Cabinet has approved an arrangement between the Urban Development Corporation (UDECOTT) and the Government of Cuba, which has offered to send specialists at a reasonable cost to help restore Mille Fleurs, the Prime Minister said at the opening reception for the First Citizens Bank (FCB) 25th-anniversary art exhibition,The Art of Banking.
Mille Fleurs, one of the once-Magnificent Seven buildings on Maraval Road, is in extremely poor repair and will cost many millions of dollars to restore.
The reception was held on December 6 at another of the seven, Castle Killarney (Stollmeyer’s Castle), which is owned and was recently restored by the State.
Rowley attended the reception of the indigenous bank’s exhibition with his wife Sharon, and ministers Dr Nyan Gadsy-Dolly and Paula Gopee-Scoon.
He said, “We are currently engaged in completing the restoration of Whitehall and maybe sometime in the early part of next year, the first half of next year, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) will return (there).
But we intend to operate in a way that we will be open to the public, in such a way, that it will not just be the OPM but it will be the office of the people of TT.”
The OPM is currently housed on St Clair Avenue, in a building originally designed to house the Ministry of Information.
He added that by the time the People’s National Movement (PNM)-led Government left office, the restoration of TT’s “legacy buildings” like Whitehall, Mille Fleurs and President’s House would be completed.
On the use of Stollmeyer’s Castle, he said, “We meet in a building which in itself represents so much about us as a people. Recently, we saw some effort to restart some involvement of the current generation in the cocoa industry.”
Some of the Magnificent Seven were built in the early 20th century with profits from the cocoa industry. Rowley said the building represented the period of TT’s existence “when the cocoa industry, cocoa business was the lifeblood of TT.”
Emphasising the importance of local art and heritage, he said, “We have recently invested significant sums of monies to preserve what is not just an ordinary building but an emblem of art and representation of our heritage.” He added that what TT invests in ensuring that these buildings are available for the next generation is “the saving of our soul.”
Rowley said he remembered when the Government bought a collection of paintings by the 19th-century local artist Michel-Jean Cazabon “and brought them home to TT, many persons were shocked and others thought that was a bad idea.” He said, however, this could never be “a bad idea to acknowledge who you are, where you’ve been and what is your place in society.”
He said the building was being used that evening in a way that the Government “contemplated that it could be used” on an ongoing basis, and that “artists, corporate bodies, private citizens, whoever, wanting to properly use this building, can share, with the national community and the world, the treasures of the people of TT.”
The bank has 50 of its pieces on display until December 13 at Castle Killarney. Rowley applauded First Citizens for displaying its collection. He said other corporate bodies had art collections and he encouraged them to follow FCB.
He told them to choose the time “because we have the space and the place to show off what they have collected so that our children, many of whom are growing up well certificated but poorly educated, can come to a place like this, and the moment they will understand who they are, where we have been and where we can go.”
He also called on other corporate citizens to support artists.
FCB’s CEO Karen Darbasie also addressed the audience, saying, “As part of our 25th-anniversary celebrations, we are providing, for the first time, a rare view of our private art collection. We have included winning material from our 25th-anniversary staff art competition, and in keeping with our commitment to the development of emerging artistic talent, we have also provided exposure for the work of students of the department of Creative and Festival Arts at the University of the West Indies, twinning our initiatives on youth development with support of our art forms.”
The Garden Club of Trinidad also launched its 2019 publication, Gardening in TT.