Last Saturday, UTT chairman, Prof Ken Julien took to the UTT stage at NAPA without a musical instrument in hand and he, quite mercifully, was not prepared to sing. He instead came armed with the simple message that not unlike the many other national budget line items that had been "subject to deep cuts," the university has not been spared.
Now, why would the decorated energy czar and engineer by training be making such a point at a forum such as this? He went further to urge a hushed audience that what the university's Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) has been doing over the years has been "very important for our development" and "we need to be able to say to the Government that what we do goes beyond teaching."
"We are filling a gap that Trinidad badly needs (filling)," Prof Julien said.
It might be that as a scholar intimately associated with engineering and the applied sciences he has taken a similar concern to UTT's Unit for Project Management and Civil Infrastructure Systems or to candidates pursuing the Masters in Environmental Science and Management
out of an abundance of concern for their survivability inthese times.
If not? Why not?
Could it be that Prof Julien's interpretation of Finance Minister and fellow engineer Colm Imbert's budget statement that the Government plans to target for GATE support "funding of tertiary education (based) on the country's development needs" was such that he felt that the APA might become more vulnerable than other areas of university activity when it came to wider financial support?
Or maybe it is that his experience in the world of academia has taught him that unlike engineering and mathematics, when it comes to the arts, two plus two always has the potential to exceed four or five or six. And he is in fact sounding a warning to the Rowley administration that the "gap" to be filled is as urgent and as important for the development process as the areas in which the Government front bench has the most professional experience.
The fact is, over several years, the APA has been responsible for presenting to T&T audiences high-calibre (and free) entertainment in the areas of music, drama and dance–inspiring the young and edifying the more mature. I don't think anyone would mind if a small door charge is imposed.
It is not good to compare these things, but having covered and reviewed many of these events, particularly the music and drama performances, I would contend that UTT has now overtaken the University of the West Indies (UWI) as the place you turn to as a citizen with an interest in these important foundations of our development.
It is true that out of the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI has emerged some of our finest young talents on the music, visual arts, dance and drama scenes, while the Film Programme at St Augustine has inarguably done more for creative expression in film than any other facility in the English-speaking Caribbean. But it might also be that, like Ken Julien, UWI principal Prof Brian Copeland is delivering similar advisories over there. I don't know. I am just guessing.
But the UTT Academy is, as far as I am concerned, without parallel in terms of the creative outputs we have witnessed on the music and drama stages in recent years and this includes other highly-touted and promoted professional productions.
I will take the licks for also contending that UTT has ensured that its APA productions are accessible and media-friendly and there appears to be a conscientious institutional attempt to reach out to the wider population. When, for example, the Academy took Adam Walters' River of Freedom to Moruga last year, the community pride and ownership of the production was heart-warming and significant. The Academy also made the SAPA facility its home for some time.
It is meanwhile clear that some folks at UWI still believe that the institution remains "a fortress to be breached" and I am aware of the battles being fought by internal advocates for a far more open environment for community engagement of campus activities. The Bocas Lit Fest–the country's premier literary festival with which UWI is associated as a sponsor–would hopefully not also fall under the looming cutlass.
In the developed world, the arts are supported and promoted as a national good with economic value, an important source for creativity and innovation and an ennobling asset that helps people to appreciate ideas, creativity and beauty.
In T&T, the vast potential of these areas of human endeavour constitute a gap to be filled not as a last resort but as a pre-emptive strike on destruction, disorder and despair.
Julien's is good advice that should not be ignored. At one time important people listened to him. Let's see if they still do.