Whereas we can learn a thing or two from the structures and systems the developed world has evolved for arts infrastructure, education, support and patronage, when it comes to culture, and indeed multiculturalism, few, if any, can hold a candle to us. Our confidence in this fact that usually only surfaces through chest-thumping pierrot grenades or robber-type talk have not found full expression because of justifiable dissatisfaction with the state of the arts, and the unholy alignment of arts and culture in our governance system.
Just as growth and development of our arts and recognition of their universality have been overshadowed in the jostle for ethnic and cultural space, our appreciation and confidence in the diversity and multiculturalism we have evolved since we joined the indigenous peoples in this land have been curtailed from full independent flight.
The former Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism, during our sitting at the international heritage meeting in Bali last December, asked my opinion on the place of legislation in culture, reflecting the doubts all his predecessors have shown on this subject—similar to the question posed from the global floor to the now erstwhile T&T UN ambassador, oblivious to the new international awakening and probing on this subject.
This unease that has plagued culture ministries of yore stem from nervousness about legislation and policy pronouncements on our culture. In general definition, culture is “our way of life” that includes, but is not contained in, just the arts of music, dance, performance, painting etc to include elements as cuisine, fashion, walk, talk, religious practices—any number of traits that identify a people who have evolved in a particular environment. I have presented extensively abroad (Sans Humanite Sans Policy in relation to the Carnival Creative Arts (Turkey); Trini Lime Time: Attitudes to Cultural Policy in Rebel Cultures (France) among them—on the rebel nature of our cultural heritage and beliefs held, even by some judges, that the law has no place in culture.
The roots and raison d’etre of our cultural evolution—defying explorers, buccaneers, slave masters, police, schoolmasters, privateers, any authority figure—as the also erstwhile Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs would have oh too painfully, shockingly, recently discovered—inhibits surrender to any (even just perceived) impositions of structure, rules/codes.
The inability of our governance to date to grasp this; its significance; the need to fully appreciate and understand it, is couched in the last regime’s “situational analysis” on culture on the Vision 2020 Committee Report:
• Attitudes of selfishness, lawlessness, greed, dishonesty, indifference to others.
• Violent manifestations in the home, community, workplace, language of leadership, music.
• Tendency to describe ourselves through notorious deeds.
• Negative “languaging” of our space.
The visionaries therein seemed oblivious to their own negative imaging of what is essentially our sense of freedom and the inherent liberating effect this has had on our culture that is quintessential to who and what we are. Furthermore, the drive to urbanise our cultures and make them “economically viable” (duh?), through instruments like the European Union-Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement, for instance, loses its sense of direction about the nature of culture in a society in mad-hatter pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Herein is the national, regional, international contexts for a Ministry of Diversity and Social Inclusion which itself incorporates the multiculturalism mandate—hence my recommendation that this word be dropped and a Ministry of the Arts exist in its own right, just as a Ministry of Multiculturalism/Diversity and Social Inclusion can exist in its own right; as other appendages to the once Ministry of Arts and Culture—Sports, Women/Gender, Community/Social Affairs et al—have evolved identities and mandates of their own towards a more people-centred approach to governance.
In a culture-centred approach to development, there is more than enough for such an infrastructure with a diversity mandate to: harness our substantial experiences of multiculturalism for the benefit of a world reeling from escalating impacts of new migrations; build confidence in this experience and knowledge to benefit us and the international community; reverse the hurts and dissatisfaction of having our cultural selves forcefitted into the corsets of alien governance models and administrations. It seems opportune, then, that in this the jubilee year of self-rule, we begin to redress this so every creed and race can find an equal place in a substantive and pragmatic way.