Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Liberating the Arts from Culture

http://www.guardian.co.tt/columnist/2012-08-21/liberating-arts-culture



The creation of a Ministry of Diversity and Social Inclusion in the recent realignment of portfolios of ministers caught many, including it seems the named officeholder, somewhat agape. This, alongside a Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism, has justifiably created some room for confusion. Though much of the criticisms that have greeted the advent of these two ministries to date have hardly gone beyond mere soundings of bafflement and bewilderment, there are indeed some opaque areas that can benefit from better streamlining. “Multiculturalism and diversity” are reflections of each other, while “arts and multiculturalism” has a different resonance to the stock association of “arts and culture.” If one was to flash back a bit, since the 2010 announcement of Cabinet portfolios, there was an uneasiness surrounding the appending of “multi” to a ministry that has traditionally carried the title of “culture” and to which was often appended “arts.” A Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism was a novelty to us. It was a title that did not sit well, even with the previous officeholder of the ministerial portfolio of Arts and Multiculturalism himself one who would be defined as an artist and a cultural practitioner. 
Yet, having multiculturalism as a ministerial portfolio was highly commended by some societies still coming to terms with their multiculturalism, and where such a portfolio is becoming a norm. 
Whether in departments/divisions/ministries of governments, policy making and administration units—corporations as well—this has been a response of the international community to a phenomenon arising from globalisation, heightened movements and migrations of people with easier access to travel, all of which are changing the ethnic and cultural composition of populations and overturning age-old status quos. To flash back to even earlier times, in T&T, the portfolio of arts and culture has been traditionally unquestioningly lumped together since self-government, and, in previous reincarnations, has also been appended to portfolios of women, youth, sport, community/social development and various other perceived “soft” portfolios. In recent times, societies as Canada, Australia and Great Britain that have appended culture/multiculturalism to their arts administration portfolios are recognising the challenge of this combination. T&T has a long history, experiences of dysfunctionality in this, too, except we have not tried to analyse nor learn from them. 
It is borne out in the loud noises that often emanate from various quarters, interest groups, districts, ethnicities and cultural corners surrounding inefficiencies and patronising approaches to our arts and culture and perceived lack of delivery of successive Ministries of Arts and Culture—a name which itself presupposes a common national culture in a society where has coalesced various cultural streams and strands. The nervous unease that has plagued cultural governance since self-government, and stymied cultural development—eg still no cultural policy though it has been 47 years in the making; or the regular distress about “whey pan dey;” laments over the lack of promotion of the Carnival arts—stem from lack of clarity in conceptualising and visioning the specific roles of the arts in development and the roles of our cultures in development. No one can deny that our arts have suffered from competition for cultural space, and in the competition for ethnic space. Alignment of the arts to ethnicity has prohibited their blossoming and restricted recognition of their universal value and universal appeal.
If liberated from culture or multiculturalism, the arts, which has been deprived, shrouded in, and overshadowed by the politicisation of culture over the decades, can be allowed to blossom in their own right and take advantage of the range of opportunities for their development into viable creative industries. It will also help to accentuate their intrinsic aesthetics for recognition beyond parochial ethnic or cultural contexts, for their inherent universal values. Separation of the arts from the culture portfolio can allow T&T arts, whether drawn from ancestral communities or fashioned from our multicultural milieu—from the classical arts to our indigenous arts—to receive the kind of substantive focus of which they have so far been deprived and from which has stemmed the sense of disconnect and the continuous cries of discontent, of lack of appreciation and of lack of support. A Ministry of Arts can exist in its own and substantive right, and allow for a clearer vision of the role of a Ministry of Diversity and Social Inclusion.