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Luminaries express cautious optimism about Academy for Performing Arts

By Terry Joseph
August 27, 2006

Lifted from a distinctly different context, the premise of Macbeth's first soliloquy: "If it were done, then when its done, 'twere well it were done quickly," largely sums up views articulated by three artistic luminaries about Government's pledge of an Academy for the Performing Arts, although plaudits were accompanied by varying degrees of apprehension.

This combination of approval and anxiety is not unreasonable, as announcement of the Academy, which falls under the aegis of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), surprised the arts community, given its primary mission outlined by then Tertiary Education Minister Colm Imbert in July 2004, to offer degree courses in all areas of energy-based process operations.

Earlier this month, his successor Mustapha Abdul-Hamid announced the facility will additionally offer opportunities for students wishing to read for degrees in a variety of indigenous festival arts, a statement swiftly embraced by that community.

In admitting the academy was something long wished for, world-renowned sitarist Mungal Patasar had been advocating such a step since his return from studying at the Benares Hindu University (BHU). "I have been begging for something like this since 1990," Patasar said. "What I experienced in India, seemed tailor-made for us and I often wondered why none of the persons with whom I spoke on this issue seemed interested.

"At BHU, Government assisted financially in creating an environment in which students could obtain or enhance education in the arts, from learning music to post-graduate work that may be more involved with ancillaries like marketing and other aspects of business or technology-oriented support systems for the arts. To my mind, it is a positive step toward the future that I would like to see for my country.

"My concern, though, has to do with the way in which we implement this process, given our history of making grand announcements about projects related to the arts and later adjusting and modifying the first position to deliver something well below what we were led to expect. I certainly hope Government recognises the importance of this academy and applies its best resources to making it happen in a fashion that will vindicate my anxiety," Patasar said.

Master artist Leroy Clarke, whose umbrella response described the move as "very positive," also had a tandem fear: "No part of that proposal can afford to be approached with 'mamaguy'," Clarke said.

"The proposal has to be serious and it will not be unless they consult the substantial artists. Lack of attention to aesthetics is the root of all of our social problems, including the inordinate and depthless manner in which we play around with our resources -natural or otherwise.

"Part of my relief regarding the Academy for the Performing Arts is that the parent institution, the UTT is headed by Professor Ken Julien who, although celebrated for his engineering intelligence has, together with his wife, acquired what is probably this country's biggest private art collection. Prof Julien has always been a patron of the arts, so his presence at the top gives me a lot of hope," Clarke said.

Musician, painter and director of the Carnival Institute, Pat Bishop was most cautious. "If it works it will be wonderful but God knows we've had so many disappointments. For all my life, we've been out in the cold, so the Academy looks like the tiniest little window of opportunity, a glimmer of hope that perhaps the country will eventually find its deserved place," Bishop said.

"I believe our future lies in these things. We'll have to learn all the high technology but I don't believe they could be ends in themselves. Creative intelligence is the area at which we should be looking more intently, so these lovely plans comprise the best news we've had since independence, which is really located in the culture of a people.

"Our watchwords did not get to the heart of the matter, the life-ways of our people, their body language and overall ability to be respectful of other people. Using a hideous and mean-spirited word like 'tolerance' tells us that.

"Until everyone could feel good about themselves we don't have a prayer and it is in performance art, a distillation of our conduct, that we may begin to see where something can happen for us.

"I am hoping that, among the lasting effects of the proposed Academy, we will discover our children needn't have a gameboy or latest designer basketball wear but something of which they can be lastingly proud. They have been consumed by consumerism and without it, find themselves with nothing to lose.

"But at least the promise of the academy disturbs a growing belief that tower-cranes are the only critical elements of advancement," Bishop said.

"We live on an island and, for the most part, you cannot even see the sea. In such an environment, creative imagination cannot flourish or prosper.

"You can't have successive generations never be able to forge a link between the music coming from a Beethoven string quartet and a passage in Clive Bradley's arrangement of 'Rebecca' and you cannot or, should not claim any degree of civilization if your parameters are limited to the construction of hard monuments without meanwhile creating other things that spring from dreams and imagination." Bishop said.

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