The construction of Trinidad and Tobago‘s new National Academy for the Performing Arts has been controversial: Not only was the project reportedly taken away from a local architectural firm and given to the Shanghai Construction Group, it used – for the most part – Chinese labour, there were apparently no design consultations to determine the needs of the local artistes who would eventually be using the space, and the entire operation was managed by UDeCOTT, the company currently embroiled in the middle of a Commission of Inquiry into the local construction sector. And then there was the hefty price tag. Despite the obstacles, the academy was opened earlier this week, soliciting reactions from local bloggers…
Coffeewallah seems to be disenchanted with the overall level of good governance in Trinidad and Tobago – the performing arts centre being just another example to add to the list:
In the scheme of things don't you think we should be more worried about the $10 million spent on ANOTHER performance area at the Diplomatic Centre? Nah, that's just peachy. Because we all know that the hospitals are all equipped and adequately staffed.
This Beach Called Life also takes a tongue-in-cheek approach, claiming to have found “the missing pages” of the Prime Minister's speech made at the opening of the academy:
My dear friends, as we plunge the country into insurmountable debt and move into a new era of waste and reckless spending, we will see contracts awarded to more and more contractors via UDECOTT, the shining example of my feeling towards the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago – I don’t give a shirt or a slacks. My brothers and sisters, it will happen.
Time shall tell what becomes of the TT$500 million National Academy for the Performing Arts Academy (North Campus), for our own history has shown that such edifices largely are underutilised and under-maintained.
Pleasure, a blog dedicated to the arts, is critical of the historic relationship between the country's government and the artistic community:
Tomorrow, the spanking new $518 million National Academy for the Performing Arts around the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, will officially open. But a few blocks away, at the corner of Roberts and White Street, Woodbrook, the historic Little Carib Theatre will remain boarded-up and shut.
The problem? Reportedly a lack of funding, with an additional $2 million needed to complete the restoration not forthcoming from the State. The same State that can pump $2 million into a flag around the crumbling Hasley Crawford Stadium and which can build arts academies apparently at the snap of its fingers.
The opening of the academy comes after a long history of the arts and artists in this country being relegated to the marginal by successive governments regardless of the status of the country's wealth. For decades, artists from all walks of life agitated for a proper home for the arts, but to no avail.
And what about a home for the contemporary arts, like the now defunct CCA7, which was once housed at the Fernandes Industrial Centre? Now, a spanking new arts academy has emerged. And this is something that should be welcomed. Artists should be happy, right? That's not necessarily the entire story.
The blog also takes issue with the building's design, which purports to be an interpretation of the national flower, the Chaconia, saying:
But that is a loose association; the structure looks more like an imitation of the Sydney Opera House. Or a kind of sophisticated alien space-craft.
Artist Marlon Darbeau, in response to that association, simply posts a graphic of framed government-issue text that reads, “The National Academy for the Performing Arts building design is a translation of our national flower, the Chaconia.” The headline of the graphic contains his commentary:
We Bought It.
After touching upon possible structural and architectural issues that the building may face, Pleasure has the last word:
So do we now have a Performing Arts Academy that cannot perform? That remains to be seen. Only a State serious about the arts will find a way to make it work, especially with Queen's Hall, which thanks to its own restoration is now the most technologically advanced facility in the Caribbean, just across the road.
Still, there are those who will note that it is better to have something than nothing. Yet, with the academy set to be run by the University of Trinidad and Tobago, it remains to be seen just what will be the role of organisations like the TTW and how the academy will relate to other cultural strands in the country. It is a little late in the game to be only now figuring these things out, especially after spending millions of taxpayers’ money which could have supported worthy artistic projects throughout the decades.