Donation to Trinidad was an implicit indictment of Guyana’s failure to preserve its heritage

Dear Editor,

 If I may, I’d like to add my two cents to the recent exchange between Freddie Kissoon and Dr Ian McDonald. I fear McDonald might have missed the essential point of Kissoon’s original letter when he responded repeating his sterling literary credentials. It is not that the academic was challenging the man of letters with regard to the geographical boundaries of his reputation as a man of letters but the social, and perhaps moral, limitations of his interventions into the reality of life and politics in Guyana.

While Freddie Kissoon is right in that Dr McDonald has not really engaged in commentary on the state of public life, the case can also be made for a studied reticence on the state of the arts as well, not just from McDonald but from most of the people prominent in the arts in Guyana.

Specific to the issue of where the papers were donated, Dr McDonald’s decision to donate his papers to UWI isn’t simply an endorsement of the superior facilities available in Trinidad but an implicit indictment of Guyana’s failure to adequately preserve its heritage, archival or otherwise.

If Dr McDonald genuinely believed that archival preservation efforts here were in any way commendable, he could have left some of his papers here at UG the entity under which aegis he was awarded three Guyana Prizes (which no doubt helped to establish his reputation as a man of letters), and donated some to UWI the entity that awarded him.

We have a situation where leading figures in the arts have been content to lend their glow to Minister of Culture, Dr Frank Anthony at public event after public event but who have refused to point out his incompetence when it comes to larger issues of cultural policy and cultural management, or even to specific issues like the Caribbean Press.

Contrary to Dr McDonald’s intimation that progress has been made, the National Archives have had no significant improvement despite billions of dollars being sunk into the Ministry of Culture under Dr Anthony’s tenure. The Sports and Arts Fund designed ostensibly to provide support to independent groups continues to be improperly constituted with the money being ‘awarded’ to ministry projects. The National Museum is in a state of increasing dereliction even as the ministry curiously launched a questionable digitization project a few months ago. Four years after its existence, the Caribbean Press is yet to have a functional board of any kind and the Minister is yet to explain a great many things with regard to expenditure and management. People are still unpaid for Carifesta 2008 participation and the selection process for representation at cultural festivals remains mired in nepotism and discrimination. Earlier this year, Dr Anthony held a ‘consultation’ on creative industries with an overseas-based consultant with a promise to move the process forward within weeks – to this date there has been no follow-up, with complete silence from the ministry.

Most recently, the Umana Yana, a national monument which should not only have been under strict fire hazard protocols, but insured against fire, burnt down with no clear-cut plan for reconstruction. If anything, this was an indictment of policy on the part of government regard for heritage, but not a single senior person in the arts commented.

Minister Anthony’s incompetence and lack of accountability in general continue to go unacknowledged by persons who have placed themselves as gatekeepers for culture, who will smile and shake his hand for the cameras, but who refuse to comment on the absence of a national cultural policy or to even advocate for the presence of one. All that does is to give a whitewashed picture of the state of culture and the arts in Guyana. I understand Mr Kissoon’s frustration but if it is that prominent writers and artists do not have the courage to comment upon the state of arts and culture, it is highly unlikely that they will do the same for wider society.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

Janus Cultural Policy

Initiative

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