At that price we expect nothing but the best…

By Raffique Shah
November 15, 2009

Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

IT’S most columnists’ nightmare, having to return to a topic he or she will have dealt with recently. It gets worse when the target is a politician, matters not what side of the divide he or she is on. They never look into their mirrors and wonder why writers focus on them. They conclude you are against them, that you support their enemies, hence your criticisms.

But, as I learned early in my many years of writing opinion pieces, you write and be damned; if you fail to address burning issues, readers conclude you are on somebody’s payroll. There are so many important matters I wish to address, to have my fellow citizens focus on. Sadly, because of the insensitivity of our politicians, I have to forego serious issues and zero my computer on Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

Last week, amidst much fanfare, the $500 million Performing Arts Centre was officially opened. Based on images I saw in the media of both the interior and exterior of this edifice, clearly it’s a work of art. The PM claimed it is superior to the Sydney Opera House and better than many similar facilities elsewhere in the developed world.

I cannot challenge him on that statement since I have never been to any of these exclusive concert halls. Indeed, I may never sit on the inside of ours-even though as a taxpayer, I think I own at least quarter-of-a-tile somewhere near the toilets. Still, what did we expect to get for $500 million? A cowshed? A North Stand with velvet chairs?

At that price we expect nothing but the best. With seating accommodation in the main auditorium restricted to 1,500, and with all the supporting facilities outlined, we are talking about a structure that cost close to $10,000 per square foot. So why are these ungrateful sods-on-the-street griping about a showpiece edifice, something we should all be proud of?

Isn’t it ironical that even as the Centre was formally opened, promoters of our culture and members of the steelband and mas fraternity are wondering where different aspects of next year’s Carnival will be hosted? We boast about our Carnival being the ‘greatest show on earth’. The PM is among those who bask in the glow of our musical talents, pan being the centrepiece, with calypso, chutney, a variety of dances and mas making us a multi-cultural showcase.

Do any of these art art forms have a place at the $500 million Centre? No, they don’t. That centre is ideally suited for operatic performances, for concerts by groups like the Marionettes Chorale, for intimate musical performances or high-end steelband concerts.

How many of these do we have? If there are more than 30 in a year I’d be surprised. Theatre in Trinidad is limited to small audiences, as playwright/actor Raymond Choo Kong pointed out. Opera-type performances are fewer, with audiences that can easily be accommodated at Queen’s Hall, a short walk from the Centre.

In other words, Mr Manning and his government built an arts centre that is wholly unsuited to our culture! Ours is a ‘jump and wine’ society. People attend shows, be they pan performances or soca and reggae concerts when they can ‘play themselves’. At any of these chutney or soca shows, audiences do not sit quietly in their seats and politely applaud. Our audiences are very much part of the performances. Indeed, at times members of the audience outperform the artistes on stage.

That is the stark reality of our culture. We cannot escape it by funding and foisting on them Divine Echoes. We would be fools to think we can get Trinis to sit quietly and listen to Iwer George or Machel Montano. Even when relatively laid-back artistes like David Rudder or Mungal Patasar or Relator perform, our people want to ‘roll dat bum bum’, as Shadow sang.

So what Mr Manning spent so much of our time and money to deliver, while it looks impressive, has no place in real Trini-culture. With mere weeks to go before Carnival fetes descend on us (forget Christmas-that gone already!), tens of thousands who cannot wait for the real national festival have no idea where they would be doing what they love best: jamming, waving flags and rags.

Common sense would have guided a good government to consult with stakeholders and construct a proper Carnival Centre as a priority, especially after the Savannah facilities were demolished. I should add that as someone involved in sports, I fully support the exclusion of huge Carnival or other cultural events from our major stadiums. My friends in the culture-circle fail to understand that the track and field season starts in January, and they cannot deny our athletes, who bring glory to their country, the only training and racing facilities they have.

I agree with Mr Manning’s suggestion that these promoters be given (for free!) a part of the Savannah to host their monster-parties. But that does not excuse the folly of a government that would construct a glass-and-velvet-elephant at a humungous price-tab, while ignoring the needs of our artistes and cultural ambassadors.

That is rank stupidity-nothing more, nothing less.

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14 thoughts on “At that price we expect nothing but the best…”

  1. This is Shah at his best. It reminds me of the days when he coined the phrase horses before houses when the PNM was building the Caroni racing complex among a massive housing shortage. What Shah has done is to show up the opposition also, why didn’t put this new cultural centre into this same context?

  2. I maintain, this Arts Center is another monument to corruption. The building itself might seem impressive to many but the stark reality is that there are serious allegations of corruption surrounding this half a billion dollar expenditure which represents another massive foreign imposition as the pinnacle of our cultural heritage.

    I am not opposed to foreign inputs to our culture, but if we are to showcase what is ours, should our performing arts center not reflect our creativity with ideas on design and construction coming from our local artists and builders? Sure, we could have had some foreign input to assist in the supply and transfer of technology, but if this project was created by ‘our people’ and without the stench of corruption it would have represented so much more.

    We speak about the youth who mostly listen to foreign music; we talk about buying local and we are witnessing Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival costumes that are for the most part manufactured abroad. The government has now added to this culture of foreign importation by erecting this foreign structure as Trinidad and Tobago‘s Performing Arts Centre. It is not surprising, therefore, that this building is out of touch with the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, and other than being another structure for our vainglorious Prime Minister to show-off to other Commonwealth nations at CHOGM, it represents his contempt for our local culture and his dream of our further Europeanization.

    If only he could have gotten the jet he wanted to add to this grand ‘show’.

  3. One from four ain’t that bad,it fair to say. Say no to the Federation because of Doctor Williams 1 from 10 = 0 , new maths. Scrapping of the Horse Racing extravaganza over Central housing needs because Uncle Shah said so. CCJ remains in the doldrums on the verge of death because Mr. Panday remain’s fixated with the Privy Council, and local judges are buried in loots while working at it’s Trini Head Quarters. THE 500 Million Cultural Center is about to be launch because the PM wants it., and like his mentor once said, “when I speak , do darm dog bark.”
    By the way , who placed the nail in the coffin of our ‘ Better Village again?
    Sing Merchant.
    “Barataria Sweet, but Mon Diablo Sweeter.
    They were the hardest, badest.Mon Diablo , how you sweet so. When dey hit the stage , the crowd went wild in uproar,they keep jumping up for more . Mon Diablo , how you sweet so…”

  4. If Dr. Tim Goopee can cry ETHNIC CLEANSING…. because only 85%..
    How come I can’t get no info on any AFRIC(K)AN contractors involved in these massive ventures?
    Pretty sure Ramotarsing, Goopeesing and Singsingh are getting more than their fair share of the PNM Development Corp.
    It really does not matter if foreign companies or Indian Trini companies are having a feast…. None of their crumbs will trickles into ‘OUR PEOPLE’S’ communities anyway.

  5. All fair points. But one thing that I think get’s lost in the whole debate is that a really big chunck of the facility is classrooms and school facilities, right? I for one find that tough to argue with from a development persepctive…

    The problem is the all the figureheads want to bask themselves in the glow of a shiny new theater rather than talk about the educational benefits of the whole thing.

    While I am the farthest thing from a “Performing Artist”, I studied abroad and had first class facilities at my disposal… I think having a facility like this would have really affected my decision to go to school at UTT given the right circumstances.

    Bottom line… remains to be figured out in my opinion.

  6. Kind of reminds you Roger of the Right Wing/ Conservative nuts in big brother America ,and parts of Europe eh? They love to obsess and lament about evil big government , the flaws of liberalism,and the importance of self reliance and private initiatives. In the mean times all their billionaire government related projects are made with the help of powerful lobbyist operatives. Of course, at the people’s expense of the people.
    You know part of the subtle underlying cries in our neck of the wood is due to the greed of the ‘dog with a bone,’ ‘me, me’, selfish crowd, that believes they are due some special entitlement, as well as the notion that political power serves as a useful conduit to self aggrandizement.
    Can someone please inform them , we the socially conscious are on to them. If they decide to push a progressive , all inclusive agenda, we’ll have their backs, but otherwise…?

  7. The PM is totally correct in his agenda to construct the Performing Arts center at a time when renowned economists were unable to predict the worldwide economic recession. The economy of T&T was humming and a project of this nature was affordable. The government’s policy of forging ahead with a variety of programs simultaneously, for example, improvements to the water and electricity supply, as well as other construction projects, seemed reasonable. Many are confusing the feasibility and desirability of these projects with the alleged corruption surrounding Udecott and the construction of these buildings. These are two separate issues.
    Others are validly criticizing the external design as being “foreign”. Maybe the government could have solicited more input from local sources.
    However, to suggest that this building is inappropriate for “we Culture” is outrageous. What is being ignored here is the fact that the building is also a training institute with classrooms and other learning and teaching facilities. We are more than a “jump and wine’ society as suggested by Shah. The PM is also correct in suggesting that carnival venues for fetes will be separate locations. There is a place for jumping and wining, and there is a place for more sophisticated artistic expressions. Furthermore, there is a market and a need for the types of artistic performances for which the Center is available.
    Raffique Shah’s “put down” of the people of T&T as lovers of “jamming, whining and flag waving ONLY seem to be more a reflection of his own tastes than the cultural needs of all the people.

  8. I hope our neo-classic Swan Lake & Luciano Pavaratti lovers , are not suggesting that the only thing we bump, whine ,and jam to in sweet T&T is decadent Afro centric Carnival music , or Yankee millionaire Rap singers , and Jamaican classless Dance hall artist.
    I just wish they did not get rid of my Best Village Competition , but then ‘the price of progress is high,” eh?

  9. Everything in society is so political that in some strange way it seems almost logical that an “Arts Center” designed specifically for the use of everyone besides Trinibagonians makes sense. Let us think about this. We would have arguments about who is getting the most use out of the center, and why? Speculation across the board would be the norm and hate surfacing around various holidays.
    I am not claiming that this “Arts Center” is surviving any real public purpose. However, it is clear that Trinibagonians (left holding the tab) will be under served by the erection of this gift to society as a whole.
    It is unclear as to who will be served best by this building. Then again, if you are just a normal citizen without much expendable income looking to get the most bang for his/her bucks, you will probably skip on a stuffy evening at an overpriced event suited for funerals of the deceased musicians whose music will be performed.
    Seriously, the last I checked Mr. Prime Minister, Port Of Spain and Sydney are two completely different cities.
    We have European independence and yet our Prime Minister looks to Eurocentric nations for solutions to our problems.
    What did I expect after the results of all of the frivolous spending last year? It is life as usual in a place where the needs of the people are purposely and continuously overlooked for the welfare of a few.

  10. I agree with you Curtis that we should finally remove the shackles of neo- colonialism and fixation on the myopic view that Caucasians and similar noble foreign entities possess the end all solutions for all of our social problems.
    Can we therefore look forward to following Guyanese and Bajan’s lead and get rid of the useless Privy Council as our final court of appeal especially since Panday and Manning are drinking buddies again ?
    In this new found bipartisan spirit Curtis, I concur with your progressive way of thinking.
    I too say away with these London Scotland Yard blokes that are drawing exorbitant salaries under false pretenses , and as correctly indicated via the opinion pages in the press ,are merely ‘stinking up the joint’- since the kidnapping rates has not abated , and moral of the hardest working and most honest police in the Caribbean is so low it is about to touch the ground.
    Thank God our country did not accept for the COP job the Gulliani Mafia thug/criminal , and high school educated dunce in former NYC Commissioner Kerick ,like the clownish Berbice crew, for look what that got them in that mash land dung heap led by the closet Marxist and President for life. They are burning 16 year old alive as a form of interrogation , and it’s just another day in that racially tolerant, economic paradise.
    Can you imagine this occurring in our country, and the UN Security Council not get involved, as 500, 000 people daily march from Sando to Arima and threaten to burn down every police station in sight?
    Extend for us Curtis, deepest apologies to Canadian Major -General Cameron Ross the esteem Security consultant , and perhaps your neighbor . Rumor has it is that his 275 crime plan recommendations -including restructuring of our exalted Ministry of National Security – might be heading for the shredder. We only dealing with locals personnel and ideas from now on,thanks to a new found nationalistic spirit.
    That goes to these so call great Chinese construction workers and foreign engineering consultants. Need we remind these fools Curtis , that the PM’s old Alma Mata UWI St. Agustine is also home of the region’s only Engineering faculty?
    Nation building is not such a mammoth task after all, eh Curtis?
    I do not know about you, but I do not need any more convincing that our country is the greatest on earth. As Funny said, “…when ah dead just bury me in the center of the city.”
    You know who he is , don’t you? He is one of the 100 or more kaisonians that would be performing in our recently opened, expensive Cultural center for the benefit of thousands over the carnival. Next year the PM banning decree would take effect.

  11. It is evident that when this so called “academy for the performing arts… Read more” whatever that means, was envisioned, the relevant stakeholders were not fully involved, no one, well except Iwer, knows how this facility would be managed and what it would really be used for, maybe Opera and Ballet along with the PM’s Philharmonic Orchestra.
    Daily we hear the defenders of this government saying that the facility is great, but what is great really. Maybe the greatness comes from the fact that this building has beaten the competitors in the race to spend our resources, the other competitors like water, roads, health care, community centres, food security, traffic congestion etc, has lost in their bid to get ah piece ah d pie.
    Basic economics tells us that for every use of our scarce resources, there are opportunity costs. The opportunity costs of this govnt’s squander on grandiose projects, which are merely massagers of the ego, are those outlined above as the losers in the race for our resources.

  12. A few years ago , an excellent modern, and one would guess extremely expensive Central library was opened in POS Trinidad much to the delight of many. We were treated to the most interesting news the next day that security had to come out in full force to create order after dozens of kids were involved in a serious melee, as they tried to either enter the facility so as to enjoy it’s contents. Many of us that daily traverse this forum and take a library visit for granted ,considered this as the typical callous and barbaric behaviors performed by the common, and desperate underclass from areas such as Caranage, Nelson Street, John John,Never Dirty Movant, and St. Babbs Gonzales Belmont .
    In addition most I am certain, a few thought to themselves perhaps correctly that the kids from Federation Park, Westmoorings, or Abu Bakr Maraval neighbors would never resort to such guerrilla tactics to use a computer or get access to a book, and there is an obvious reason why .
    I hate to get worked up Marlon like some on issues of this great magnitude involving the state and spending, especially when the horse is out of the gates / stable , ran the race ,and is about to do a victory lap.
    I wish someone or a few would have thought it wise to speak forcefully of governmental waste and non-prioritization when this and similar projects were in their embryonic stage. If the will is there to stop any government in their tracks on an issue , project, or policy, precedent showed that it can be done.
    It is very unfortunate however that the politics of hate , divisiveness, and distraction is so prevalent in this our wonderful country that often the end result leaves us crying ‘crocodile tears,’ long after it is too late. I stand corrected.

  13. Neal is correct about the age old tactic that is still being used on the citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago which is to conquer and divide. There has been all of this news about various groups being attacked, deprived, and somehow mistreated by other groups when it is actually the government attacking the people where it matters. As costs increase wages remain stagnant, and inflation rampant, the government makes sure that it realizes ideas behind the fog of concocted social issues until the point of no return has been reached.
    We waste energy on deciding if Cricket gets the proper recognition because the team is more diverse than the football team. We waste energy on deciding if Indian Doctors are getting the short end of the stick at hospitals along with other social non-issues. These distraction stories are a way for the government to spend all of our money on what we “common people” cannot enjoy. They obviously feel that we are too ignorant to appreciate remnants of British/ European High Society. Our governments officials fail to realize that if we aren’t “civilized to appreciate “such fine things,” then it is because of at least two reasons. The first one of them would be obvious and that is because we aren’t European nor do we want to be Europeans. Second would be because the government failed to provide us with the proper resources to be educated in a manner that is parallel to European standards mainly because the government was too busy buying cares, funding unnecessary construction projects and pandering to Massa!
    Neal we have voiced our discontent almost every week over the past year or so in regards this lame government and its terrible decisions. It is obvious that they do not represent the people. This last construction project says it all. It is for all except the common Trinibagonian.
    If we do not remember this during the next election, then it is our fault. If we do not hear, then we will feel.

  14. So correct Curtis, however let me hasten to again add that to wait for the next election so as to become a factor, is another prime example of closing the stable when the horse has already bolted.
    Due in part to his mastery with words,Thomas Jefferson -even with all his flaws -is perhaps today considered as one of the most beloved past founding fathers for vast amount of people in big brother USA.
    He once said that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Of course , that did not apply to the African slaves that help build that great country to what it is today with little or no gratitude by racist white privileged, and desperate succeeding choice groups that filled the void once slavery allegedly ended.
    We in developing countries are fortunate to have these and other lessons by the more advanced states as to how they were able to grapple with social and political developmental problems and so help transform their nation ladened with typical bumbling , mistakes laden , trial and error approaches, to what they are presently- the envy of many, and the model we too should emulate.
    The prudent thing is to learn from their mistakes , and capitalize on successes where applicable. As a first step, how about respect and tolerance for each other , especially where differences exist.
    Secondly ,encouraging our leaders and people never to ‘ hang their hats where they have to take stick to reach it.’
    Finally, develop a fuller understanding of what is meant by the ‘national interest,’ as exemplified by big brother through the centuries, so that in all our endeavors we practice the art of always putting Trinidad and Tobago first , and defend it to the hilt irrespective of it’s numerous problems.
    I stand corrected, for who said that nation building would be an easy task?
    Keep the faith my friend.

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