Sunday, April 14, 2024

WE SAY SO: Redefining culture


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ALL OF THIS TALK about culture is enough to drive you mad.
For the past umpteen years, various Government officials have been voicing off on the importance of the cultural industries, the fact that they generate billions of dollars every year, and that they are tipped to be the next economic frontier.
A lot of long talk; but no action.
When in August 2007 then Prime Minister Owen Arthur held a retreat at Hilton Barbados and took the decision to separate the cultural and developmental roles of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), stakeholders felt change was finally going to come. This decision saw the responsibility of planning Crop-Over being taken away from the NCF.
The general feeling was that the much touted public/private organisation, which was mentioned several years before, was going to become operational and be responsible for Crop-Over and other festivals.
Noting that the players had been toying with the agency for several years, Arthur said it was time to get on with it.  
“We cannot stand where we are; so it’s obvious to me that we have to move,” he said at the time.
Two months later, an interim committee headed by Antonio “Boo” Rudder had been established to plan Crop-Over 2008. By February of 2008, the festival was back in the hands of the NCF.
There has been a lot of break-dancing with baby steps forwards and giant leaps back in the ensuing years; and, with all the changing scenes, the NCF is still floundering between the cultural and developmental arms; the much talked about Cultural Industries Bill is yet to be passed, and exponents are still lamenting over the same issues.
Another step towards the establishment of the Cultural And Events Bureau was taken last year with the establishment of a special committee to plan Crop-Over, made up of about 20 people pulled from across the foundation and a few from external sources. The jury is still out on that performance.
Suffice it to say, a new minister and new-look board will be overseeing Crop-Over 2011.
The state of affairs prompted a top cultural official to publicly remark that culture was a sexy topic, and that the powers were not treating the key sector with the necessary seriousness.
Just last week, both CEO Donna Hunte-Cox and Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley included the passage of the bill in their New Year wish list and outlined some of the programmes that would be coming on stream with the passage of the said bill.
The wait continues.
It is no wonder then, that some might have seen a ray of light in the $400 000 injection into the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Competition announced in the last Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals presented by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler last November 22.
At least one constituent of the cultural industries should be seeing some movement and positive changes in the near future.
After 34 years, Government has made a substantial injection into the competition, which has served as the breeding ground for the likes of Edwin Yearwood, Rupert Clarke, Adrian Clarke, Alison Hinds, Anderson Armstrong, Terencia Coward, Ronnie Morris, Rosie Hunte and numerous others.
The glory days of Teen Talent have long gone. For years Stoute has been struggling to attract sponsors and decent audiences; venues seemed to have been problematic; and the talent emerging has not nearly been as outstanding.
And while this financial injection could be the makings of something good, it will all be for naught if necessary changes are not made from early on.
Stoute has done a fantastic job with the limited tools and resources available to him, but just as it was recognised that some changes had to be made at the NCF to take things to the next level, the same has to be done to the Richard Stoute competition. He needs to have enough confidence in the baby he has seen to maturity to either share the responsibilities or hand them over altogether.
It is instructive that the funds will be disbursed by a committee of which Stoute will be a part. That simple clause means that one element Stoute’s tight-fisted grip on the competition has automatically been loosened.
One hopes that with such a substantial investment, the committee will also have some input into the actual running of the competition.
As mentioned earlier, the competition has seen better days and some of the deterioration has to be a result of the sad evolution to a karaoke showcase. Shortly after the Government support was announced, Stoute said it was highly unlikely that a band would be reintroduced and listed the benefits he had seen.
Many of us who have been around the competition for a long time as journalists, patrons and past participants strongly differ, and now might be the opportune time to listen to those constituents. Technology is a beautiful thing, but I want to suggest that these budding artistes would benefit much more from the guidance of musicians behind them than they would from a pre-recorded track. We have seen several performers being negatively affected by malfunctioning equipment or faulty tracks.
Stoute will readily list a number of things that have gone wrong with the band and how indisciplined members can be and the like, which may stand up; but the practice can only improve musical ear, timing and all related aspects in the long run.
It would take some coordination, but it could be a way for the talented youngsters on the music and theatre arts programme at the Barbados Community College (BCC) to get practical experience in their specialities.
For a small stipend and maybe a few credits, the association could work out to everyone’s benefit.
That collaboration would bring exposure to a separate sector, and it would only be a matter of time before other sectors of the cultural industries are tapped. And, thinking further ahead, one of the prizes for the winner could be a scholarship to the BCC.
The possibilities are endless.
Another feather in the competition’s proverbial cap, is the long-awaited reopening of the Queen’s Park Steel Shed, within whose walls the competition arguably enjoyed its best times. One well recalls the Sunday evenings when it was standing room only in the Steel Shed – and it was just for preliminaries!
It would only be fitting that the refurbished Steel Shed be put at Stoute’s disposal, for what could be a necessary rebuilding phase.
One can see how the focus on Richard Stoute could impact on the cultural sector, and it does not have to wait for the passage of any bill. It just needs forward-thinking people who are not primarily driven by selfish gains.
My 2011 wish is for action. We’ve heard the cultural industries talk. It’s time to walk the walk.
Let the journey to those billions of dollars begin!


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