George Odlum, may he rest in peace, was never tired of reminding his inner circle that enlightened British citizens helped finance their writers, poets, and painters – those they regarded as dreamers, visionaries and thinkers. Odlum, who had himself taken politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, also enjoyed the British hospitality from a caring family. Economics would have taught him that arts, like luxury consumer items, were the first to be sacrificed in a struggling economy. That explains in part his shared focus on minimum wage earners as well as on the arts, during his brief sojourn amongst us. Notwithstanding those stricken with poverty, many citizens here still support the arts. How far such support extends may be the question deceased poet and Nobel laureate Derek Walcott loathed speculating.
The relative importance of the arts and artistic pursuit is a good place to anchor a discussion of that aspect of culture regardless of the state of the national economy. The debate ought also to be founded on the premise that dreamers, visionaries and thinkers also deserve a place in the pecking order of the society. Still, one ought to bear in mind the reluctance, resentment even, to artistic pursuit (except as income) for people who are challenged financially. In an environment of poverty, righteous indignation and emotional outbursts by some that are dedicated to the arts is not helpful.
When the Minister of National Security first mooted the idea that the present location of the Cultural Centre at Barnard Hill would do just fine as a temporary home for the justice system – courts and supporting offices – the knee-jerk reaction from some artists and patrons was immediate. So vehement was the push back that it sometimes reeked of partisan opposition politics.
A recent article in another newspaper by the Arts & Cultural Community Team (ACCT) sought to argue why the Cultural Centre should remain at its present location, and why the justice system would best be served by courts in central Castries. The article suggested that the alternative site which was offered by government at Union is unsuitable for a cultural complex, due to flooding. In addition, it pointed out that the suggested location is only 1.5 acres compared to the 4.5 acres currently enjoyed at Barnard Hill. For the sake of a more erudite discussion and to show that it has not completely arched its back against the government’s proposal, ACCT suggested ways in which its ideas were to be financed. Such an approach is a welcome breath of fresh air as too often people make demands for their cause without consideration of cost to the taxpayer – and the government.
Such a reasonable approach ought to be met with equally visionary thinking that seeks to examine alternative sites for both the Ministry of Justice and an appropriate home for the arts. Besides, it is the considered view of this writer that proposals and counter proposals for these important institutions ought to be examined with the development and re-engineering of Castries and its environs in mind. For example, why not take another look at the area overlooking Massy Mega at Choc or, the hilltop overlooking Point Seraphine and the Castries harbour or the area between the lower ends of Cornell Charles residence (opposite the entrance to St James Hotel) towards Grand Riviere, near lands belonging to Elwin Marcelin, among other sites. If we try we will discover more than 4.5 acres of land for a cultural centre with a more pastoral, panoramic view. Using our collective imaginations without prejudice will result in a location not previously dreamt of.
The suggestion for a Hall of Justice is also a fascinating one. Surely, even ACCT detractors will admit that some thought went into their proposals. It would have served an even better purpose had ACCT suggested a suitable design for new halls of justice whilst further refining the business model proposed for financing it. Frankly, there is no need for a government that complains of the lack of funds to undertake of its own accord any fancy building construction, at this time. A private sector initiative along with shared ownership with the general public, plus government guarantees and tax concessions similar to that given to hotels, is an idea worth pursuing.
In that regard, a new seven storey court in its present location (at least three floors devoted to parking), and linked by a suitable overhead walkway (over Laborie Street) to a new five storey building (also for the justice system), on the site of the former Ministry of Education building at the corner of Laborie and Micoud Streets, is suggested. The proposed structure would ignite more imaginative discussion and possible support if some idea of its design was offered to further boost ACCT’s argument. Justice may well have been better served.
In these discussions one prays that common sense will prevail and that the relevant arm of the government would engage the public (and ACCT) in a civilized dialogue on the way forward. There must be a place for debate regarding plans for the re-development of Castries. Hopefully, the Cultural Centre and courts will form part of that grand vision. The dream of a new and more functional capital city must be at the core of the debate. The idea of a new and modern Castries has been in the air for at least thirty years. It’s time for that idea to catch fire – or is this a wrong metaphor in this instance?
In the high emotional discharges of the early 1980s someone had ranted on a public platform that the dysfunctional city with its odious smell should have been burnt to the ground. In its place a new and more beautiful Jerusalem should later rise from the ashes. King Solomon and his creative masons would have been proud of the new Castries. But no one listened!
The population of Castries has since doubled and the number of homes without toilet facilities is a burning shame to conscientious citizens. Now we must finally bite the bullet even as we discuss a new and better Cultural Centre and more suitable courts to serve the public, magistrates, judges and the legal arm of the government.
Next week I shall offer a dreamer’s vision of a futuristic Castries with the courts and a Cultural Centre forming two iconic architectural points within it, keeping their present locations. I shall also present two alternative sites and ideas for design of the Cultural Centre and the courts making certain that both are within reach of the citizens of Castries and Saint Lucia. Hopefully, these ideas should add sufficient seasoning to the pot of alternative visions by those who are free to use their God-given imagination with excellence in mind.