Housing and Urban Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis says the Highlander Pan Theatre and Learning Centre is a significant addition to the community of Laventille.
She made these remarks at its opening on Friday, located on the Eastern Main Road in Laventille. In her address, Robinson-Regis expressed pride in what the government has been doing for the pan fraternity, saying the government has invested over $13m in East Port of Spain.
She said the government's commitment to continuing the construction of pan theatres is to ensure the steelpan is treated with the respect it deserves. Robinson-Regis said the commemoration of the opening is evidence of the contract of trust developed by the people of Laventille, Pantrinbago and the government. Robinson-Regis said no other administration has done as much for the steelpan movement and industry as the current government.
She emphasised that East Port of Spain is the nation's heartbeat and called on the country to take note of the government's actions, saying, "With this new pan theatre and learning centre, we are nurturing one of our greatest assets, our rich cultural heritage in the birthplace of the steelpan, Laventille."
She viewed the celebration as more than the opening of a pan theatre, stressing that the steelpan plays an important role in revitalising communities.
"When future generations continue to capture the story of the steelpan, they must be able to acknowledge that we, the present custodians of this national treasure, did ample justice to the genius of its pioneer."
Robinson-Regis said the government is on a journey to rejuvenate the souls of the communities – which are the panyards – places where music and camaraderie intertwine.
"To the people of these communities through the Pan Up programme, let it be known we are steadfast in our commitment to preserving the rich cultural legacy that reverberates through the steelpan from Laventille to the world."
Robinson Regis called for the centre to be more than just a storage room for steelpan, urging it to be a business hub and a tool for the growth of young people.
The manager of the Highlander Steel Orchestra, Robert Hernandez, in his address, called the theatre a safe space in the community, emphasising its role in saving lives and being much more than just a space for pan.
He said it is a place seeking to unify the surrounding communities, asserting, "Steelpan is the business of people. We are about making a home and a space that is about taking young people and giving them focus."
He highlighted the importance of the centre in addressing the needs of the young people in the Morvant Laventille community, some of whom he said do not leave their areas due to warring gangs, saying the theatre aims to be a guiding place that builds bridges in the greater Laventille area through music.
"When youths come into a pan yard, they tend to leave all their baggage at the door. There is a harmony, a love, a synergy that exists in the pan yard."
Hernandez reiterated the Highlander team's commitment to the space as a learning facility. He reminded guests that the newly opened theatre was an abandoned gas station that had been vacant for 25 years. He dedicated the centre to the late Bertie Marshall, a pioneer and innovator.
Guests were serenaded by the sounds of Len "Boogsie" Sharpe and the North West Laventille Cultural Movement.