When I asked one of the last living scions of the Saint Lucian renaissance what he thought of the plan to temporarily relocate the National Culture Centre and the offices of the Cultural Development Foundation to make room for a so called temporary judicial complex, he winced.
Keeping his eyes closed, as if to block the idea from even taking hold in his mind, he said, almost too quietly for the tape recorder to pick up, “Sir John would be so disappointed.”
The recently elected UWP administration is fully engaged in transforming this sleepy island according to the vision of their political leader and Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet. His first budget painted a picture of the country very different to what we’ve become used to; no government support of the Saint Lucia National Trust, no Radio Saint Lucia, other public entities under scrutiny with an eye towards privatization, and now, the possibility of the 30-year old “short-term” home for the arts moved to another location.
Each of these moves has been opposed by a number of groups. A small number of vocal Saint Lucians howled their opposition to the defunding of the National Trust, accusing the Prime Minister of having less than Looshan sentiments in his heart. A more muted protest, mostly occurring in WhatsApp groups and on Facebook, met the decision to shutter RSL – even the union response was tepid.
A small group of determined creative arts practitioners, however, is determined to change the narrative when it comes to the proposed NCC move. After the plan was announced and initial objections raised, Minister of Culture Fortuna Belrose indicated that her Ministry would welcome consultation with the artistic community, should they choose to organize themselves and present their arguments in a cohesive manner.
Expecting to be represented by the Cultural Development Foundation, to which artists have paid dues for several years in the past, the community was taken aback by the Minister’s request. After a few meetings, they dutifully formed the Arts & Cultural Community Team (ACCT) to present their position to the authorities and engage in dialogue.
Much like the complaints about this administration’s other big decisions, artists feel shortchanged by their government. The ACCT doesn’t understand the rationale behind the proposed move, especially since they’ve been made to understand that this is yet another temporary accommodation for the arts. According to committee chair Caron Tobierre, “The community feels that there is absolutely no reason to move from the Barnard Hill site, which was promised to us by the same party that is currently in power. We have invested over 30 years at that place, waiting patiently for it to be transformed into its final form as a Centre for the Arts that the island can be proud of. It is vital for every city to have a spot for arts and culture, and this proposed move runs counter to the government’s stated desire to revitalize the city of Castries.”
To support their position, ACCT has undertaken a robust lobbying effort. Initial meetings with the CDF proved perplexing – the artists learned that the CDF did not feel it important to seek the opinion of the Bar Association or anybody else in the judicial arena about the move. Another surprising revelation was that the CDF seemed to have no idea of its role as a membership organization.
Effectively on their own, the plucky group sought to put together a case to stay at Barnard Hill. With the help of local architects and engineers, they estimated that establishing another temporary home at a location proposed by the government would cost taxpayers more than what it would cost to bring the Barnard Hill site up to an acceptable standard. Additionally, the proposed location suffers from significant engineering challenges posed by the proximity of a large, water-filled quarry-hole, which seems to get larger with every passing year.
The ACCT also questions the logic of disrupting two communities – artists and the legal fraternity – to achieve a temporary solution. They argue that it would be much more efficient to relocate the courts, and have identified and presented several sites to Minister Belrose which could house the courts comfortably until permanent accommodation is made.
For the Minister’s part, she welcomed the efforts of the ACCT, and said that their concerns would be presented to Cabinet, after which a decision would be made within the week. Having made the case to save their space, the artistic community now has naught to do but wait!