LET me start by saying that we never had a Cultural Centre. What we had was a performance tent. To me, Art incorporates many facets, mainly the performing, visual, and literary. As for the performing arts, such mediums as dance, theatre or drama, choral or singing, music, poetry or the spoken word, are the most likely creative expressions.
To enhance the showcasing of these mediums, one needs to add sets, wings, curtains, lighting, sound — not forgetting the need for a rehearsal space as well. There are many attachments still missing, such as stage management, costume, makeup, front of house, ticketing, security, promotions, advertising and marketing. All of these supportive elements were never taken seriously, hence the reason why the business of the arts has always been low-key. Even with a management structure at the so-called centre, most of these facets and needs were never forthcoming and, if they did, at an additional hefty cost.
Let me remind readers that these needs are real and are lacking when it comes to the visual arts. Hence the reason the painters, craftsmen, costume builders, wood carvers and models have no artistic home. We still have no prominent galleries, no museums, no art schools, or workshop outlets for further learning in these artistic disciplines.
Art is operated independently as there is no creative organization established or tailored to excite the appetite of the younger generation. Art is barely found within the school system and is not apparent at the community level. Most artists depend on the occasional festival at home or abroad to become recognized or accepted in artistic circles.
Despite the need to deal with the unemployment problem, art is still not seen as a choice area to pursue. So the big question I ask, therefore, is: did CDF or the Cultural Centre offer any of these needed supports, opportunities or sustainable means for artistic growth? Outside the city tent, where else on island would you find another readymade outlet? Has the tourism sector embraced art to the fullest? Do our resorts employ artists on a regular basis? Are our cruise ships or land- based visitors offered any artistic experiences while on island? Do you see art as a commercial venture worth pursuing or investing in?
Most of our restaurants, hotels and shopping centres have never considered making live performances part of their must-have features, or using local art for decorative purposes. In fact, our home story is if you ever need to attract a large crowd to any event, bring in some foreign performer, and to cut costs hire a DJ because our local performers are always considered as being second-best.
The point is artists should be the ones to direct the course of art. It should never be the Government to decide its direction. Granted, they can help, but it is the artists who have failed themselves and this country.
We lack classes in art and appreciation for things St. Lucian as well as artistic organizations with purpose to set standards, educate, and build a proper foundation for the next generation of artists. Apart from the now-closing Valmont and Company, where else do you get art supplies? Where do you get leather to encourage shoe makers? In what store do you go to see or purchase local design clothing? The bottom-line is our artistic world stinks and, in most cases, has remained second-class.
If you take a look at our people, we have become plastic in appearance. We always choose to buy what comes in and are seldom the suppliers. Not even our foods do we take artistic pride in eating and serving. We query about the closure of the Walcott House rather than bargaining for it to continue the work than Derek started, even for literary purposes, or to create an outlet for rehearsals of any kind.
We are prepared to spend millions in Carnival to put on feathers and wear panties and bras, but will not build workshop spaces to develop the art of making costumes, especially those that reflect our culture. We are fast becoming a false nation because our art is not a reflection of our heritage or roots.
To me, the best thing to do is start all over again. Artists need to empower themselves to build a new creative industry: one built by the people for the people and reflecting our true identity. So I see the closure — or the relocation — of the Cultural Centre as a blessing in disguise.
This is my artistic opinion because it offers us a chance to build a new and redesign a genuine path for culture. It is time to teach art in all our nation’s schools in all communities. We need a policy that gives artistic hope to all our artists. We need to get artists to earn a living by passing their skills on, not only by trying to scrape up a dollar at a hotel.
We can and should be employed by the powers that be to start art classes at all levels to show to the world that through creativity we can also sustain our livelihood. We need to have the education and cultural establishment know that enough is not being done for culture. It should not always be about bacchanal. The artists of this land need to put their heart into what they do; their first purpose should be to developing art for growth. If we do what must be done, ten years down the line we can become the art capital of the West Indies.
So we should thank the Government for opening our eyes. The government of the day is trying to change our economic frontier; so, too, the artists should try to change the artistic landscape. We have to make justifiable demands. We have to demand a bigger piece of the economic pie. If the judicial system needs reform, so, too, do the arts. We need venues, equipment, scholarships, and sales outlets. We need to be integrated into our country’s economy and, in some cases, we need better pay. The representatives of the arts must dialogue with their artisans. Too often, they presume they know what we need, but do very little in meeting our needs, far less our goals.
We need to take charge of our destiny, not be directed in any direction, or be given a backyard space. What we need is art for sustainability and the artists to be exalted. We need more than a home: we need to be counted. Although we seem divided, most of our aspirations remain the same and we need to be taken seriously — not for granted.