I introduced last week the Common Sense Convois, which the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies recently held to have conversations about what we might want to consider as important issues for the next fifty years of Independence.
Not surprisingly, the role of art and culture was a main topic. For many years, I have sought to advocate in my own practical way the value of our performing arts, particularly the steelband and the drums of all our cultures, as an instrument of healing, with a profound capacity to draw young people away from crime, to provide them with an alternative home, with empathetic rather than militaristic discipline, and also to provide them with self esteem, and, ultimately sustainable employment opportunities.
At the opening event, which I also mentioned last week and which I may review sometime soon, the poet Muwakil made several significant invocations, one of which was "to teach us to love the things we are programmed to hate". Notwithstanding the fact that our performing arts have in many ways overcome programmed prejudices, successive Governments since Independence have failed to provide a policy framework for development of our cultural gifts, including a rational and fair funding policy free from the chains of the political dependency syndrome.
Moreover, it is frequently the case that our performing arts are held in greater esteem by persons from abroad than many of our public authorities who should know better. Not being a social scientist or an academic, it was particularly encouraging to me to make the acquaintance of Professor Milla Cozart Riggio, the James J Goodwin Professor of English at Trinity College, Connecticut. Her participation in the Convois, as well as that of Ms Sheila Graham, Executive Artistic Director of Youth Empowerment through the Arts of Kingston, Jamaica sent me home with a lot of hope as well as confirmation that we do have in our own hands the instruments to make a better civilisation. In a subsequent column I will refer to the work being done in Jamaica.
I knew of Professor Riggio before the Convois because she is one of the commentators in Dalton Narine's excellent documentary on Peter Minshall entitled, Mas Man, a labour of love and pecuniary impoverishment, which in the absence of enlightenment dawning on our public authorities concerning promotion of things artistic, seem to be essential conditions of doing serious work. I recall thinking when I first heard Professor Riggio's comments that she knew us better than we knew ourselves.
I cannot review the output of the Convois or to relate all of the many valuable conversations, which took place in the course of the week. However, as so little of the activity of the Convois appeared in the media, I would like to acknowledge the important connection between the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies and the Trinity College of Connecticut, who have now entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to deepen the co-operation in scholarship and related matters. I should also mention in passing that Trinity College, Connecticut is one of those colleges that send students to participate and study Carnival. The participation of many of them includes, like other students from colleges abroad, participation in the Canboulay re-enactment that takes place at 5 a.m. on Carnival Friday morning.
As a result of my attendance at the Convois, I am currently reading Carnival Culture in Action — The Trinidad Experience. It is a substantial ground breaking anthology edited by Professor Riggio. It contains the writings of Professor Riggio and twenty-two other persons, which focuses on the values and sense of community that Carnival affirms. It refers to the scholars who study the major Carnivals of the world and describes Trinidad Carnival as the most copied yet least studied major Carnival in the world.
In light of my own views, formed by participation and observation over many decades and intuitive love for what I see and hear, it has been a joy to read that a top flight academic has observed that the panyard provided "a sense of place and an alternative family for young people at risk."
Professor Riggio also relates how the panyard is "a training ground for maturation", acknowledging the work of Kim Johnson, who has described the inclusiveness of the pan movement and how early it became a home for both boys and girls of different classes and races.
I close with Professor Riggio's emphasis on the intuitive knowledge contained in the performing arts and her statement that the Carnival world, "because it is centered in imagination and intuition rather than in logic or reason, privileges things of the spirit over the material or phenomenological. Such an ethos is consistent with attitudes towards time, space and the creation of community within carnival".
It seems that we have a gift of intuitive knowledge how to blend recreation and performance art and the expression of this gift has significant redeeming value.