There is a story that when Charles de Gaulle became President of France, after the horrors of WWII had reduced his country to rubble, he asked his close friend, the intellectual Andre Malraux, what portfolio he would like in his Cabinet. “Minister of Culture,” Malraux said, much to de Gaulle’s amusement. “Why Culture?” he asked. “Because I can then build cultural complexes in every town,” Malraux told him, “for schoolchildren to visit and see the arts for themselves. And that, Mr. President, will save your country.”
Even if the story is apocryphal, it illustrates the critical role that culture can play in shaping the minds of the young who can act in a manner that can, “save your country”. It is a story that bears repeating to our own Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, who is unfortunately presently locked in an unseemly dispute about a unit of his Ministry publishing a book purportedly written by his daughter. The incident’s only nexus with culture appears to lend credence to accusations that the government routinely practices a ‘culture’ of nepotism.
Art and culture have a powerful potential to excite the imagination of our people, especially the young, to unleash their potential and in the process, raise our nation to the heights we all know that it can reach. Despite the fact that efforts in the field of culture are extensive and multiple, they should never be random.
In order to avoid randomness, the Ministry of Culture should have a strategy underlines that the work it does in the area of culture be goal-oriented, professional, long term and have local ownership. But instead it has allowed its activities to become nuclei of divisiveness rather than the unity that is so crucial for our progress.
Take the present imbroglio over the site for a monument to the 1823 Rebellion. Evidently conceived as an activity to commemorate the UN-sponsored, “International Year for People of African Descent (IYPAD)”, the monument was intended to salute the bravery and indomitable spirit of our African forbears as they literally laid their lives on the line so that slavery could be abolished. But since the IYPAD was supposed to be commemorated since 2011, the question arises as to why the facts behind the event being commemorated are only now trickling down to ordinary people, including youths, through letters in the press from partisans of another site for the monument and government representatives?
If the Culture Ministry had a proper understanding of its role in promulgating ‘culture’ as a nation-building tool, it should have spent the last two years informing the nation about 1823 through a multitude of art forms and activities. Why was there no collaboration with the Ministry of Education, for instance, to highlight 1823 in our schools? Why was not the 1823 Rebellion made the theme of our Mash 2012, instead of the same tired and pale imitation of Carnival?
Culture is tightly connected with identity. Identity expressed through culture is a necessity for all human development. It creates the fundamental building blocks in our personality and in the ties that link us to communities and nation. Culture is embedded in both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Art. 27) and in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Art. 1 and 15).
It does not appear that the Ministry of Culture has a clear appreciation of our cultural diversity and the need to bring the various expressions on a common stage so that they may cross-fertilise each other to produce something uniquely ‘Guyanese’. We noted with dismay that there is still a narrow cultural repertoire represented in the so-called “National’ Drama Festival, “National” Drama School and “National” School of Dance. There needs to be a more concerted effort to include more art forms.
A free and strong cultural sector will promote other rights and values such as freedom of expression, diversity and debate about needs in society.