Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | China to build performing arts centre?

Published:Sunday | September 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Up to Friday morning, I was still trying to get a ticket for this weekend's dance concerts featuring Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Misty Copeland. As far as I can tell, no tickets were made available for sale to the general public. If you weren't on the mailing list of Plie for the Arts, you didn't stand a chance! Even some people on the mailing list weren't lucky enough to get a single ticket. I was told that both shows sold out in 15 minutes. I was on a very long waiting list and, unfortunately, I waited in vain.

Plie for the Arts is a brilliant concept. It's the brainchild of Marisa Benain, attorney-at-law and long-standing member of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC). As I understand it, the mission of Plie for the Arts is to expose Jamaican audiences to first-class dance theatre companies from abroad and to inspire young dancers to dream big. But, in implementing this vision, it seems as if an aura of exclusivity has been accidentally created.

In a Gleaner article published on August 30, Ms Benain is quoted: "Infrastructural limitations ultimately scaled the event." She's absolutely right. The capacity of the concert venue, The Little Theatre, is, indeed, quite small. There are only 600 seats. So only 1,200 tickets were available for the two shows.

 

CAUGHT UP IN THE HYPE

 

No doubt, some of the people who got tickets are simply caught up in the hype of the event. They have no real interest in dance! For them, this is just another social event for profiling. 'Page 2' and 'Something Extra', here they come!

But we do need a fit-for-purpose performing arts centre in Jamaica that could accommodate everybody who wanted to attend the dance concert - hype or no hype! The centre would not be just for dance but for the full range of the performing arts.

With all the talk of the importance of the creative industries, politicians are not putting our money where their mouth is. How are we going to fully develop the creative industries if we don't even have an appropriate performance space? Ms Benain's day job is director of cultural policy and monitoring in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport. She understands the complexity of the issues.

Ms Benain offers an apology in the Gleaner article from which I quoted above: "'I'm really sorry that so many persons will not get to see the performance. ... I'm hoping that this will be the opportunity for [fulfilling] the promises that we've had that we will have a performance space.'"

 

WARD THEATRE NOT READY

 

Some optimists see the restoration of the Ward Theatre as the answer to their prayers. I'm not a believer. The last time I visited the theatre, I had to run out immediately. It was so mouldy, I could hardly breathe. On Labour Day last year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a lovely speech that was reported in The Gleaner on May 24.

Here's an excerpt: "'Preserving our culture is important; culture is a store of value. We see wealth sometimes mostly in monetary terms, we see wealth exclusively in economic terms - what we can trade and what we can sell - but it is very rare that we see wealth in culture,' Holness said."

According to that Gleaner report, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, promised that "special performances" would take place in the restored theatre in August 2017. Minister Grange's office confirmed last week that there were no performances. The theatre wasn't ready. And it won't be for a very long time at the rate things are going.

 

ONE MORE 'GIFT'

 

I suppose the Government is waiting for the Chinese to build our performing arts centre. Just one more 'gift' on the long list we've received! And for which we will be paying for generations to come. But if the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port of Spain is anything to go by, we'd better beware.

In a March 2010 post on the Trinidad and Tobago News blog, Andre Bagoo reports that, "The NAPA was reportedly built pursuant to a government-to-government agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and China, at an estimated budget of about $500 million. There was no competitive tender for the project, which was handed to the Shanghai Construction Group, the same company that built the prime minister's residence and diplomatic centre. Efforts to contact SCG were unsuccessful."

The NAPA complex was opened in November 2009. From the outside, it looks quite grand. Sweeping arches loftily rise, dwarfing surrounding buildings. But there are numerous problems inside. In 2010, the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago compiled a dossier on the building with this alarming title, 'The Tragedy and Hidden History of the NAPA'.

We cannot afford to make the same mistake as Trinidad and Tobago. We must find a way to build a state-of-the-art performance centre on our own terms. Otherwise, the arts in Jamaica will remain in a very bad state.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.