Willing to engage the Culture Ministry on cultural policy

Dear Editor,

In reference to the article ‘Culture Minister bombarded with queries on art fund’ (SN, April 17), I’d like to congratulate the political opposition on the scrutiny it attached to this allocation under the Minister of Culture, Dr Frank Anthony’s portfolio, even as I recognise their collective lack of capacity in specialized probing of how the monies were spent, and their perennial overlooking of the fact that the Fund, despite Dr Anthony’s promises, remains improperly constituted.

I’d like to thank also both AG Anil Nandlall and Speaker Raphael Trotman for recognizing my avid interest in cultural policy in Guyana, and the latter for suggesting that the Minister seek to engage me as a resource person going forward.  The Minister is reported as saying, in reference to his failure to consult with yours truly, that:

“When we started out… he was invited to attend these meetings and he never did and not only did he not attend but what he went on to do was to try to dissuade persons who wanted to bring their work and to have their work published.”

This is of course false – I attended every meeting that I was invited to on the Caribbean Press and ended up hosting one when the Minister failed to provide a venue.  On the issue of my attempting to dissuade writers, I answered Caribbean Press Editor, Dr David Dabydeen and Reverend Gideon Cecil on that attempt at misdirection, after which they both fell silent, yet the Minister curiously and clearly desperately tried to use this as a defence on his failure to consult with me on the issues I’ve raised.  If he wants, I can make public the e-mails requesting an audience that were sent to his Permanent Secretary, Alfred King as well as Dr Dabydeen last year, offering the Minister a chance to work to salvage the Press.

Now, the following e-mail was sent Wednesday afternoon, along with the documents referred to therein, to PS King, and was carbon-copied to Director of Culture, Dr James Rose as well as members of the parliamentary opposition:

“In the interest of moving forward, I will attribute the Minister of Culture’s unfortunate and eminently rebuttable claims in Parliament that I have been unwilling to engage the ministry to poor communication skills on my part in not making my intentions as clear as possible.

“I believe that my facilitation of Guyana Prize workshops last year, my self-sponsored participation at Carifesta XI, and my uninvited participation in the Creative Industries consultation of last month would negate the Minister’s unfortunate position – with regard to the latter, I’ve attached the group presentation I constructed and presented at the consultation.  I will also accept as unfortunate error on his part the claim that I have discouraged writers from submitting to the Caribbean Press, considering I have records in my e-mails that would directly contradict that claim.

“I will focus instead on, and accept as sincere, his on-the-record willingness to engage all interested and qualified persons, yours truly included, in shaping a proper cultural policy environment, unless of course I misheard the good Minister.  My primary objectives for engaging the ministry are:

“1) The way forward in crafting and enabling a functional National Cultural Policy, inclusive of a comprehensive policy on Intellectual Property, as well as a Creative Industries Development Action Plan.  This would be in keeping with the ministry’s indicators for the current budgetary year.

“2) The exploration of the establishment of a structured and semi-autonomous committee to run the Sports and Arts Development Fund.

“3) Review of the way forward with regard to the Caribbean Press so that it functions as a mechanism to a) develop the capacity of local writers, b) publish their work to as wide an audience as possible, and c) serve as an investment vehicle for the eventual development of a local/regional publication industry.  This includes the establishment of two functioning boards, one editorial and one management.

“4) The facilitation of writing workshops at various levels, and both within and outside of the formal education system.  The Minister’s information on the workshops held last year was apparently skewed towards the unadvertised, invitation-only Gaiutra Bahadur workshop, as opposed to the well received and attended drama/fiction and poetry writing workshops.  I’ve attached both the advertisement and registration list for the sessions I conducted pro bono in January of last year.

“5) An open and transparent process in the selection of national contingents to represent Guyana at various festivals and other events in the region and further afield.

“6) The establishment of a national film production regime, separate from but still linked to the creative industries component of the National Cultural Policy.  This would include the establishment of a National Film Commission.

“I look forward to working with the ministry and all other stakeholders in achieving the above-stated objectives and am willing to meet with the Minister and/or his representatives at the earliest convenience, preferably over the next week or so.  While I personally have no reservations about continuing the present mode of engagement, I believe that cooperation with the ministry benefits the overall environment   in the interest of transparency, I’ve attached a basic CV so you can have some indication with regard to where my skills might best be employed.  It also includes my contact information.  I anticipate, in earnest, your reply.”

Now I expect that his unfortunate and untrue statements in Parliament, now on record, will be the last time that Minister Anthony seeks to claim that I am unwilling or I am tardy in engaging him on aspects of his portfolio, Culture in particular.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

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