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Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Dr Lincoln Douglas said arts and culture are the foundation of this society and must be relied upon to bolster and sustain the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking at the opening of the much anticipated multi-million-dollar National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) South, in San Fernando, yesterday, five years after construction began, Douglas said culture is the country’s foundation and when everything else fails, it was what the country would have to rely on.
“We can no longer place heavy reliance on oil and gas for substantiality. We have to find innovative ways for the continued growth and development of the economy and we have to recognise the value of the arts and culture as the potential for advancing our economy,” he said.
The facility—which comprisess a performing college, ten classrooms, two theatres, one which seats 806 and the other 180, on 255,000 square feet of land at the corner of Todd Street and the Rienzi Kirton Highway—was opened without much fanfare. Prominent southerners in the audience felt the mid-morning opening, which went well into the afternoon, was ill-timed and hastily done to honour a pledge to have the academy opened as an Independence and Republic gift to the nation.
They were also critical of the members of the People’s Partnership Government who failed to acknowledge the contribution of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning whose idea it was to build the facility. Thunderous applause, screams and whistles, erupted in the auditorium as Douglas was the only speaker to acknowledge the Manning regime for the facility which began in 2008 as part of a series of mega-projects undertaken by Calder Hart under the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott).
Two speakers before him, Alderman Joanna Andrews, deputising for San Fernando Mayor Dr Navi Muradali, and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, San Fernando West MP and Public Administration Minister, both thanked the present government and line minister. Former PNM San Fernando West MP and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Culture Junia Regrello said, “The gift was already there. All they did was wrap it and hand it over.”
Regrello said, “I was happy to be there at this event, because I am a San Fernandian and a practitioner of the arts. I went with an open mind. But I think it was in poor taste for them not to acknowledge the vision of Mr Manning and the PNM.” Regrello commended Douglas for his acknowledgement, even though he said the reference to the “former regime” was nebulous and vague. “This was a profound moment for San Fernando and they missed the boat,“ Regrello said.
There was also criticism from southern artistes, who felt left out, while performers from outside the city were given the opportunity to show off their talent. There were also grumblings from members of the pan fraternity, who felt slighted. They argued that while Junior Sammy Skiffle Bunch was invited to perform, the group was put under a tent outside, not on stage.
Members of the business community also complained that the catering, bar and other services were contracted to companies from the north. The facility, which was described as a waste of taxpayers’ dollars by the current administration on the election campaign trail, was yesterday hailed as a “spectacular gem” by Seepersad-Bachan.
In her address she said, “Port-of-Spain has its Queen’s Hall and Napa. Now San Fernando has its own academy, which, together with the Naparima Bowl, are a matched pair.” She asserted, however, “These two centres will never be for adornment only. Although showpieces, they are also showcases, as they will display the wealth of talent that we have here in San Fernando.” She described San Fernando as the cultural capital of T&T and a genuine melting-pot of national culture.
“The roads to San Fernando pass through Debe and Penal, the bastions of Indian culture; Erin and Los Bajos, where the Spanish influence still thrives; the many communities from Point Fortin to San Fernando itself where African culture flourishes; and all so close together that San Fernando is where the fusion takes place and the natural evolution finds a supportive environment.”
Douglas said a board of management will be put in place to manage the academy, but cautioned that it should not become embroiled in “comess and bacchanal.” “People feel boards are a place to go and show off and carry on. We feel once we have a little power, it is time to say who get and didn’t get. Do not allow the leadership of this space to go the way of Trinidad comess,” Douglas warned.