Far From Being Elitist

Image: Despite the high points in the anecdotal journey of the late Nobel Laureate’s as told by Snodgrass, the audience turnout was poor. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]

FOR the past 25 years, a serious movement has been taking shape in an effort to preserve the memories and life’s work of our two Nobel Laureates, Sirs William Arthur Lewis (Economics, 1979) and Derek Walcott (Literature, 1992). For those who almost instinctively set the chain of events in motion each year, the task can become very demanding. But such dedication and passion is nonetheless understandable, especially when paying tribute to those who achieve great feats.

Over the years, however, there has been an increasingly colder shoulder given by audiences for whom these events are being hosted. It is not uncommon for many people to shrug off the open invitations to these free events by explaining that the events themselves seem elitist in nature or that they clash with other engagements.

The end result in many instances, however, is that while thousands of dollars and much time is being invested in what has morphed from Nobel Laureate Day to Nobel Laureate Week and now Nobel Laureate Festival, the audiences continue to dwindle. The Sir Derek Walcott Memorial Lecture held at the National Cultural Centre on Tuesday evening proved just how important many people who claim to love the arts really do. At best, there were enough people there to fill about one-third of the seats!

Tuesday evening’s lecture, which was delivered by Sir Derek’s former theatre arts student at Boston University, Kate Snodgrass, was entitled “A Playwright’s Journey from Castries to Boston and Back”. In the one-hour-long presentation, Snodgrass used anecdotes, photos and short film scenes to describe her personal recollections and moments of inspiration spurred by Sir Derek, who died last March at 87.

It was a fitting tribute to a literary genius, whose life’s work as a poet often seems to overshadow his brilliance as a master playwright. Snodgrass not only painted a poignant and vivid plot of Sir Derek’s ascendancy to being great in both poetry and theatre, but also his penchant for bringing out the best in even poets and actors second-guessing their worth.

It is ironic that while both Sirs Derek and Arthur are conveniently used as pearls of greatness on one hand can be so easily dismissed on the other, especially when the time comes to finding that essential time and space to learn more about them and their work. If great work is to survive – and even inspire – then it must first be appreciated. So, too, must those who toil, often in oblivion and at great personal loss, to craft gems of wisdom that make us shine brighter collectively.

Until we can see solidarity of the arts being more than a governmental notion of relocating the National Cultural Centre or as fillers at events before a feature address, we will never be able to truly grasp the concept of who an artist truly is and what he or she does. We need to stop paying lip service to causes and begin to find the time to be part of movements that can not only shape our own thinking, but how we remember those who made us feel great vicariously through their hard work.

This year’s Sir Arthur Lewis Memorial lecture will be held this evening at the Finance Administrative Centre under the theme, “Climate Change: the economic response to disaster in Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean”. The lead presenter is climate change czar, Dr. James Fletcher, who will have as his panellists Derek Gibbs of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and Isaac Anthony of Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF).

With the effects of climate change staring us squarely in the face daily, it’s hard to think that learning more about the subject from this evening’s presentation falls into the category of being elitist. If we continue to distance ourselves from learning the things we should, however, maybe that might be the root for feeling that the festival is.

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