“Please listen to us,” interim president of the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) Rubadiri Victor begged at yesterday’s press conference at the Professional Services Building, Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain.
Flanked by several key figures in the arts such as dramatist Tony Hall and poet Pearl Eintou Springer, Victor called on the State to stop work on the San Fernando academy, construction of which is currently stalled over sewer line issues, in the wake of Government’s failure to consult artists adequately prior to the construction of the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) and the emergence of clear conceptual and technical flaws at that facility.
In a letter despatched to Culture Minister Marlene Mc Donald and copied to President George Maxwell Richards, Prime Minister Manning, University of TT President Ken Julien and the acting principal of NAPA Scott Hilton-Clarke, Victor called for: an immediate freeze on work on the San Fernando NAPA and a discontinuation of a construction schedule in relation to the academy planned for the John Donaldson Technical Institute. They also called for a freeze on work at community centres nationwide and “the immediate tabling of the schedule for the unveiling of a draft national cultural policy.”
He noted that the soft-testing for the facility, which Culture Minister Mc Donald this month said would last for about six months, would result in a loss of revenue of approximately $3 million alone. Mc Donald had noted that the facility is currently undergoing soft-testing to iron out “whatever snags there may be.”
Victor also said that several artists groups who the Government has claimed were consulted on the NAPA in print advertisements have come out denying the claims. These groups he said, include: the National Dance Association; Pan Trinbago; the National Music Festival; SWAHA; the Secondary Schools Drama Festival; the Emancipation Support Committee and the National Council of Indian Culture.
Poet and social activist Eintou Springer yesterday at the press conference also pleaded with the State to change its approach to the arts. Placing the failure to consult with artists on NAPA in context of a larger problem of a disregard for culture, she said, “I really want to make a plea in terms of the concept of national development; in terms of understanding who we are, valuing who we are and finding a way forward to elevate our culture, to elevate our arts and our artists.
“For many years we have been dreaming and thinking and hoping and praying for a facility where we would be able to express ourselves. We have suffered for many years,” she said. She noted when the NAPA was announced, artists became excited. However, “that hope soon turned into disappointment.”
She lamented that politicians do not work with artists, despite the important role artists play in a society. “We must work together with the political directorate to evolve a concept for the direction of society,” she said.
“Development is not about buildings. It is about people; the energy of the people.”