Every aspect of the administration’s engagements with the arts and culture has been based on ad hoc spectacle

Dear Editor,

I had the great privilege of reading the ‘Appreciation’ magazine, ‘Forged By Fire: The Jagdeo Presidency.‘  Of all the forgeries presented therein, I’d like to focus on just one.

There is no greater betrayal of the public trust than that committed by the man of letters.  We expect the politician to be corrupt; we expect the people to be corruptible; and priests, as the good Juan Edghill has of recent ably proven, have long been known to subsume their theological commitments to more temporal ones – but from the academic, we expect a higher standard.

With knowledge comes power comes responsibility, particularly the responsibility to the dissemination of evidentiary or empirical truth. This is a responsibility that Mr Al Creighton seems to have cast off with reckless abandon in his ‘Appreciation’ article, ‘Playing an active role in the arts and culture.‘

First and arguably least of all, in his unabashed hagiography of Mr Jagdeo’s cultural policy, Mr Creighton casually cites the “publication of a Carifesta Anthology of Poetry.”

The learned academic seems confused with regard to the etymological connotation of the word “publication,” so let me humbly remind him:

‘Publication’ means “the preparation and issuing of a book, journal, piece of music, or other work for public sale…  (2) the action of making something generally known.” It stands to reason, since its Latin origin, publicare, means ‘to make public.’

As a contributor to what I was told would be a “Carifesta Anthology of Poetry,” I am yet to receive an invitation to the launch, a courtesy copy of the ‘publication,’ nor have I seen it anywhere one would expect to see a ‘publication,’ ie, in the public, three years after Carifesta X has come and gone.

In fact, I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that there has been not a single publication of contemporary literary work that the 12-year Jagdeo administration has either originated or been closely associated with.  Indeed, successive PPP administrations from 1992 to 2008 have not published or caused to publish anything literary, in stark and ironic contrast to the plethora of government funded or supported literary publications between 1972 and 1992.

Mr Creighton cites the 2009 establishment of Caribbean Press as proof of Jagdeo’s commitment to the development of literature.  The administration of the press exists outside the Caribbean, the editorial board is not based in the region, and the books are not printed here – the Ministry of Culture, under which aegis the press is said to operate, does not have a Caribbean Press office or even liaison. The Caribbean Press is in fact run out of the University of Warwick, and notably not out of the University of Guyana.  If this is not illustrative of the President’s perception of the competence of local academia, including Mr Creighton – the most public face of the administration’s literary development policy – I have no idea what is; ditto for the composition of the advisory board.

The 24-page full colour supplement praising the President is 24 pages more than the PPP’s total involvement in local literary publication in 20 years.  The government is free to respond to prove me wrong.

Mr Creighton cites, as an “objective measure of the president’s contribution to the arts and culture,” Mr Jagdeo’s “ready support for the Guyana Prize, which has been consistent during his tenure.”  Either Mr Creighton is suffering from a severe case of receptive aphasia or he is being completely disingenuous.  The Guyana Prize is a biennial prize, meaning that it is supposed to be held every two years. Mr Jagdeo had a twelve-year presidency, under which the Prize was held four times.  Mr Creighton needs to check his maths, and then research the meaning of the word ‘consistent.’

And let me save Mr Creighton the trouble of falling on his own sword verbally but not in action.  He has taken the line of taking personal blame for the failure of the Prize being held between 2006 and 2011: the Prize has a Management Committee which as far as I know does not consist of solely of Mr Creighton, who is in fact simply the Secretary, not the Chair.  A President that is “consistent in his ready support” for the Guyana Prize for Literature would have – providing of course that his Cabinet had made the requisite funds readily available – fired the entire Management Committee for their incompetence.  It is telling that Mr Jagdeo’s self-acknowledged propensity for micromanaging did not extend to this eminently manageable scenario.

I refuse to touch on the incompetence and discrimination involved in the government’s involvement in cultural festivals, something which Mr Creighton has predictably high praise for.  The Minister of Culture’s silence on a tiny aspect of accountability in this regard speaks volumes in itself about the government’s execution of its engagement in cultural festivals, and contradicts Mr Creighton’s shamelessly adulatory prose.

Every single aspect of the Jagdeo administration’s engagement with arts and culture – from the Guyana Prize to the President’s Film Endowment – has been based not on a coherent cultural development policy but on ad hoc spectacle and show with little substance or sustainability.

The only thing that I find irrefutable in Mr Creighton’s article is his assessment of the President’s speech at the Guyana Prize for Literature awards earlier this month.  It’s an expertly written piece, eloquent, well-crafted, inspiring.  Indeed, in light of how diametrically the sentiments expressed differ from the President’s actions, had Mr Jagdeo submitted it to the Guyana Prize this year, the Best First Book of Fiction category would not have remained vacant and the President would have added another trophy to his collection of well-deserved awards.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson
Advisor on Cultural Policy
Alliance For Change

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