?Q: What technical analysis led to your claims of design and architectural flaws at the National Academy of Performing Arts?
A: Since the opening of NAPA, we have received reports of faulty specs from lighting and sound technicians, producers, dancers, actors and musicians. After every show we receive new complaints that are verified by dozens of people. We have received reports from visiting international technicians and from people inside the University of Trinidad and Tobago, from high and low. We are still receiving info, some too scandalous to repeat! Then, of course, I toured the facility with drama and dance stakeholders, and saw things for myself, but the analysis of the flaws of NAPA did not begin with the finished building.
For five years, stakeholders have fought to get the Government to consult and create a building of integrity. We got our hands on architectural plans through the back door, despite all efforts to block us. It was flawed from the beginning. It was not built for our needs. It was bought cat-in-bag from the Chinese. Senior artists and architects pored over the plans and noted all the massive conceptual problems. We have been giving the Minister of Culture, Calder Hart and Udecott, and the Honourable PM corrective specs for years–to no avail.
What are the specifics of the shortfalls you have outlined?
The first problem is conceptual. The Government insisted in making all the academies performing arts-based. They do not realise that Trinbagonian and Caribbean arts are multi-disciplinary. We need to build holistic schools for the arts. Strike one! Then, the Government never understood what an academy was. An academy is the institution charged with passing on your traditions.
Which begs the question: What are our traditions?
Most of our traditions–pan, mas, Ramleela, hosay, Tobago Heritage–are all outdoor-based, and require space and scale. NAPA has no purpose-built outdoor stages or spaces, and makes no provision for any of our traditions.
The attempt to "localise" the curriculum for NAPA was thrown out when Pat Bishop (the principal up to 2008) was fired. The mistakes began to multiply after that.
How were the remedial costs tabulated?
We went through the needs and did a room-by-room costing of what it would take to convert the chosen rooms into what they were supposed to be. For instance, there are two rooms which have dishonestly been called black box theatres; they are not. They are just big rooms that will have to be converted from scratch. Raised seating will have to be built; walls may have to be knocked out to create backstages, dressing rooms, and green rooms; a stage will have to be built. Lighting rigs will have to be built for the ceiling, sound equipment acquired, etc. None of the rooms are purpose-built; they are just big rooms. Everything still needs to be done! That costs money...
How do you respond to the denial by Minister Marlene McDonald?
The minister has already been caught out on the question of consultation; many groups have denied her claim. We have released to the press, letters signed by these and other groups pleading for consultation. I don't know if the minister was misinformed. It is easy to get carried away by something big and shiny, especially if you do not understand how culture works.
Was the artistic community consulted prior to construction of the academy?
Never. We have tried for five years. Even up to the present we have not been allowed to contribute. This scandal is actually the first time that we have been allowed to be heard, because we also were muzzled in the press. In 2005, there was a showing of the already completed digital models of the buildings. When it was finished, artists' hands shot up. They asked technical and philosophical questions about the buildings, none of which could be answered satisfactorily. The minister, Calder Hart and the architect quickly packed up, and that was the last we ever saw of them. Up to this day, the community has not seen plans for San Fernando, John D and the Savannah Centre. A 40-minute meeting with stakeholders could have changed this entire tragedy. Arrogance, instead, has now cost us tens of millions.
What are the lessons from this lesson for the national community?
Consultation needs to be the pathway for the construction of all civic projects, no matter the size. Also, development must be people-based. While NAPA was being constructed, we told the Government they needed to record the legacy of our dying golden age generation. The country's golden age lay between 1930 and 1950; those elders are now 75 and over. These recorded legacies should have been the curriculum of NAPA and provided the DNA of the building, with a resident hall of fame and more. Instead, 17,000 elders have died in the last decade without being documented. Some traditions have disappeared altogether. It has been self-inflicted cultural genocide.
Is your group taking similar interest in the current construction of the southern performing arts centre?
The reason we need to open up NAPA for immediate analysis by experts and stakeholders is because we need to see what it can and cannot do. Only then can we rationalise the specs of the other buildings.
What are the other public matters your organisation is pursuing?
We took over national cultural activism around 1997.�Two generations of artists were dying without any artist demand granted since independence. We hired lawyers, accountants and started talking the language of ?economists, in respect to culture in an effort to get politicians to listen. We went all over the country compiling artist demands from every sector–mas, chutney, film, etc. We thought we'd get a long list. All we got was a list of six institutional complexes and 11 pieces of legislation. That was all artists had ever wanted. We made these demands the grounds for all our agitation over the last decade. Our lobbying got the agenda of community centres and NAPA into Government's plans. We organised the marches for 50 per cent local content quotas, which led to the liberalising of the airwaves with now 36 radio stations and 15 TV stations. We are trying now to get the national cultural policy to be released for public comment, so it can be adopted.
Were you involved in discussions for that national cultural policy, and if so, where did that lead to?
I was one of a team of three that worked on creating the draft national cultural policy assembled by the Minister of Culture. We worked for almost a year, two to three times a week, in the ministry in whole and half-day sessions, using hundreds of local and international documents, to arrive at the draft. It was taken from us one week before it was due. That was the last we ever saw or heard of it. That was almost three years ago! The present minister came into office, and has since refused to pay for the document, saying that we must consider it an act of charity. Bear in mind that people were being paid hundreds of thousands for policy documents from other ministries.
What makes culture a charity?�What are your relations with Minister McDonald?
Since coming into office, the minister, for some reason, has refused to speak to me and our organisation. The only time I have ever spoken to her was when she called and abused me saying that: "Yuh have nutten to get from we! You have no money to get from we!" She also said she does not have to meet with ACTT, because we are a union. She, of course, is wrong. ACTT is a trade association. We are being facilitated by the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries, under a directive from the Ministry of Trade. The Chambers of Commerce are also members. We are recognised and have worked with UNESCO, WIPO, the Commonwealth Foundation, Toronto Arts Council, and the Summit of the Americas, where we made a presentation on behalf of the country. We assisted in the negotiations of the European Partnership Agreement on behalf of the national sector. In fact, the only agency in the world that does not recognise us is our own Ministry of Culture!
Is the government treating the arts as an integral aspect of national development?
I am sure they might think so, but they do not understand it. We fought to get film and entertainment accepted as two of the seven sectors that should be developed as alternatives to oil and gas. But the Government has not resourced these sectors and their agencies properly. They also are not listening to sense. Stakeholders know what needs to be done. The government still has a hustle and dependency syndrome built into how they consider the arts. They need to listen, facilitate, and get out of the way. Our culture can heal collapsing communities, solve the crime problem, double our foreign exchange earnings, and provide full-time, enjoyable employment for tens of thousands. But they need to get a clue.