An Open Letter to New Culture Minister Stephen Lashley – Why Is Central Bank More Culturally Proactive?

Dear Minister;

There is a claim that ancient Chinese made a compliment into a curse, “May you live in interesting times.” For most of Barbados then, 2010 is way too intriguing, I suspect… I trust that Hurricane Tomas did not affect too many of your environs where Culture holds sway? I am aware how the passing of our Prime Minister affected you, I hope you did not mind but rather than compete with your eloquent tribute (let’s forget that other massively gauche event, the less said the better – yours was far more moving as it was from the heart) I used your genuine farewell with some photos I took while along Eagle Hall…

At the left is the young Cabinet Minister for whom this Open Letter is dedicated, to the right is Tourism's Richard Sealy

I waited ’til you were now getting familiar with your new Portfolio to impress on you what I see as imperatives for a successful turn at this gubernatorial venue. They appear not necessarily in order of sequence or importance, but how I know many Bajans will want to see their country succeed as a cultural icon.

The Empire theatre? Don’t let it die a slow death, treat it like how the late MP for St John was dealt with – the best in remedial treatment, make it a Museum and Theatre to rival Frank Collymore Hall! Do you know the Central Bank is more active in the arena of the Arts than the Culture Ministry?

This cinema caused many a traffic jam at night when I was a teenager, if it wasn't the latest Bruce Lee then it was the 80's version of "American Pie" those were called "Lemon Popsicle" which had sequels from 1 thru 6!

It So Happens” from the Diasporic Art Productions only took off with generous assists from Dr DeLisle Worrell et al; each time when the Collector’s Club has a Lifetime Achievement presentation do they ask for your portfolio and host at the Sandiford Cultural Centre? Nope, they head straight for where they know they got a buddy – the Tom Adams Financial Centre in Church Village as well as the print media. The Central Bank also holds sway during Crop Over from your NCF with the Visual Arts Festival as well!

Michael Taitt as "Big Joe" in the Callender musical suite, using poor Ishiaka as a stepladder to 'Plea Bargain' with the Magistrate...

Speaking of art, I know Ras Akyem – and for sure Ras Ishi – would “‘buse” me if I did not add the significant fact of legislating/instituting/making&implementing a National Gallery of Visual Arts for not just their work, but spanning as far back as all Barbados can track and not have to rely on the leaky Garrison buildings which Town & Country planning deem too musty for themselves, but okay to store irreplaceable items of past heritage!

Securing the Art Animal's personal autograph on his Catalogue, more are still available at the NCF's Queen's Park Gallery for a reasonable sum!

So we’re looking at hermetically sealed cases which are in tectonically-gauged rooms (so as to protect from age, weather and earthquakes – after Nov 2007, a not unlikely occurrence); Mr Thompson was suggesting to me back in Nov 2008 using Zone 1 land so as to protect the works, but I really think a referendum would be better as to involve Barbados… Ras Akyem himself at this year’s Collector’s Club ceremony wants far more respect given to those who use their minds to make money for themselves or simply to use their mental vistas to open other’s cerebellums into unexplored areas {CLICK ON FOLLOWING LINK FOR FULL AUDIO};-

The Lifetime Achiever of 2010 from the Collector’s Club told people at the Central Bank he does not want barbadians to view those who see Arts as a means of empowering themselves to view this same Culture as “...oats which have passed through a Horse.”

The Central Bank Governor is totally fascinated with the brush-stroke technique of Ras Akyem-I as seen in this animated conversation with a patron!

In addition, the Art Animal – as Ras Akyem-I Ramsay calls himself – says when a National Gallery is a reality, then Barbadians can see art as it really happened, and not what they think Art is supposed to be, he compared the idea of a local version of the Louvre to a visit he had to France’s own national gallery {CLICK ON FOLLOWING LINK FOR FULL AUDIO};-

Akyem tells of how looking at a Picasso up close he could see ash and hairs embedded in the paint on the canvas, he was thrilled and appreciated the raw honesty of such art and longs for Barbados to be so vital in its expression.

It’s not only when Governmental Dept’s spur on each other using culture as a goad to grab the public’s attention, there is the private sector where young entrepreneurs of all natures seek to flourish using literary or cinematic aspects of culture to advance themselves yet are frustrated at every turn.

This is Romal Jones who has a Caribbean cartoon character known as Caiman, from the samples I witnessed? This could be the next Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck if local businesses would grant concessions or a little fiscal wind under Romal's wings of entrepreneurship...

Why is this? Apart from Avinash Persaud’s plea to decriminalise Entrepreneurism, we must recall the late PM Thommo’s belief that “bootstrapping” was essential for Barbados to haul itself out of this dragging fiscal doldrum! Yet when Melissa Young & Omar Kennedy sought to get sponsorship for Anime Kon, while many prominent entities stepped forward to assist, only enough funds were raised to use the Two Mile Hill facility for One Day! They weren’t even given full respect by LESC, the air conditioning conked out and no Jialing fans were brought to cool perspiring patrons, which was sad since Bajans of all races and social backgrounds freely mixed as they shared a common love for Pop Culture!

Many guests paid to see Anime Kon to meet LeVar Burton who was Geordi LaForge in Star Trek - The Next Generation... With more interest shown then bigger celebrities can be imported and thus create more Foreign Exchange as more visitors arrive, just like what happened with Crop Over but here no booze or cigarettes are pushed, h'mm, is that the problem?

Isn’t part of entrepreneurism a situation where bonds previously nonexistent now are forged for stronger ties to build greater synergies? This is a magnificent potential for foreign exchange just as much as any Calypso Tent! The artists themselves who graduate with honours from the Barbados Community College and take part in Anime Kon promoting their wares have bare hell in getting corporate citizenry to come forward and support their ideas of local cartoons or Bajan super heroes and heroines, but let a wuk-up or a new Kadooment tune sail by and every big business is fighting each other to say they helped THAT?

This image while disturbing for some was not made in Manhattan or Manchester, it was made right here in Barbados - where is the respect and credit for such increasing talent? To arrive when they look to foreign shores for respect?

Look at Rivenis Black, a young Bajan Limey who crafts a comic book as clever & unusual as anyone from Britain or USA, yet to get this published locally may take more than what is required for the deposit on a small car! In order to succeed; he is forced into looking towards overseas publishers like owner-friendly Image Comics to seek recognition, should not home drums beat first?

Minister Lashley, I am not expecting Culture to sponsor every thing in sight willy-nilly, but how about if there are fund-raisers selected to cooperate with Invest Barbados and look to seek avenues of monies to support worthwhile ventures like a National Gallery or the Diasporic Art Productions, Anime Kon AND Empire Theatre??

Not a movie poster for the newest James Bond flick nor a Matrix sequel, merely a sample of the plentiful macabre vistas of the unexplored Rivenis Black!

Stephen, sir – if I may be so bold, I have seen you rise from station to station as a journalist at VOB to an active Credit Union partner to an MP and now a Cabinet Minister. Some folk would say such progress is not for every human being, but I feel EVERY person has a right to such success, and using Culture as means of advancing is a reward not Purgatory, I look forward to see your strides in making a Culture be seen not as a hobby as many older Barbadians feel, but Culture be seen as a purpose as many younger Barbadians know!

The cultural history of Barbados is in a crisis, as many will recall the characters used in Chinese to describe ‘Crisis‘ are danger and opportunity – for me? There is a danger if Barbados ignores Culture as an Opportunity!

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2 Responses

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  1. Impressive look at some wonderful Bajan artists! I am thrilled to see this, and yet, I share Ian’s disappointment at the apparent lack of support and exposure.
    While it is often true that a prophet has no honour in his own country, we should be supporting our own.
    We live in a giant global village and we are blessed with some top quality local talent that could be earning much-needed foreign exchange.
    Let’s not waste the opportunity!
    One another related note, I would like to know what is being done about and TO the old library building on Coleridge Street.
    We have lost Sam Lord’s Castle to years of neglect and now the final insult of fire. The Daphne Joseph Hackett Theatre in Queen’s Park is also in dire need of some loving care and renovation.
    How much more of our national heritage will we allow to die a slow and miserable death by neglect?

  2. Ian – you have all these excellent musicians ‘graduating’ and coming out of secondary schools and the Community Colleges…. and then what? There is no where for them to play there is no regular organized performances.

    there is not even – here in Barbados – where a bar or night club has once a week an OPEN MIKE where musicians, poets, whoever- can come and express themselves. I’m sure you know how an ‘open mike’ works ? ? ? – as I’ve seen it throughout the length and breadth of UK….

    1. a pub has open mike say every Saturday night, it begins at 8PM. there is a person – an ‘mc’ who is there. a person comes and says ‘I’m George and I play a trumpet and I’m going to play My Funny Valentine.’ It’s noted on the sheet. Other people come and list their name and activity.

    2. come 8PM the mc says ‘welcome everybody, etc. out first performer is Mary and she is going to sing XYZ and accompany herself on guitar….” and so the program goes.

    3. I wonder why a place like the Waterfront cannot put on an OPEN MIKE on Saturday nights? It’s baffling… what it would do – (a) give an outlet for entertainers. (b) the place (Waterfront) will have a program that’s offers something different other that the SAME OLE SAMMIE all the time. (c) – it costs the place NOTHING! ‘performers’ give their talent freely! ! ! !

    I just don’t get it…. see what you can do!


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