The proceeds of our oil and gas production are no longer sustaining the high life. As they say in Grenada, “the money can’t reach.” For decades there has much talk about diversification of the economy, but no action.
This is a pity because we have other oil.
I refer to the arts and culture sector. This is our other oil. Sadly, the sector has been ritualistically bragged about but never brought mainstream into our economic life.
Suddenly, there is a belief that we can immediately put our other oil into production but do we have a marketable product? If persons hear a pan side playing in a square abroad, where do they go or what do they do to plan an art and culture tourism visit to Trinidad?
If they get here, what do we have readily available to show them?
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind because we had to expand my get involved time to include taking part in the Bocas Lit Fest as a first time book author, as a participant in a panel on Shakespeare and as a spectator.
The Bocas Lit Fest began with a function by the National Library and Information System (NALIS) to honour first time authors, who had books published in the 24-month period from April 1 to March 31 in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, and to open an exhibition of our books.
Seventy-one of us published in that period. That is a significant number for a small country like ours. Moreover, the range of subject matter was wide and varied as were the ages of the authors.
To give an idea of the variation in subjects, there was a murder thriller, several motivational books in prose and in poetry, one “all about natural kinky curly hair”, an account of the life of Inshan Ali, the cricketer and mystery spinner, authored by his sister and Roy Cape’s book about his life, emerging from the orphanage to become a world class musician.
Thank you NALIS for a warm and well organised morning.
Returning now to the subject of what cultural products we have to offer, there was a relevant and enlightening panel discussion at the Lit Fest, entitled Is the calypso dream dead? The panel comprised Kurt Allen, Kizzie Ruiz, Professor Gordon Rohlehr, and producer Kenny Phillips of WACK Radio, 90.1FM.
It would not be possible to reproduce in this column all of the insights and wisdom of these panel members, but it was clear that there is no plan or policy to separate the cream from the dilutions—although many such dilutions are supported by State funds.
From the floor I pointed out that, we have the same problem with Panorama. We cannot hear prime bands in prime time. Vested and conflicting interests require that the contest in the premier league of pan must be delayed to ungodly hours. Not surprisingly attendances at Panorama, even on final night, have declined dramatically.
Nevertheless, the creative soul of Trinidad and Tobago has never been stronger but its output is not respected. There is only an embryonically defined funding policy and little effective marketing beyond the advertisement of a sponsored or unsponsored weekend run.
Two Saturdays ago, there were five significant performing arts events in one afternoon in and around Port of Spain. The event at Phase II panyard displayed an interesting departure from haphazard arrangements, no doubt due to the marketing skill of Hadco, Phase II’s new partner, carefully and deliberately not referred to as “sponsor.”
On that evening the partnership worked. The event comprised three distinct segments: Redon’s ensemble, Etienne Charles, the renowned trumpet player and his reunion group and Phase II, the host.
The programme moved crisply, starting on time and ending before 11.00 pm. There were no lulls or long speeches. There was plenty of space to sit, or mingle and easy access to purchase food and drinks.
One would be proud to put a product like that into a tourism package for Trinidad and Tobago, not of course as an isolated event.
Returning to the Bocas Lit Fes—about which there is so much more to say but space this week nearly done—in addition to the riveting interviews with successful literary artists with roots in this region and who have made it internationally, such as Vahni Capildeo, TS Eliot Prize shortlisted poet and Marlon James, who is the 2015 Booker Prize winner, there was story telling, theatre, poetry, music and performances by youthful performing artists.
Who is going to draw all the rich threads of our arts and culture together without compromising the creative freedom of the organisers and practitioners?
I would like to repeat my recommendation that the Carnival season be expanded and marketed as a first quarter festival running from January to March into which two hundred events, not necessarily directly related to the current and now unsatisfactory Carnival product, can be inserted to comprise an attractive tourism product.