NOBLE DOUGLAS, dancer and choreographer, has spent 45 years training TT’s children. For people like Diane Dumas, Douglas’ friend and associate over the 45 years, it is easy to host a benefit concert for her to raise funds for her medical bills. A Noble Cause will be held on May 18 at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.
But this also raises a deeper and constant issue in TT, the care of cultural icons, particularly in their latter years.
The answer was the same among most of the people Newsday spoke with: TT has not done enough for its cultural icons and more was needed. While some might think money is the answer, people like actor and musician Wendell Manwarren and Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation’s (Tuco) president Lutalo Masimba believe a foundation and a national cultural policy are what’s needed.
Manwarren is putting the benefit concert together. He said in a phone interview, “This is not a new problem. Even the greatest of our people have suffered that fate of reaching to the end of their days and needing assistance.
“I speak pointedly of Grandmaster Kitchener and Lord Shorty. I always say if those people, one who was dominant in calypso and one who made a whole new form of music, didn’t get that respect they deserve, then who is we?”
He thinks it is time TT addresses the matter and “we place a higher value on the people who contribute to the cultural life of the space.”
He added, “One of the things we have always been requesting is some sort of a body, like an arts council or something and a policy. Right now, there is no real policy. As it is, everyone sort of approaches the ministry cap in hand for a handout, and I don’t think that is the way we should approach things at all.
“I think the ministry has a bigger role to play in terms of policy and administration and guidelines and funding. Then there should be several agencies that deal with the various needs of the creative community that help to foster a stronger sector. Not just a handout society.”
The work of people like Douglas- training children through her Lilliput Children’s Theatre for 45 years- TT could not really put a value on, Manwarren said.
Masimba’s answer was the same when asked if TT had done or is doing enough for its cultural icons. “No.” But for him, it was not only the Government but all of TT that should give assistance to TT’s cultural icons. He added that TT should have some way to support the artists especially in their latter years.
When asked about topinion that some might hold, that artists should care for themselves, Masimba said, “People would have that opinion and people are entitled to their opinion but we live in a society where, for instance, recording artists don’t have the opportunity to make any money off of their recording because there is piracy which is open and accepted as part of the norm, where it is music pirates on street corners with their carts or piracy in cyberspace.
What do you tell an artist who is recording, don’t record because you won’t make any money. Go into construction.”
TT, he added, has not really established the framework nor facility to consider the arts in the context of industry.
“We have failed to do so as a society and these are the things that would affect the artist in a serious kind of way, more than people in other fields of endeavour where things are in place for them. The average person who is making that comment would not see these things,” he said.
Masimba said there is need for the national cultural policy to be established. “It has been years now the Government has been working on bringing forward the national cultural policy...The same way there is a sporting policy, there should be a national cultural policy that impacts on the cultural arts.”
TT also needs to have a foundation for the arts, whereby artists can receive support even in their creative years.
Asked about a fund Tuco was working on establishing, Masimba said it was a convalescent home in conjunction with the Government. This, he said, would have been a facility where artists in their twilight years or those recovering from medical situations would have a place to be taken care of, in comfort.
But, at this point in time, he did not know of the status of that project. The last he heard of it, was about five years ago, as a line item under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) in the national budget with an allocation for preliminary work to start.
Dumas said herself and a committee decided to host the benefit concert to raise funds for Douglas because of the challenge she (Douglas) had with meeting the cost of the operation for surgery to her back.
“She had to have major back surgery. It is quite a costly exercise and aftercare that has to happen. She has to have further surgery. That is why the people who work with her and know her contribution decided to have the concert which would help finance these costs,” Dumas said.
She too believes that more should be done for people like Douglas who has aided TT’s cultural growth. “In Noble’s case we consider she has made a huge contribution to the development of youth in this country. It has been 45 years she has been dedicating her life to youth through culture,” she said.
“When you consider this person is doing this for 45 years, what we should do as a people, in Japan these have people they consider very special, they call them National Treasures.
“They put structures and financing around these people to make sure they don’t have to struggle to get medical, to get a mortgage or even get a driver now that you can’t move around yourself...we have seen the way in which Beryl McBurnie went ignobly, her house was broken down. We just saw Molly Ayhe, who died recently, it was very low-keyed affair. The newspaper said nobody from the Government was in attendance. It might not have been crucial but it would have signalled to our population that these people are important to us,” she said.
When contacted Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, the minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts said the country, in general, appreciates the service of all the people that give their best and engage in public service.
“Of course, the people in the creative arts are such people and there are many others who would have served in such areas. The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts in some cases has been able, in its iterations over the years, to assist where possible, where benefit concerts are being held and where funds are needed for emergencies,” she said.
The ministry, she said, considers these on a case by case basis. Gasdby-Dolly said she saw a request come onto her desk for her presence at the benefit concert for Douglas.