When many people hear about east Port-of-Spain, they automatically think of crime, but the East Port-of-Spain Development Company (Epos) has been working assiduously to change this.
One of their major initiatives–the Community Arts Festival: Sweet Morvant–was successfully launched in Morvant on September 25 and the four-day event was a showcase of dance, drama, song, craft, culinary arts, music, art and film.
The Epos was established by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development in April 2006.
"We are a special purpose company which was set up with a mandate to develop and redevelop east Port-of-Spain, to improve economic, social and physical conditions," Epos managing director Deborah Thomas-Austin said in an interview.
"We do that in a number of ways, through physical projects like physical infrastructure upgrade projects, upgrading recreational grounds, building pavilions, fixing drainage and providing walkways where they didn't exist."
This is the second time for the year that Epos hosted an event to try and foster closer community camaraderie. The first was a Sports Day in May at the Morvant Recreation Ground, called the East PoS Sports, Family and Community Games.
The Community Arts Festival was used to highlight the fact that the area has a rich cultural history and this is what it should be known for, rather than crime and negativity.
"It's the birthplace of Carnival and the steelband. People of the area have always been involved in culture in some form, just as they have always been involved in sports. We felt that it would be a good way to showcase the area," Thomas-Austin said.
The project was a remarkable success not only because of the huge turnout but the fact that it was incident free, the Epos managing director boasted.
"While some barriers exist we believe they are created by some individuals for their own purposes and to a large extent they are just artificial barriers," she said. "If you find a way to bring people together, you realise they want to come together and they are willing to work together. This was a way of people saying we are from the same community and we share the same experiences."
One of the highlights of the festival was the art show which included work from primary and secondary school students. The showcase included acrylic and oil paintings, wooden and clay sculptures, Carnival costumes, drawings, photography and collages. Some of the artwork even featured the resourceful use of materials like egg shells, termite residue and wood shavings.
Thomas-Austin said her team walked around Morvant to issue a call for all artistes to participate and even went to schools, so that young children could be included.
The Epos had the idea for the festival but did not know where they would have the show. Luckily they were assisted by an organisation called the Laventille East Morvant Residents Association (Lemra) who are the owners of the Morvant Empowerment Centre, (the old Morvant Health Centre).
"We were looking for venues and they were willing to let us use it and we took the opportunity to go in and do some work and refurbish the building and turn it into a space where we could have housed the art exhibition.
"It was easy to see the sense of pride that the children felt when they entered the space and saw their work displayed," she said.
Even artist, poet, and calypsonian Bill Trotman answered the call and displayed some of his artwork.
Several of the pieces done by the children have been put up on the T&T Art Society's website, under a section named Magnificent Morvant Art Exhibition. The art was just one positive aspect of the four-day event.
"People wanted to cook, so we were able to set up kitchens where that could happen in a safe environment. We had discussions with the San Juan Laventille Regional Corporation to help people get their food badges," she said.
After helping the vendors to get their food badges, the Epos worked with contacted the T&T Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI) and organised training sessions at TTHTI's campus in Chaguaramas before the festival. Another highlight of the festival was a film called Sweet Morvant that was created by Gayelle and several residents.
"One of the other exciting things that happened is we got Errol Fabien and Gayelle the Channel to work with some of the young people to train them in film making and editing. Mr Fabien was taking them to the studio and to his home. He taught them to use the equipment and the techniques of film making and editing and they produced their own 30-minute film which was aired on a special night during the Festival. They were also given an opportunity to work at Gayelle."
Thomas-Austin credited her project coordinator Michael Aberdeen for the idea to have the festival and her communications officer Arthur Lewis and his team for following through and making sure the event was well organised and successful.
The drive to get people of east PoS to reconnect with their community does not end with this arts festival in Morvant as Epos hopes to extend the event to Beetham, Belmont and Picton, early next year. However the shows may be done on a smaller scale due to funding as the recently held festival cost the Epos about $300,000, Thomas-Austin told the T&T Guardian.
"This is not just about equipping people to function in east PoS, they are citizens of T&T and people from outside east PoS should be able to come in and and take advantage of what is happening here and feel comfortable doing that. People from east PoS must be properly equipped and free and go elsewhere to access jobs and services."