Artists have a duty to other artists

Dear Editor,

 

As expected, there continues to be no response from either the Minister of Culture, Dr Frank Anthony or the Caribbean Press editor, Dr David Dabydeen on some of the critical issues I’ve raised regarding governance and accountability of the Press’ operations. They’ve both run out of empty rhetoric and opportunities for evasion – my concern is the silence from the local writing community.

A year after insulting them, Dr Dabydeen is going to launch a book of poetry featuring the very same writers he accused of being lazy and incompetent. I’ve spoken to several of the people featured who explained to me that there was no editorial guidance and the final outcome as published was unsatisfactory. I have seen the anthology itself and this holds true, down even to the basic copyediting of the work. However, none of those people would commit to publicly airing their dissatisfaction.

In a glowing spread in the Guyana Times, the extraordinarily talented Ms Lisa Punch, recently featured on the American television show, ‘Rising Star,’ and who performed at the Festival was quoted as saying:

“Well first let me say that I’m very happy to be a part of the initiative. I think it’s good that they’re doing something like this for Guyanese and not just the concerts, the arts and the craft are being exhibited. I think it’s a really good festival.”

The above sentiment was reflected by all the other persons featured including at least three other artistes: Tennecia DeFreitas, Calvin Burnett and Jomo Primo.

However, at a youth advocacy event held at the Theatre Guild last Tuesday by the youth group, Come Alive Network Incorporated (CANI), helmed by another young singing talent, Ryan Hoppie, Ms Punch decried the poor support for artists in Guyana in general.

She stated that during many interview sections taped for the ‘Rising Star’ show, she pointed out the poor environment for developing local talent, specifically mentioning that Guyana has no effective copyright law, but these interviews were never aired. With no cameras rolling, and no government official present, and in presumably a safe space, what the audience saw was a passionate, intelligent young woman who was concerned for the artistic community as a whole and who beautifully articulated the concerns both of herself and other creative people. Two days later, we have her smiling in a GINA photo op with President Donald Ramotar, with the caption reading in part that, “Punch described her meeting with the president as very fruitful and encouraging. She said that she was inspired by President Ramotar to continue representing Guyana and making all Guyanese proud.”

There is of course no mention of any concerns expressed about copyright, the Ministry of Culture’s chronic underpayment or outright non-payment of artistes, or the fact that although she only recently migrated and had performed the national anthem on countless occasions, it was only after her ‘Rising Star’ appearance that she was given recognition by the Government of Guyana.

Indeed, earlier this year Ms Punch, also a talented actress, was a signatory to a letter in which several persons involved in last year’s National Drama Festival claimed to have been grossly underpaid by the Ministry of Culture.

Now, I understand that the politics of vindictiveness continue to still or twist the tongues of many of our best and brightest. However, my advice to Ms Punch as well as other artists is to first recognize that you have a duty to other artists, not just in your quiet moments and in like company, but also when the spotlight is brightest upon you; no amount of personal awards or recognition is going to stop me from publicly pointing out the indecency to which creative writers in Guyana are subject and to seek to change that situation.

 

Secondly, as an artist, you have a duty to yourself to ensure that you are given both the respect that is your basic right as well as that which you earn as a result of your endeavour.

Thirdly and finally, you have a duty to the truth, not two convenient truths, one you pull out in midst of the artistic community, and another in the company of power; if the situation affecting artists is not ideal, and if you are going to speak of it at all, then you should say that it is not ideal particularly when speaking to power.   If you continue to compromise on those duties, nothing will change and the climb to the top will continue to be harder.

 

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson
Janus Cultural Policy Initiative

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