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‘Licks’ for Sankat over UWI art centre

Published: 
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Creative arts students outside the arts facility beat a “bobolee” of UWI principal Clement Sankat in protest at the changed design plans for the new building. PHOTO: JOSHUA SURTEES

Protesting creative arts students at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, got dramatic, using a “bobolee” effigy of campus principal Prof Clement Sankat dressed as Santa Claus (or Sankat Claws), which they punished savagely with weapons including a cricket bat and fake axes. “They say they are a student-led university but that could not be further from the truth,” said the main organiser of the protest last week, who did not wish to be named.

 

 

All five of the students interviewed by the T&T Guardian asked for their names not to be printed for fear of “vindictiveness.” All are members of the Creative Arts Student Association (CASA) and two are final-year drama students, two music and one literature. The protest was dampened by the rain and the fact that it is exam time on campus.

 

They are frustrated because the powers that be at UWI are currently tendering for a new creative arts facility to be built which the students consider “grossly inadequate,” from the designs they have seen. They also feel the head of department, Jessel Murray, has reneged on an agreement he made with the students about what features the new building would have.

 

“It’s lacking rehearsal spaces, dance spaces, lecture rooms...in total it’s a reduction by 11,000 square feet (from the original design plan) and even the original was a scaled-down version of what we really need. Visual art is mentioned nowhere in the proposal. There is nowhere for carnival studies,” a spokesman said. The arts students have been using old buildings for decades now, they complained.

 

“Our lecturers began this campaign for a new building when they were students here,” the students said. “They have been talking about building a new space for years. Nothing came to fruition until we had a protest action in 2011.” The Black Box, a space they use to rehearse plays, leaks when it rains and is next to a busy road, meaning constant traffic noise. Murray, however, told the T&T Guardian he was never in any position to make absolute promises to the students.

 

“I am a head of a department, who negotiates with the administration in good faith, on behalf of the students,” he said. He claims many of the protesters never even tried to raise their concerns with him before taking such drastic action. “What is discouraging is some people have certainly not come to me to discuss their concerns. Not a single phone call or e-mail has come to me discussing their concerns,” he said.

 

 

What students want:
The students say they discussed their requests with the heads at UWI and listed their requests, three dance studios, an experimental theatre space and two additional rehearsal spaces as well as the main theatre stage, tutorial rooms, changing rooms, lighting and sound facilities. 

 

 

They then worked on a scaled-down version, realising all their demands could not be met and thought an agreement was reached, which they say the university then went back on. They say the building they wanted had a price tag of $6 million but they were instead offered a new design costing more like $3 million.

 

 

UWI responds
When contacted yesterday by the T&T Guardian, Sankat accused the protesters of peddling misinformation. “It is actually significantly more than $6 million and I cannot quote the figures as it will interfere with the tendering process.” He did, however, assure that in reality, the actual cost was projected to be significantly more than $6 million and that Republic Bank had no role to play in funding the project. 

 

Sankat labelled the protesters as a small group of people who were ill-advised and misinformed and wanted to make it clear that he was committed to the creative arts. He noted that the first building he built upon becoming principal in 2008 was for the Department of Creative and Festival Arts. “I understand their plight and I am committed to building new facilities for them but I have to find the money,” he said.

 

He said economic growth in T&T had not been as great as it was in the past and so the campus was being built at a time when UWI was hard pressed for funds. “The pie is going to have to be shared up by many more and there is probably less to share,” he added. — with reporting by Zico Cozier

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