ELIZABETH GONZALES AND COREY CONNELLY
Several members of Tobago’s cultural fraternity have welcomed the appointment of Dr Suzanne Burke as the new chairman of the Tobago Festivals Commission. Burke, a lecturer in cultural studies at UWI, St Augustine, along with six other members, received their instruments of appointment on Monday, at a simple ceremony at the Division of Culture, Tourism and Transportation, Sangster's Hill, Scarborough.
Burke replaces George Leacock, who chaired the commission for almost three years.
Despite speculation in some quarters that Leacock was sacked, Culture Secretary Nadine Stewart-Phillips said the term of the board actually expired earlier this year.
In a Whatsapp response to a Newsday Tobago question, Stewart-Phillips said: "The board of the Tobago Festivals Commission ended on January 3."
Stewart-Phillips gave no further comment.
Penelope Williams was appointed deputy chairman and other members of the board include directors Verleen Bobb-Lewis; Shane Andrews; Anthony Arnold; Laurel Broomes-Rogers; Kieron McDougall and secretary to the board Cherish Trotman-O'Neil. Its ex-officio members are Glenda Rose-Layne and Louis Lewis, CEO of the Tobago Tourism Agency.
The appointment of the new board came amid concerns about the declining standard of the Tobago Heritage Festival, which ends today with a stage show and street procession from Pigeon Point. The heritage festival is Tobago's signature cultural event.
Since the launch of the festival at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex on July 12, several of the island's cultural activists have been complaining about the poor quality of some of the presentations.
The commission is charged with the responsibility for planning, co-ordinating and implementing Tobago's tourism and cultural festivals and other events within the ambit of the division.
Ainsley King, president of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) Tobago division, said he was pleased to see Leacock gone.
“I find this thing took long," he said, before adding, "I am not rejoicing."
TUCO Tobago clashed with Leacock repeatedly, with one matter this year even reaching the courtroom.
King told Newsday he felt Leacock "didn’t have the people at heart and he didn’t have the right practices at heart neither."
But, he added, "I also hope everything work out for George at the end.”
Cultural activist Elvis Radgman said Leacock’s exit was a relief to stakeholders.
“The cultural fraternity is deeply relieved and excited that we have a new direction and we are looking towards a new management style in regard to the cultural artform of Tobago."
He complained that the leadership style of Leacock was dictatorial.
"We are very excited that that is no more.
"We look towards the future in regard to a new strategic direction and oversight, also a new relationship and collaboration with the stakeholders, villagers and with the wider Tobago public. We hope to see the creative minds brought together to make sure our product continues to grow and not regress, as we have been doing.”
He recommended a review of the state of culture and festivals on the island as the first focus of the new board.
“We need to look at the grassroots of the villages, where culture truly lives. We need to look very hard and see what kind of support and what creativity we need to bring to the game. We have been doing activity for quite some time that we need to look at very strongly. We need to give some of these activities some time to breathe and grow before we put them on the world stage. We need to do an assessment to determine what we need to fix and how we need to fix it.”
Chairman of Pan Trinbago's Tobago division Salisha James said their relationship with Leacock was “workable” and expects "a good growing relationship with them (the new board) all for the development of steelpan in Tobago.”
A release by the culture division said the new board represented a wide spectrum of culture, the arts, history, finance and accounting, marketing, events management, law, music, business and administration.
During the installation ceremony,Stewart-Phillips thanked each member for agreeing to serve the people of Tobago and reiterated their fiduciary responsibility while stressing the need for good corporate governance.