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UWI impasse: arts students back at Gordon Street

By Michelle Loubon

Jessel Murray, head of the Department of Festival and Creative Arts (DCFA) at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus, says space has been restored for “three constituencies”—dance, Carnival studies and theatre arts at Gordon Street, St Augustine, where for the past 14 years these studies have taken place.
On December 20, Murray met with St Augustine Campus principal Prof Clement Sankat, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education Prof Funso Aiyejina and head of Communications Renata Sankar and other stakeholders to discuss issues which stemmed from students protesting about the lack of consultation and disrespect meted towards the arts. On December 12, the members of the DCFA protested outside the building to register their angst over the proposed removal of the Centre For Creative Arts from its present base.
Students had also demonstrated their disapproval at imminent plans to construct a carpark for Republic Bank on the site. They carried placards etched with messages including “No consultation=No construction.” They were vociferous in their belief “UWI Chasing The Arts...off Campus, again.” Sankat, who was in China at the time of the protest, came in for heavy blows. Rawle Gibbons, founder of the Centre shared the students’ displeasure.
Asked for an update on the impasse, in a telephone interview on Friday, Murray said: “ I went to the meeting with my documents. There was an original document which I had negotiated with the architect Corey Barnet. There was a proposal for two dance studios which became one in the modified proposal. It has been restored to two dance studios. Another issue was some of the rehearsal spaces had been removed. And also there were some office space issues. They were restored. Two sets of spaces for Carnival studies which were removed have now been restored. Three “constituencies” dance, Carnival studies and theatre arts have now been restored at Gordon Street.”
Murray added: “There was an important meeting held. There were some positive moves in terms of negotiation for the greater good in 2014. Some of the matters which have been under protest have been clarified.”
Asked about imminent plans for a carpark to be built there, Murray said: “I have no comment on what the university is going to be doing with the area. That assumption about a carpark is erroneous. Those decisions don’t fall under the purview of the Head of Department of the University.”
Asked about consultation, Murray added: “ It is an unfortunate assumption. There was consultation. There were ongoing consultations with the university administration. There was consultation with the staff beforehand. There were two public meetings with students in April and October.”
Responding to the view they were not looking after the welfare of the arts, Murray said: “ I am not sure they are trying to “put away” the department. It is all part of the wider campus. We are going ahead in conducting good face negotiations with the administration to achieve the most equitable outcome in 2014.”
When contacted Aiyejina said contrary to the prevailing sentiments, consultations have taken place over the past five years.
In a telephone interview, he said: “We have been consulting. I am not sure where they (protestors) are getting their facts from. We have been having consultations with them for five years. I have reported to the Faculty Board, the students and Murray. We have had a number of meetings. From where I sit, we are on track to get them a new building. I am concerned about getting an adequate building for them. I don’t take decisions where buildings are located. The place is poor. And my primary concern is getting them a decent home.”
He added: “We met with students and we met with staff. If they claim they have not been consulted, then, they are not taking into account the historical process. And the years of students that have been consulted before them.”
When contacted Sankat said: “We are settling the issue. Talk to Jessel Murray. We had a meeting.”
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