?In the wake of an aggressive refutation by the Minister of Culture of his accusations of inappropriateness in construction of the National Academy of Performing Arts, activist Rubadiri Victor has circulated a new document alleging the many failures of consultation on the way to the theatrical facility Trinidad and Tobago has today. It is possible that as early as this week, Minister Marlene McDonald will open the doors of Napa for a full media tour, presumably after the soft-testing phase of the academy's operations is paused to allow fresh scrutiny of the facility. In anticipation of a new spirit of discussion and consultation that the minister might wish to consider as a follow-up to such a tour, it's worth examining exactly what is known about the facility. Since its grand opening engagement during CHOGM and performances of a single play, there have been no notable concerts or performances at Napa.
It is unclear whether there has been a shortage of requests for the facility, what the rental structure is, or if it is, in fact, available for public use, and on what basis. Throughout the entire 2010 Carnival season, there was no event that met the requirements of Napa's existing controllers, either by invitation or by request. An overture from at least one Carnival stakeholder, the National Chutney Foundation, for staging the World Chutney Soca Monarch competition, was refused. The Government's production of El Cerro del Aripo for Dimanche Gras was, according to McDonald, rehearsed on the main stage before being moved to the Savannah. It is unclear who is in charge of Napa. No governing board has been announced, and the facility is supposed to fall under the aegis of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
In June, 2009, Prof Kenneth Ramchand resigned as associate provost at UTT, in circumstances that suggested he was uncomfortable with the way the arts portfolio at the university was being managed. The gulf in consultation between Minister McDonald's perception and Victor's accounting is startlingly large. In a new document being circulated on-line in the wake of the Culture Minister's press conference titled "No Consultation – A pathway to disaster," Rubadiri Victor lists a damningly thorough sequence of disinterest in meaningful consultation with stakeholders in the arts sector. By her own admission at that press conference, Napa is modelled on similar facilities in the Baltics, Shanghai and Chicago. Which is all well and good, but our cultural traditions bear little resemblance to those that have evolved in temperate countries where, performance has evolved in enclosed, sheltered halls out of necessity.
Trinidad and Tobago's traditions evolved in environments with greater degrees of crowd participation and open air engagement. Complicating this issue is Minister McDonald's openly belligerent dismissal of every question related to Napa and Rubadiri Victor's capacity for sprawling, inclusive statements which make it difficult to focus on his points. Victor's initial document on Napa's failings ran to 39 pages, and his follow-up statement on the history of consultation related to the facility runs more than 5,000 words. Sandwiched between these widely-divergent views of Napa are the people who would actually like to make use of the space who must, apparently, choose between being activist and run the risk of being locked out of a space that is, apparently, still very much under the purview of the Culture Minister, and cheerfully accepting the structure in whatever form it is offered to them.
There is another, more productive way of handling this matter, and that path requires a deeper commitment to consultation than the Government has been willing to give more than lip service to. Let's have a tour of the National Academy of Performing Arts, but allow the media to be accompanied by artistes, architectural and theatre engineering specialists willing to speak independently about what they find, so that the reporting on the tour can be informed by a practical appreciation of what Napa has to offer and what still remains to be done. The Culture Minister should approach this situation with a clear eye on the kind of consultation and engagement that will be necessary, not only to successfully launch Napa as a functional, well-utilised facility that adds value to our creative community, but also as a soft testing of her own for the kind of collaboration that will be necessary in preparing for the National Carnival Centre.