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Editorial | What’s up with Miss Lou statue?

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Olivia Grange, the minister of sports and culture, has announced that the statue of Usain Bolt, Jamaica's global athletics icon, will be unveiled at the National Stadium in October, during the week the country celebrates its heritage, culminating with the observance of National Heroes Day.

The timing of the event is fitting. Usain Bolt is not only the greatest sprinter of all time, but for a decade he bore the burden of a sport damaged by drug cheating and in need of someone in whose performance its followers could repose their trust. In that sense, Bolt was a moral and renewing force for global athletics.

For Jamaica, Bolt's performances transcended sport. His genius on the track and his humility and charisma off it alerted us to our possibilities as individuals, as a community, as a nation, and indeed, as Jamaica. So while we might have expected private foundations and/or

sponsors to fund a bronze of Bolt by the celebrated Basil Watson, no one would complain over the Government's spending US$100,000 or, approximately, J$13 million, on the project. Nor, for that matter, is there likely to be any argument to mount statues, over the next few years, of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Asafa Powell athletes who also brought glory to Jamaica.

Yet, Ms Grange's outlining of the timetable for an unveiling of the Bolt statue reminded us of a long-standing, stalled, and perhaps abandoned, project the proposed statue of the late poet and folklorist, Louise Bennett-Coverley, or Miss Lou, who is currently the subject of significant discussion because of the suggestion by the commentator, Kevin O'Brien Chang, for the creation of a new national honour, National Icon, which would be close to, but not quite in the category of, National Hero. Miss Lou would be the first recipient.

We are not, at this time, persuaded of the merit of that idea, but are open to be convinced of the logic of the idea with further and better particulars. In the event, Louise Bennett-Coverley holds one of Jamaica's highest and most prestigious national honours, the Order of Merit, a society that allows only 15 living members. She deserves her place in this pantheon.

Miss Lou was an exceedingly funny and talented folklorist, but was far more than that. Louise Bennett-Coverley was a politically relevant cultural insurgent, who used Jamaican to mock and caricature the hypocrisies of her time, even as she opened an early front in the language's battle for formal legitimacy. Miss Lou remains relevant to today's Jamaica.

In 2012, the late writer and editor, Linda Gambrill, launched an effort to mount a statue of Miss Lou, funded by private interests and the Government. It was originally proposed for the Hope Botanic Gardens, but later suggested for Emancipation Park. After Mrs Gambrill died, the idea was taken up by her husband, the humorist and advertising man, Tony Gambrill.


Contract awarded


In its 2014-15 annual report, the Government's CHASE Fund disclosed that it had "awarded" J$3.65 million to the J$12-million project to be executed by artist Valerie Bloomfield. Mr Gambrill had put up J$4 million of his own money and had undertaken to raise the rest from private interests. What remained outstanding was the green light from the National Housing Trust (NHT) to mount the statue at Emancipation Park, at least insofar as Mr Gambrill understood events when he went public with the matter in late 2015.

This is the third time that this newspaper has addressed the issue in these columns, eliciting response from neither Ms Grange nor her predecessor in the culture ministry, Lisa Hanna. The public hasn't been advised about the state of the project whether it's alive or dead, or merely comatose. Ms Grange should know.