THE call was sent out and artistes showed up over the weekend to stand in solidarity and voice their concerns over the relocation of the National Cultural Centre.
The call was made by cultural activist/actor George “Fish” Alphonse, who has been making his stance clear via all news outlets about his disapproval of the government’s plans to remove the NCC from its location at Barnard Hill and replace it with a courthouse.
Alphonse stated that the building was a gift to artists from the French Embassy. He called the decision disrespectful to the legacy of Sir John and a slap in the face of the French.
He called on all those who form part of the island’s creative arts sector to put their heads together in order to figure out a collective way to have the NCC remain in the much- loved location they have called home for decades.
Over 50 members of the arts sector showed up at the National Cultural Centre for Saturday’s meeting. Among those present were Kennedy “Boots” Samuel, Adrian Augier, Barbara Jacob-Small, Linda “Chocolate” Berthier, Jackie Weekes and Ronald “Boo” Hinkson.
The general consensus was that the idea in itself was outrageous and insulting, especially over reports that there was no consultation between the government and the people who call the NCC and the CDF home.
Barbara Jacob-Small said that despite not being closed to the idea of a move, the idea must be discussed correctly: “This is an opportunity to ask for a meeting with the Minister and represent the sector as the body to say these are our concerns. Yes, there may be a need to move, so make it plain to us, help us to understand. But at the same time, if there will be a move and if that move is necessary, this is what we’re expecting. We’re expecting whatever we move to has to be permanent. There has to be security for the CDF and for the cultural community in terms of performing spaces and all that goes with that.”
Samuel said he was worried about an apparent trend of the pillars of the nation being targeted and broken down, taking away its essence.
He said: “A number of things have happened that have me very worried. I’ve been shaken. I feel like I’m very much on shaky ground and the Cultural Centre is just one of them and it’s the way they’re happening. I’m not saying that there’s no sense in what they’re doing, but it’s just these pronouncements that come at us. Something is fundamentally shaken.”
Meanwhile, the outrage expressed by Alphonse and other arts enthusiasts regarding the government’s intention to relocate the NCC will not be enough to change government’s decision.
That was the sentiment shared yesterday by Home Affairs Minister, Hermangild Francis, and Senator Fortuna Belrose, who has responsibility for Culture.
Personnel from the Ministry of Planning have already looked at relocation sites and will be meeting today for a second time to perhaps identify the ideal site for the new home for the arts.
Belrose, during a pre-Cabinet press briefing, indicated that the NCC at its present site was a temporary structure dating back to the 1980s and that its capacity was not enough for a country looking to move in a different direction.
“We need a venue that could accommodate a lot more persons, a beautiful convention centre with flexibility to host several events at the same time and that’s what we are doing,” she said.
She said her department met with management and staff of the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) and engaged them about government plans for the revolution in the arts Prime Minister Allen Chastanet mentioned in his 2017/2018 budget address and in his party’s 2016 Manifesto.
“We had that meeting with them (CDF) and the Prime Minister had assured the artistic community that no movement would take place if alternative arrangements are not made with them. They are first priority because you just cannot move the (Cultural) Centre without making provisions for them,” Belrose said.
The government, Belrose noted, does not do anything without consultation and is committed to making a difference in the lives of the people involved in the arts.
“I did not talk with the artistes but I met with the management and staff of the CDF, which is in charge of culture,” she said, responding to concerns that artists felt let down in not having had dialogue with her or her department on the pending relocation.
“It is sad the artistes felt disrespected but what I really want for them is that formality, where there is an institution, an organization we (government) can work with. The same way they met, I would like them to formalize that grouping so I could have a point of contact to engage. I would like to see an organization that represents artistes come forward so we can move along with them. If they don’t come, the show will run without them,” Belrose said.
With the NCC relocated, the Barnard Hill site will be used to build a courthouse to house the High and Lower Courts, the Family Court and the Traffic Court. Minister Francis said the blueprint has already been made for the building’s outer framework.
“It is for our people to conceptualize what the inside would look like. They are working on that now. All the courts will be located at that Barnard Hill location,” he said.
“The courthouse is going to be placed there (at Barnard Hill) — that is a fact. It will be a temporary structure because we have plans for the redevelopment of Castries. It (the courthouse) is temporary because we are going to stay there for a little while. We intend to build a first-class Hall of Justice,” Francis added.