Four days ago we celebrated Emancipation Day, but not before having the ritual public squabble about what level of public funds should be disbursed to support the celebration.
This type of squabble is regular and ongoing. It has many facets. The first is that the squabble is not confined to tension with the Emancipation Support Committee. They are many similar annual squabbles because cultural promoters, regardless of track record, except for one or two favoured perceived princes of promotion, are made to beg the Government for support every year, whoever is in power.
The begging is unseemly and should be entirely unnecessary. We know well in advance that certain events will take place. It is difficult to understand therefore why after all these years there is not an orderly system of funding. Moreover Emancipation Day and Indian Arrival Day are sufficiently important that each date has been declared a public holiday. Accordingly, they cannot be considered trivial celebrations, undeserving of funding.
The cynic in me suggests that the politicians enjoy the ritual of begging and yielding and have no intention of sheathing the dependency syndrome weapon. In a very Massa way, the ritual serves to remind those of all creeds of creative skills, who need Government support, who is really in charge. It tells them why they should be careful and not think or behave independently of the wishes of the government of the day.
The public begging is also divisive. In this land everybody labours under a feeling that something or other is not fair. Certain activists are masters of saying that the grant of funding to one group sets the pattern of funding for another group. Once these cards are played it becomes difficult objectively to assess the worth of the particular event.
The Artists' Coalition cogently makes the case for a cultural funding policy at the macro level with disbursement of funds to be vested in an Arts Council with no politicians and satellites aboard. I wholeheartedly support this but respectfully suggest that there are a number of threshold requirements for public funding of arts and festivals.
The foremost of these threshold requirements is our old elusive friend, accountability. Every organisation to which public funds are disbursed must complete and have audited or available for audit, financial statements accounting for the funds which it has received. Without timely presentation of these financial statements no further disbursements should take place. If necessary, the Government should insist that key officers of the relevant organisations attend courses in basic accounting.
Another important obligation in exchange for the grant of public funds is track record. The investment of public funds in culture must have demonstrable sustainability. There is a key distinction to be made between start-up capital, which may be made available to new organisation with serious potential, and an annual grant to organisations with track records. Qualification for the use of public funds clearly has different requirements in each case.
It cannot be right that Joe Blokes can start an organisation, receive public funds and then fade away. It is equally wrong for cultural events and festivals of demonstrated value to be made to beg annually.
Of course one big area of dispute is what is the "value" of culture. There are also disputes how to measure the value of particular events. A few rail against disbursement of these funds as "handouts". These persons are blind to the binding roots of culture, which keeps communities whole, whether it is pan in the cities or Ramleela in Central. I need hardly repeat the regular thrust of my columns on the outstanding value of our vibrant multiethnic, and in parts, syncretistic and therefore unifying culture.
In addition there are sneering comments and questions often posed in bad faith about what should be the investment and revenue production of the artists themselves. We have Ministers of Government and others, with no real knowledge of how our cultural artists live, claiming that our cultural artists have no business sense or are not entrepreneurial, whatever that is supposed to mean, given how much waste and political padding Ministers regularly permit in the disbursement of public funds. They seem to think that performing arts is (respect to Sparrow) just something we sellin' while around d corner posin'.
Maybe there is a glimmer of hope that a funding policy will emerge. After some initial vaps statements, the new Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism may have read my last column and understood the difference between Government by vaps and governing by reference to policy.
The Minister has claimed that the begging and yielding syndrome would not be the case come next year as a cultural policy dealing with disbursement of funds for national festivals was under active consideration. Of course the policy remit has to go much further and embrace the wider range of cultural activities. I am not holding my breath.