tim Rommen in 2007. "That was a little bit too much. Village lingered, lingered...just kept on deteriorating until they came up with this grandiose scheme to put National Insurance there. And when they ready, they blow the whole thing down."via Bahama Pundit.

People who live in glass offices

So last night I was watching TV—a British show called Hustle which is a very well-made, complex-charactered, witty cousin of the TNT show LeverageHustle came first, and I can see no acknowledgement in the official record of the connection between the two, but come on now—and at one point (not for the first time) the characters disappear into an office somewhere. I turned to Philip and said: "What is it with these glass offices that you see on TV these days? When did people start working in fishbowls?" (I don't think fishbowls was actually what I said—in fact, I know it wasn't—but it was in my head, so I'll put it out there.) He turned back to me and asked: "Why are you obsessed with offices? This is the fifth time you've asked me that question."And you know, he's right. I am obsessed with offices. And I have asked the question often. I ask it every time I see a new TV show with a new set of offices.People in the USA in particular seem to have taken to working in, yes, fishbowls.OK. My husband might be perplexed by my "obsession", but savvy anthropologists will know just where I'm going with this. Or at least where I'm coming from. Other people may not be familiar with Edward T. Hall and his studies on the cultural use of space (otherwise known as proxemics), but Hall theorized that different cultures approach space in different ways. He illustrated by conducting a study of the organization of offices and office space in three cultures—Japan, Germany and the USA—and demonstrated that different office practices—office layouts, office conduct, office habits—obtained in each nation.This becomes relevant when we begin to realize that as Bahamians we are in the business of serving the world. From tourism to banking, we interact on a regular basis with people from all over, and without understanding that there are fundamental cultural differences which are often subconsciously/unconsciously held, we will judge one another based on cultural variations that a little understanding of basic things such as the use of space would eliminate.For instance. Five years ago when I started working in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, when my ship had finally come in and the government had finally actually hired me (16 months after the initial interview), I moved into a corner office at the new Ministry of Education Building on Thompson Boulevard. Mine was an unusual office. Because it was in the corner, it had windows on two sides, floor-to-ceiling panels set in the two outside walls. The interior partitions, though, were walls.I was privileged. I was, after all, a Director, which explained the privilege. In some ways, by my personal standards, I was even more privileged than administrative officers who were more senior than me—than the Finance Officer, the Deputy Permanent Secretaries, and one of the Under Secretaries. In that office, only Directors, the Permanent Secretary, and the Minister himself were honoured with offices that others couldn't see into.What was interesting was that the officers listed above—the Senior Officers in the Ministry, as determined by their salary grouping (not their salaries)—were given blinds for their offices. If they wanted to, they could create a barrier between themselves and the world beyond by closing their blinds and creating walls from the glass that was provided for them. The one Director who could not get a corner office (the building was clearly not designed for a Ministry with three of them, as it only provided two corner offices of the kind that could accommodate Directors (for those of you who are not following me, the Department of Public Personnel has a list of the sizes of offices that should be provided for senior officers, and I can tell you, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture posed a problem for the HR department in that regard)) was also equipped with blinds. Not one other technical officer was given such a luxury.So what follows next begins to explain my obsession, as Philip calls it, with the glass offices I see on TV today. As I recall it, a whole lot of my tenure at the Ministry in my new capacity was filled with meetings. Tuesday mornings at 11 AM was the time we held Senior Officers' Meetings, which was convened by the Permanent Secretary and which required the Ministry's senior officers—the two Under Secretaries, the two Deputy Permanent Secretaries (Under Secretary trumps DPS, in case you were wondering), the First Assistant Secretaries (right under DPSs), the Senior Assistant Secretaries (next step down from FASs), the Finance Officer, the Directors (of which there were several, and of various kinds), and the Directors' seconds-in-command (for Youth and Sports, the Deputy Directors, for Culture the two Assistant Directors). (pace Rick, I can feel you spinning in your non-grave!). Sixteen people most of the time, sometimes more, all squeezed into the second-best conference room (called, for reasons those of us in Youth and Culture didn't quite get, the Sports Conference Room). These were meetings in which the PS briefed the senior staff on matters pertinent to the running of the Ministry—on the status of papers to go to Cabinet for example, on programmes that the Minister wanted to see implemented, on programmes that were already under way, especially those that involved the whole Ministry (such as Junkanoo, or National Youth Month, or some such event), and where heads of different sections (Directors, mainly) gave updates on the progress of their programmes (like JA activities for Youth, national sporting events for Sports, and national cultural events for Culture). We might be updated on the progress of our installation in these new quarters; we might be briefed on general staff matters, like how we were expected to implement General orders; we might be advised what was left in the budget for the half-year, and how we were to (not) spend it; we might be asked to seek solutions for various issues that had hit the press, like an increase in gang violence, trouble in a sporting association, or the complaints of musicians about the lack of jobs in the marketplace for them.My first months in office dealt with the status of the move. We were a newly reconstituted Ministry, having been reinstated by the PLP in 2002 after the FNM had dissolved the previous Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture in its second term, and that in itself brought a number of issues. We were also a Ministry that had very recently moved into new quarters. And these quarters were significantly different from the old ones. We were occupying a building that had been purpose-built for government activity at the turn of the millennium, while previous offices had occupied the seventh floor of the Post Office Building, an office from the turn of the third quarter of the 20th century, and reflecting office culture of a previous era. The largest difference was the open floor plan of the office, and this was causing considerable consternation among the officers and staff. Three things were causing this. The first was the fact that the new Minister had ordered that all of the Divisions of the Ministry—and all of the staff—were to be relocated to the new office, which meant bringing them in from the various field offices—from the Sports Centre, from the Youth Centre, and from Morro Castle (Culture's field office). The second was that there were only enough offices for Senior Officers and up; the rest of the staff and officers were to be housed in the large open office that constituted most of the south-western wing of the Ministry. And the third was that those offices that did exist were fronted with glass. In other words, if you stood in the open office and looked around, you could see into every office, except those that (as I have said) were assigned to the Director of Culture and the Director of Sports.And the Ministry was beginning by refusing to buy us blinds.I can't say why that was the case. We were never given a good reason why; we were simply told it was not the Ministry's policy to provide blinds for non-senior officers. Needless to say, this caused much discussion; as I have already noted, no one liked the idea of working in a fishbowl. There were many good reasons put forward as to why. For our regular officers, the idea that they were being expected to do their work from desks in the open office plans, when they would be moving with files of potentially sensitive information, and perhaps, for Youth Officers, might be expected to counsel young people in the open, was scandalous. For the senior officers who qualified for offices, the idea of working from glassed-in offices was a major breach of trust.The long and the short of it was the Permanent Secretary was faced with a mini-revolution. Work was not going to get done until all the offices received their blinds. We were not alone in the problem; the Ministry of Education was going through the same difficulties. The solution? To order blinds for every glassed-in office. Today, if you walk around those Ministries, you will notice that every glass wall is opaque; there is not one office in which the inhabitants work with the blinds up or open at all.I knew that something cultural was at work there. I knew that the problem wasn't going to be simply solved. But it wasn't until I reread Hall's proxemics in full that it clicked. We'd come to a point where the importation of someone else's office culture was not going to work for us; the floor plan that was designed for an American office was not translating to The Bahamas. Because we don't practice anthropology here in any wide format, we often miss the point; we think that Bahamians are unproductive for all kinds of reasons (some of them quite valid), among them the idea that we are genetically ill-prepared to work. But perhaps we miss the complete point, because we don't imagine that The Bahamas is worth studying for itself. The place where we work best, the place where phenomenal work gets done, is the Junkanoo shack—a supremely private, secretive place. We work best in secret. I know myself I don't perform well if I think people are looking over my shoulder, and I don't think that the answer should lie in our trying to fit into someone else's mould.So yes, I am obsessed with offices. I am obsessed with the question of glass. I don't think it's a frivolous obsession. I think it's an opportunity. We need to know who we are before we can begin to function at our best.

10 to Watch in 2010, 01/10 | The Independent

Kareem Mortimer listed as one of the "ten filmmakers to watch in 2010" put out by the Independent Newspaper, UK:

DAY TWO of TEN - KAREEM MORTIMERBahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer shakes up his homeland's homophobia with Children of God, which debuted last month. Read what his mentor, Steven Beer, had to say about Mortimer's savvy handling of actors and a limited budget, only on Facebook.via 10 to Watch in 2010, 01/10 | The Independent.

Read more. And congrats to Kareem!!

Preserving tradition in Jamaica - Jonkonnu and Christmastime

We love to believe in the uniqueness of our traditions. Well, let me correct myself. We love to believe in the uniqueness of Junkanoo. The heartbeat of a people, we've called it. Festival of The Bahamas. The cultural pinnacle of our selves, our lives, our work (I trust my priests will forgive me for this). If I were to collect up the tweets and FB status updates* I found on Junkanoo this year, I could make a book of them. And that book would be smug. And purring.We tend to forget -- or, more probably, we don't know -- that Junkanoo in the Bahamas is not unique. It is expressed uniquely, to be sure, though what the modern parade has become is a fascinating mash-up of African-American and Trinidadian elements, many of them eclipsing the traditional core (though it survives in pockets here and there). We tend to ignore the fact that our Christmas carnival (yes, I use that word advisedly) is one of several such John Canoe festivals in the so-called New World. And perhaps most of us don't know that the most studied and written-about John Canoe festival may still be Jamaica's Jonkonnu, and not ours (though that is rapidly changing).So in the interest of broadening horizons, then, a taste of what happens in Jamaica at Christmas:

Screams pierced the air like sharp knives, high above the sounds of fifes and drums and even a grater that created music for dancers in colourful costumes. Children, teenagers and even adults were sent running; they were afraid.One little boy could not manage the excitement. Scared of the men in the masks, he escaped the grasp of a guardian and ran into the arms of another, in an attempt to get away from the taunts of a dancer. There was no gruesome end to the story though, as the Kayaea Jonkonnu Group performed on the streets of downtown Kingston recently.

The group had just finished a stage performance when they took to the streets, giving many an experience they had never had before - though the tradition is more than a few decades old. Some pretended, as part of the excitement, but many in the crowd watching the festivities were genuinely afraid of the antics of the dancers who charged at them aggressively, while all the time demonstrating a variety of dance movements.

Behind the masks and the costumes, there is much happening.

via Jamaica Gleaner News - Preserving tradition - Jonkonnu dancers find it hard to remain viable

So here's my question. When does change become too much change? When do we adapt so much that we no longer recognize ourselves? I'm not sure myself; I'm tossing this idea out to provoke thought. Or not. As you wish.

*Not at all sure that these links will remain active OR visible by people who don't tweet or do facebook ...

Killing with kindness

We on the arts community in The Bahamas often like to believe that things are different for artists in other Caribbean nations. This blog post from PLEASURE blog suggests that it's not so:

Tomorrow, the spanking new $518 million National Academy for the Performing Arts around the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, will officially open. But a few blocks away, at the corner of Roberts and White Street, Woodbrook, the historic Little Carib Theatre will remain boarded-up and shut. The restoration of that historic theatre, which was founded by local dance legend Beryl McBurnie in 1947 and which has played a key role in the development of the arts in this country, has stalled for about two years.The problem? Reportedly a lack of funding, with an additional $2 million needed to complete the restoration not forthcoming from the State. The same State that can pump $2 million into a flag around the crumbling Hasley Crawford Stadium and which can build arts academies apparently at the snap of its fingers.

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

It sounds all too familiar -- white elephants being created by decision makers more interested in showing off, attracting foreign investment, or negotiating cool perks than in building a nation for real. Of course in Trinidad, where oil money confers delusions of splendour, the showing off is of the glitziest kind.

The context: the T&T government has built, with Chinese money, something it is calling its National Academy for the Performing Arts, which is fancy, and which can ensure that the T&T government can have something that can be plastered on glossy magazine pages as evidence that the Caribbean is not home to transplanted savages and native beachbabes clad in Lion of Judah hula skirts and floral arrangements. At the same time, though, as is common with us all in Caribbean societies, the things that have made central contributions to the development of the arts are left to languish, perhaps because they're not glitzy enough, or because they mean nothing to the philistines who far too ordinarily get themselves elected to positions of power, or because they represent too much competence, outspokenness or creativity for the individuals who have been given charge of the government departments responsible for implementing government's policies. In Trinidad, the Little Carib Theatre and the Trinidad Theatre Workshop share fates that are not very different from the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts here in The Bahamas, which is being eaten from top to bottom by a very happy army of termites, or from any of the so-called "National" performing arts entities, not one of which has an adequate home:

Examine, for instance, the traumas of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW), once housed at the Old Fire Station Building on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. The TTW, whose founder was Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, was housed at that historic building for ten years from 1989 to 1994, when Walcott won the Nobel, and then to 1999.
Yet, after a swanky restoration, and the construction of a National Library around it, the TTW was quickly booted out of the building and left to find accommodation in a small gingerbread house on Jernigham Avenue in Belmont. To date, despite its name, the TTW has no real theatre of its own, with a small space at the house in Belmont acting as a performance area. The Old Fire Station is used for such things as press conferences by the Ministry of Information as well as hosting administrative offices.

There are times, indeed, when I'm thankful for the studied and deliberate contempt paid to Bahamian artists and arts in this country, thankful for the fact that the turn-of-the-century $3 million gift the Chinese government earmarked for our own Centre for the Performing Arts was not spent the way the Chinese wanted it to be spent (i.e. on renovating the NCPA on Shirley Street so that it could actually house performing arts, rather than function as it has been doing for the past 9 years now, as a glorified church hall). PLEASURE blog shows what might have happened:

The new academy was designed without any real consultation with the local artist community whatsoever, according to artists. The design was done by a Chinese firm, built by a Chinese contractor in accordance with Chinese building codes and specifications.

The building was supposedly inspired by the national flower, the Chaconia. But that is a loose association; the structure looks more like an imitation of the Sydney Opera House. Or a kind of sophisticated alien space-craft. How it fits into its environment also seems to have been an oversight by the designers, as the building looks away from the green of the Savannah and its environs, instead of paying tribute to them. This week, as preparations for tomorrow's opening continued with curious members of the public strolling around the academy, Chinese workers who will never be afforded the luxury of attending the swanky performances inside worked overtime to the sound of Chinese techno music playing from speakers housed in large wrought-iron boxes around the building's perimeter.

Questions have been raised about the adequacy of the steel used to build the structure, as well as the suitability of the design for performance. One Government minister has even pubically admitted, at the hearings of the Uff Commission of Inquiry, that some aspects of the building may be unsuitable to "performance" and more suitable to "training". And the myriad of concerns over top-level  corruption looming over Udecott, the State company that handled the project, go without saying.

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

Despite all of this, in the face of it, the arts in Trinidad and Tobago are flourishing, thanks to individual action in the vacuum.

It is a crowning irony that throughout all of this, some have managed to find fertile places for art in the most unexpected of places. For instance, the million-dollar, shimmery structure that will open tomorrow may be an audacious sight, but it may never compare to what is happening at smaller spaces like Alice Yard, which is a few blocks away from the neglected Little Carib Theatre on Roberts Street.At Alice Yard, a simple backyard has, over the last three years, done more for contemporary arts and discourse in this country than any $518 million mega-project can hope to do. Could it be that the State's neglect has actually engineered the conditions for true artistic creativity?

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

The answer, apparently, lies in taking matters into one's own hands, in not waiting for the "government" to deliver what one needs. (Hail Rik and Idebu!) So here's to us, artists. Artists of the Caribbean, unite!

On the need for cultural capital - Richard Florida on Montreal’s Creative Class

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.

via Richard Florida on Montreal’s Creative Class « THE INCUBATOR

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.

Some may say the region needs a large-scale marketing or branding campaign to overcome this legacy. In the creative age, the best marketing is viral.

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.

Brussels Declaration by artists and cultural professionals and entrepreneurs

Just FYI.from the Newsletter on Cultural diversity

“Today, all countries face a profound crisis: financial, economic, and social. In addition, particularly for developing countries, there are climate, energy, food, and human security crises. Current policies on development cooperation do not respond adequately to the challenges of sustainable development. We must, therefore, rethink our approach to development. And, without wishing to overstate the power of culture, we are convinced that, as already stated by Léopold Sédar Senghor, ‘culture is at the beginning and the end of development.’“Many surveys and studies show us that culture and art is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in terms of employment, economic growth, and wealth creation. It also promotes social cohesion and democratic participation in public life. Finally, unlike mineral resources, social and cultural capital is a renewable resource. Regarding North-South cooperation, it can not succeed without the improvement of human rights, democracy, and governance. By stimulating individual and collective imagination and creating links between communities, culture and artistic creation contribute to the establishment and development of democracy.“Because culture contributes to economic development, well-being, and social cohesion and impacts other sectors of development, we, artists, professionals, and culture entrepreneurs are making three key requests:
  • First, that culture be the subject of public structural policies at national, regional, and international levels
  • Second, that the cultural dimension be taken into account by other sectoral policies and defined in a integrated approach to development
  • Finally, that artists and creators be fully recognized as actors in development and have a professional and social status adapted to their own context

Download the PDF here.

On Recreating the Plantation (in a "Free" Society)

The story I'm about to share is nothing new. It just happened, but the complaint is an old one round here. I'm going to put it side by side with another one, a different one from a different Caribbean nation. The problem isn't just with the fact that the incidents happened. The real problem lies in the fact that we not only let them happen, we appear to invite them. And the real problem also lies in the fact that I can guess how the issue will be received by some Bahamians, and what discussion will follow; over the past several months we have appeared to be more than happy to twist history to fit the prejudices of a few white people. Why not twist the future to fit a few more?It's the story of a qualified young woman who went for an interview at the biggest plantation of them all, the one that calls itself Atlantis and invents for itself its own history, a history which is not ours, and from which Bahamians are excluded fairly routinely unless we agree to pay for access to it, or unless we can pass for tourists.Now this young woman had the qualifications to get the job. She went on an interview with the Human Resources Department, and sat before two Bahamians, and impressed them; she was offered the position right there and then. But before she could take up the position, she was contacted by the HR manager -- who was not Bahamian, but from the UK, to say that the job was hers -- if she would cut her hair.The young woman, you see, has locks. And locks, apparently, are not respectable enough to be worn by Bahamians who will be in positions where they can be seen by the tourists.Now I have a feeling that there are some people who will rise to the defence of this position -- many, presumably, since this policy has been in place since 2000 and no one has spoken out against it in a strong enough voice to have it reviewed or changed by the resort.  (This includes, clearly, five years of government by a political party that purports to champion the welfare of the Bahamian of African descent, as well as by a political party that does not purport to do so.) The fact that we accept, and have accepted, this policy, without much of a murmur, tells us more about ourselves as a people and as a nation than it does about the resort or our governments.It shouldn't surprise us that this happened at Atlantis, which has invented for itself its own space that functions, ironically perhaps, or predictably perhaps, rather like the so-called South African "homeland" in which the brand was developed -- Bophuthatswana.[youtube=](For more on Sun City, go here. Or go here.)OK, so you may be thinking, what's the relevance of that twenty-year-old video to The Bahamas today? Well, nothing really, except that the brand that is Atlantis was invented there and transplanted, with some adjustments, here nine years or so after the above video was made. And because of that transplantation, Kerzner was able to remake its image and to whitewash (pun intended) its name.And I wouldn't be so concerned about things that go on over there if the resort weren't still functioning in many subtle and economic ways the way it did in the place it was invented. Like if, say, the black people that it hired were permitted to express their blackness in ways that they -- and not the South Africans who run the resort -- deemed appropriate and acceptable.  As for the young woman who's faced with choosing between the way she has decided to express her identity and a middle-management job: this is a young Bahamian who was fortunate enough to travel widely while she was being raised and who came into contact with intellectuals and other successful individuals who were not afraid to embrace their culture by dreading their hair. She is questioning the so-called "dress code" because she's arguing that the way she wears her hair should really have nothing much to do with the job she is called to perform.And the situation is as subtle as it is destructive. Her hairstyle didn't stop her from being offered the position, but is enough to stop her from being permitted to take it. The choice has become hers, not the resort's. (This is only true, by the way, because she is not a Rastafarian; if she were, she would not have to make the "choice"; the "choice" only comes into play in the case of aesthetics, not in the case of religion.)  And in forcing her to make it, the job is forcing her to regard as equal two issues that are not. In a free country, identity and employment should not be linked. One should not be dependent on the other.But are we really free?Ian Strachan, like many other intellectuals, regards tourism -- or the practice of tourism as it takes place in the Caribbean -- as a revival of the plantation system in contemporary times. And indeed, the resort business as practised here shares many similarities with the plantation.You don't believe me? I'm going to share another story. This one's from elsewhere in the Caribbean, and it's told by a Caribbean woman. This time, I'll use her own words:

Things that pissed me off recently1/ the hotel guest who screamed at me three times, each time increasingly louder and slower “More coffee. MORE COFFEE! COULD I HAVE MORE COFFEE!!!” while pointing at cup.That’s the way it happened… despite the fact that i was sitting at the table waiting for coffee myself as a guest of the hotel just like she was.When I told her, “I don’t work here,” she said…nothing, no apology nothing. And her husband kept looking back at me as though he was afraid I was going to draw a razor blade from under my tongue.

And if this were not enough, it's spreading. Here's what BBC Caribbean has to report about The Bahamas Department of Customs:

in the Bahamas, two customs employees are facing the threat of dismissal because of their hairstyle.

Their dreadlocks have been deemed "unacceptable" by Customs authorities, who insist that the rules and regulations as they apply back that position.

Welcome (back) to the plantation, my friends.

There Gatta Be A Better Way

First things first. This post is being was written in the knowledge that it might never get posted, simply because it's going to be critical and in contravention of my terms of employment -- in other words, flying in the face of General Orders. So if you're seeing it, (a) I'm no longer a government employee; (b) I no longer care what the consequence is; or (c) I'm dead. Or all of the above.But I'm writing it because it needs to be said.I've been was a civil servant for five years. The specific position I hold is held was part of the problem, but it's not all of it. The political persuasion I hold held, real or perceived, is was also part of the problem, but not all of it. The fundamental problem was that the system of government that is responsible for the development, promotion, sustaining and honouring of Bahamian culture is, quite simply (and I say this, borrowing unashamedly from other people's military and begging forgiveness for all those who are offended or outraged by "Language"), FUBAR.Here's how it works, or doesn't.Painting by Brent Malone, courtesy of Juliette Art Gallery, Abaco, BahamasEverything worth doing requires money. This is especially true for culture, which, in spite of popular misconceptions about it, is in many ways a business that has been around for centuries. And as with anything else, in the cultural field, you tend to get what you pay for. That's not always true, of course — a Brent Malone painting during his lifetime was far more reasonable a purchase than a Chan Pratt painting during his, but that was due far more to the philosophy and sensibility and target audience of the specific artists than much else, and the two prices may adjust themselves now that both painters have sadly passed on. But in most cases, it is true."The Squall" by Chan Pratt, courtesy of Chan Pratt ArtThe thing is, The Bahamas Government doesn't appear to see it that way. This is a problem that seems to be at the root of every decision made by every decision-making agency in the country. The main question at hand has nothing to do with seeking value for money; rather, the average civil servant aims to spend as little money as possible in one go, even if that means that what is purchased with that money is so low in quality that you have to buy it again and again and again.Now I know that this isn't unique to our government, that many governments suffer from the same malaise. That doesn't make it any better. And when it comes to culture, it grows even more difficult.Because, you see, culture isn't something that (a) most Bahamians seem to believe can/should be paid for and (b) most civil servants know very much about. (Let me stop right here to say that point (a) only applies to local culture; most Bahamians are avid consumers of global culture, and in fact we often spend far more than we need to on designer thisses and thats, on going to see foreign performers and shows, no matter how mediocre, on films we import, on cable stations that feature the cultural products of abroad. What we will not spend our money on is our own people and their cultural productions -- at least not unless/until foreigners spend their money on them first, as with Amos Ferguson. But I digress.)Most civil servants, in fact, labour under the impression that cultural production is some sort of fancy hobby, something that anybody can do, and worse, that people enjoy doing, and so they resist the idea of paying for it in any way, shape or form. Accountants are particularly prone to this misapprehension, but they're not alone; senior civil servants and politicians also hold it (except, in the case of politicians, when it comes to Junkanoo, and in most cases that exception is made because (a) they believe that only what is popular is good or (b) they need the votes).It makes for difficult times if you're the Director of Cultural Affairs for the government.I have spent my time as Director apologizing for my government, especially to professionals who, if they were in any other field, would be given red carpet treatment because of their stature. The same people who kowtow to ministers because they have blue licence plates, official cars, and drivers scoff at the demands of people -- professional people, mind you, with training or experience or a lifetime of performance under their belts, or all three -- to be paid what they are worth in the cultural field. These are the same people who think nothing of paying thousands of dollars for refreshments or decorations or the sound systems or seating for an event (accountants are not included in the above; most accountants of my acquaintance query all expenditure -- it's their job). But when it comes to the live entertainment, forget it.This is usually how the conversation goes.Government: We need a cultural show for [insert event of choice: visiting dignitaries, international conference, national celebration, CARIFESTA]Me: All right. I'll send you a budget. I'll let you know what it costs so you can build it into your expenditure.Government: ... A budget?Me (if it's a good day): Yes. Cultural shows cost money. (If it's a bad day, I'm not responsible for my reply)Government: We thought your department would pay for it.Me (after laughing hysterically and making a close acquaintance with the floor): You're kidding, right? My department doesn't even have a permanent home, you're thinking we have funding to pay for every event that comes across your desk? The Director of Culture may be the only director in the entire government system that doesn't get a courtesy car along with the office, and you think we have the funding to cover the cost of your show? No, I'll send you the breakdown and you add it to your Cabinet Paper. (I'm thinking: you're going to pay for everything else, from the sound system to the conference facilities, from the catering to the little folders and the goodies you're going to be handing out to the people attending, but you want me to provide the entertainment for you for FREE?)Government (doubtfully): Okay, send it, we'll take a look at it.(Time passes. Then we get one of the following communications.)A)Government: Okay, we've gone over your budget, and it's fine. Except for one thing. Do the performers have to cost so much? Can't you get people to perform for less? (Translation: can't we get somebody to perform for free?)B)Government: Okay, we've gone over your budget. We think we're going to go with the Police Force Band/the Defence Force Band/one of the above's Pop Band (Translation: we don't want to spend taxpayers' money on anybody who isn't already making a salary and has a pension coming after they retire, so we'll get in-house talent)C)Government: We've decided we don't need a cultural show after all. (Translation: we wouldn't pay a working artist a fair price if it killed us.)This notwithstanding the fact that if you invest in cultural performance, and if the performance is high-quality, and if you make people feel good or different or better or bigger (which cultural performance aims to do), you get a tangible return. People pay for that kind of experience, and they pay big. If they didn't, there wouldn't be a Hollywood film industry, there wouldn't be a Broadway in New York, and there most certainly wouldn't be Las Vegas, whose reputation is not all built on casinos and gaming tables. People are always looking for a different experience, something unique, something you can't get anywhere else, and the better and more unique and more different it is, the more they'll pay. It's called show business for a reason, folks, and it runs by a tried-true formula that works.And The Bahamas is so very rich in culture that we could all be benefitting from it.But we're not.  Part of the problem is what I've just described above.  There's a fundamental lack of respect for what we creative people do across every sector of our Bahamaland, and we are dissed on so regular a basis that I'm surprised that we stay here. The disrespect that is shown to Bahamian artists and cultural workers is played out in any number of ways, from the politicians' laughing about us in the House of Assembly, to the civil servants' disparaging remarks about artists and singers and shows, to the businessmen's opinion that what we do is a waste of good capital, to the average churchgoers' dismissal of the artistic lifestyle (if the artist doesn't happen to be part of the church membership of course, and providing entertainment aka praise and worship for the church itself), to the salaries not paid and the budgets not awarded and the promotions not given to those people who bust their behinds for the culture of the country day in, day out, with no questions asked and no rewards requested.They say what goes around comes around in the end.  They say, too, that time is longer than rope. And the fact that we're now in the twenty-first century in the middle of a global creative revolution suggests that the typical Bahamian attitude to artists, art, and creativity is heading us all for a big, hard crash.There gatta be a better way.  Arts and culture make good business.  There gatta be space in this nation, in this society, for artists, for creativity; after all, the way of the world now depends on innovation, uniqueness, difference. There gatta be investment in new ways of seeing, fresh ideas. There gatta be room for critical commentary and flights of fancy in this Bahamaland of ours. There gatta be room for creative people to make a living being creative. We will not always be able to make money by transplanting other people's bright ideas. Our business, our main industries, our economy all depend on our best creative minds. And so, politicitians, businessmen, accountants, civil servants, churchpeople, Bahamians, consider rethinking your prejudices and resistances to the culture within us. It's yours too, you know. We artists just help you see it.And who knows? You might just love it as much as all the other people's culture you've already paid top dollar for.

R.I.P. Hubert Farrington December 12, 1924-December 8, 2008

For those of you who hadn't heard, Hubert Farrington, the first Bahamian classical dancer (that I know of) and the founder of the Nassau Civic Ballet, was knocked down and killed on Sunday past. (I'm not clear exactly which date he was killed, but as I heard of his death two days ago, I'm guessing it was last Sunday. If I've got the dates wrong, please somebody let me know).Mr. Farrington was one of the three "stars" taught by Meta Davis-Cumberbatch in the second quarter of the twentieth century, the other two being Winston Saunders and E. Clement Bethel -- students for whom she desired much and expected even more. Perhaps because of her ambition and expectation, and certainly because of her discipline and hard work, each of these men laid the foundations for a vibrant cultural life in this country. That we have not capitalized on it is not their fault. But we must remember them anyway.Mr. Farrington began as a musician, but when he migrated to New York in the 1940s he learned to dance and, most remarkably, became a good enough ballet dancer to become a professional working at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He returned to Nassau in the 1960s to found a ballet school, the Nassau Civic Ballet, and that action was seminal to the future development of dance in the capital. From the Civic Ballet came the New Breed Dancers by way of Alex and Violette Zybine, and the New Breed Dancers provided many many of the professional dance teachers working in Nassau today.Mr. Farrington was one of the most brilliant men I have ever met. He was not easy to talk to. He was often in another world, but when he was in ours his intellect was staggering. He remained like that until his death.R.I.P., Hubert Farrington. Another cultural giant has passed on.

What we're good at: Farming

School teaches children such lies.One such lie told when I was in school was that agriculture failed in The Bahamas.Common sense back then should've told me that this wasn't true. After all, people in my grandparents' generation were feeding themselves well into my teens. My father's mother hardly ever bought fresh fruit from any food store or outlet -- she had her guavas and bananas and hog bananas and plantains and hog plums and mangoes and coconuts growing in her back yard -- which was on East Bay Street, between Bay and Dowdeswell, a place which was "town" even when I was a kid. My mother's mother kept chickens in her yard on Delancey Street, a yard which was the real kind of yard, with a bunch of houses all in the same lot.And then I grew up and studied anthropology.  And I learned not only about the lie, but where the lie came from.  There's a myth, see, in the world, see, that says that technology is hierarchically stacked and that agriculture is better than horticulture which is better than foraging and fishing which is better than ... well, animal social organization.And in this world, it's true that agriculture failed in The Bahamas.  But what nobody tells you is why it failed.Because of the monolithic worldview that assumes that the history of Europe is the only history that any civilization can ever have -- a history that centres settlement around river deltas and grows cash crops and builds societies around agricultural farms that produce surpluses etc -- the kind of farming that works here in The Bahamas -- farming that is disparaged in literature and discussion as "slash and burn" farming but which is recognized by anthropologists as a valid adaptation to particular terrains and social organizations is ignored completely.  Forget the fact that one person in Long Island or Cat Island can not only feed himself but his entire family, including those who are scattered around the Bahamian archipelago, and all year round, with the range of crops grown on his land.  Forget the fact that the soil that lies trapped in our limestone pockets is not terribly deep but is extraordinarily rich, and produces vegetables and fruits that are pretty darn good -- and among the biggest I've ever seen (I still remember the cabbage I brought back with me from Long Island in 1995 -- huge and sweet and heavy as a cannonball).  Martha Stewart's raving about the produce she cooked with in Nassau doesn't surprise me in the least.But don't take my word for it.  Take word of the homemaking queen herself:

As I mentioned the other day, while I was in the Bahamas, I cooked a fabulous meal with Frederic Demers at Jean-George Vongerichten’s, Café Martinique. I wanted to know where this top chef finds all his beautiful produce and he told me about a wonderful gem of a farm called Holey Farm. I wanted to visit in the worst way, so I grabbed the television crew and off we went. We were greeted by Maria-Therese E. Kemp, who created this amazing place. Holey Farm gets its name because the growing areas are actually situated in the holes of limestone formations. It was very challenging to grow produce at first, in such rugged terrain, but Therese had perseverance and developed many special techniques. [The result:] a most unusual garden that many local chefs rave about!

The Martha Blog : Blog Archive : More from the Bahamas — Holey Farm

Liberty - Decisive Moments

I got this one thanks to Rick Lowe of Blog Bahamas. It's worth a second link, I think.Liberty - Decisive Moments

What you make of a picture shows who you are, not just what the photograph depicts. Yet photographs do have an effect, as Lange suggested, in teaching people how to see. Admittedly, this may take a long time to happen. When Matthew Brady's photos of the carnage at Antietam were displayed in Washington, during the Civil War, audiences exclaimed, "How ghastly!", but did nothing: photography was too new a technology; the viewers weren't accustomed to the reality that the pictures purported to represent. When Capa's photos of men struggling and dying in the waters of Normandy appeared in Life, the American public — perhaps also not used to the raw quality of the images — took it as another just sacrifice and carried on. But when Adams' photo of the Saigon execution appeared in American and world media, sped by technology that was on the cutting edge of communications, it galvanized many people's thoughts overnight. The sense of immediacy — the sense, at least, of a sudden intrusion of unmediated, unjustified brutality — was greater than before. Eyes that had become accustomed to the contemplation of war, and had even accepted its photographic images as classical representations of reality, now looked at an image that was disturbingly hard to fit in the comfortable, classical frame.

Podcasting - Culture, Arts, and CARIFESTA Series

This is something new that I want to try to develop -- a series of podcasts that discuss arts and culture in The Bahamas, particularly in relation to CARIFESTA. It's in the experimental mode right now. The first episode is done, and can be listened to online, but I'm still working out the kinks in downloading. Bear with me as I learn more about this -- feedback more than welcome!Culture, Arts and CARIFESTA - Episode 1

A Little Respect

Received the following by email.  It's from Terneille Burrows (TaDa).  Quite frankly, I was thrilled to get it. Those of us who work in the Department of Culture have made similar points in boardrooms and accountants' offices, but the attitudes about ourselves and our artists persist.I'm not going to say more -- I'm just going to post her letter and let her speak for herself.


Big Acts, Big Budgets... bad for Bahamian Artists??

By Terneille Burrows*A major concert sponsored by Bahamian companies and featuring multi-platinum hip-hop artist Lil Wayne will take place in Nassau on Friday September 26, 2008. Will Bahamian performers on this show be fairly treated and compensated???However outrageous it may seem, Bahamian recording artists are often times given the "short end of the stick" when it comes to being recruited to perform on shows featuring major international recording acts. Despite the promoters best efforts to make local artists feel important (backstage, pre and post party events access etc.), there may not be payment offered for the artists' services, which can include not only performing at the show, but making promotional appearances, attending rehearsals, meetings, sound-check and lending their name and likeness to be attached with the event promotion. (Oops, the natives were neglected from the big budget…oh well…)However, it seems everyone except the local artists financially benefit (promoters, advertising media, venues, event consultants, security firms, sound and lighting companies etc.) When promoters apply for international artists' visas and other required licenses to work in our country, should we also demand that our local artists be compensated for their contributions as well? While some might argue that local performers should jump at the chance to be on a big event, merely for the presumed prestige of it, I would have to disagree. Bahamian artists have long fought for the respect of our craft, as some of us do this for a living, while others aspire to. I feel as though if an artist or entertainer has worked to establish them self and gained a decent local following, there should be a fee attached with their service.Some sectors of the Bahamian entertainment industry have established systems in place to cultivate their respective discipline. The burgeoning Bahamian film industry has benefitted vastly from practices implemented by the Ministry of Tourism's Bahamas Film and Television Commission division. The Bahamas film commission has become a excellent example of a system that should be emulated by the wider entertainment and performance industries in the Bahamas.  Film commissioner Craig Woods, and his team actively promote and facilitate the hiring of Bahamian crew for productions that come to be filmed here. They are in intent on continuing the nourishment of the Bahamian film industry through not only promoting Bahamians gaining experience on film productions, but also by providing them with employment on productions that come to town.We as artists and artists' representatives are also to blame for allowing ourselves to be so freely taken advantage of. It's time to effect dramatic change and encourage Bahamians and foreigners alike to regard Bahamian artists and entertainers as working professionals. Throughout other parts of the world, local independent artists are taken seriously for their work.  More closely to home, in parts of the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, there exists established and organized music industries.  The government, corporate world and consumers alike support their local music scenes. Major artists like Rihanna, Sean Paul, and Sean Kingston come from the Caribbean, are all respected on the international scene, and celebrated by their countrymen. Why can't we do the same in our country?Other Artists' Input"This (exploitation) has been going on for far too long and people are afraid to speak out for fear of being blacklisted, but mainly because we have been conditioned to believe that we as Bahamians are not 'good enough' to make it on an international level".– Margaret 'Believe' Glynatsis (Recording Artist/Producer) "It is insulting when an organizer expects an entertainer to perform for free however charitable the event without saying, we are willing to pay 'x' in exchange for your services - which in turn offers the artist the opportunity to say,  'don't worry about it, I'll do it for free'. If a promoter/organizer is unable to pay you, there should be some exchange, pre-agreed by both of you that is valued at the cost of your performance i.e. - goods or services, event passes, commercial consideration... something.  And I won't begin to talk about Flyers, Press Releases, web-advertising, radio mentions.– Bodine 'Be' Johnson (Recording Artist/Journalist)"How can major international promoters and the local consultants they hire expect to be taken seriously by local (Bahamian) acts, when our performers are treated like second class citizens at events in our own country? I have seen too many major concerts come to the Bahamas and have local artists act as guinea pigs, while sound engineers check levels and tweak the house system during the opening performances in preparation for the headliners!! The local artist are again put in a predicament, when headliners arrive late, and the opening acts are used to "stall" the aggravated audience. For this type of treatment, it only adds injury to insult to imagine our Bahamian artists performing at these events without being duly compensated"– Ian 'Bigg E' Cleare (Producer/Studio) 

 Talk it, family!

One Reason why Culture's Important

(but not the only one)Global Voices Online » Venezuela: Youth Orchestra Transforms Lives

In 1975, José Antonio Abreu started working on his dream of creating an orchestra in Venezuela. Abreu and other 8 students, started the Old Music School José Ángel Lamas, which created a program based on new ways of learning and adapting different teaching methodologies that fit with the country's reality. The new system brought together young musicians from around the country, especially from the cities of Maracay and Barquisimeto (two cities widely known for its great music.). The orchestra took the stage for the first time on April 30, 1975. Thirty-three years later, hundreds of children, especially from very poor neighborhoods, have taken part in the orchestra.

Oh, Look Wha Ya Do To Me

That wasn't what the concert was called, but it should've been.  Because if anybody doubted that we Bahamians have a lack of love for our country or our icons, last night's event -- entertainment maestro Ronnie Butler's farewell concert -- proved them wrong.  I'm not going to say all that much.  This isn't going to be a review or anything -- rather it's a meditation, an homage, perhaps, to the artist who, with his (late) contemporary Tony "Exuma the Obeah Man" McKay and his mostly retired contemporary Patrick Rahming, formed the triumverate that not only peopled my adolescence, but helped define my place in this country inscribed for visitors according to the imagination of the northlands.  There were others, too, like Eddie Minnis and the Erics (King Eric Gibson and his songwriter, our family friend Eric Minns), but their careers, unlike Tony McKay's and Ronnie Butler's were circumscribed.  And of them all only Ronnie is still singing.Or was.  This year, he decided, it seems, is his last active year.  He is retiring.  He's kicking back and relaxing (hahaha).  And so last night, he gave his farewell concert.If you're in doubt about Bahamians' lack of pride in our culture, you shoulda been there.  There was of course the moment when the hotel staff began moving everybody forward, adding extra rows of chairs at the back of the ballroom.  Then there was the moment when, after introductory music all through the early part of the evening, Ronnie made his appearance and the dance floors filled up.  There was the general politeness of the crowd, the bonhomie, the genuine love in the room.  There was the moment Eddie Minnis came out of his self-imposed twenty-five year retirement to sing three songs that everybody knows but which are so much a part of the national imagination that they seem to be unwritten -- "Mike", "Naughty Johnny", and "Ting and Ting", all linked together by patter that worked in the titles of Ronnie's songs.  And then there was the moment when Chickie Horne, the female impersonator who was once a staple of Bahamian night life, came out and performed -- at 82.And then there was Ronnie.And all I can say is oh, look wha ya do to me.Yeah.

The Gaulin Wife

The Gaulin Wife - Helen Klonaris' blogLynn Sweeting sent me this link today, and it's with much pride that I announce it here.  I'm not always so excited about new blogs, but I know Helen, I know her work, and I encourage everybody who's interested in thinking differently about ourselves as Bahamians take the time to visit -- specially if you're interested in culture, writing, or identity.Here's an excerpt from what she's thinking:

When individuals step out of line, or cross the line between status quo and the unknown, into the dangerous and wild places of the imagination, we tell them first they are abominations; we tell them they are of the devil. We threaten them with spiritual warfare, eternal damnation and the like. When that doesn't work, when those individuals do not cower in fear for their souls, we send in backup: the physical forces of domination, in this case, the Royal Bahamian Police Force.

From "Poetry Under Investigation" - Helen Klonaris


For people who haven't been paying attention, it turns out that The Bahamas is going to host CARIFESTA after all, earlier than originally announced.

Trinidad and Tobago has agreed to let The Bahamas host the Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (CARIFESTA) in 2010, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced Saturday.

He made the disclosure during a press conference at the conclusion of the Caricom conference, held in Nassau last week. The Bahamas was supposed to host the festival in 2012, but Trinidad and The Bahamas have swapped places. This will be the first time the country has hosted the festival.

Source: The Nassau Guardian Online