Despers’ hard gift—how will they fund operating and maintenance costs?

Dennise Demming Monday 24 April 2023 Letters to the Editor Wired868

Congratulations to Despers on receiving their second multimillion-dollar gift from the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

Their first theatre gift remains closed, up the hill next to the community centre by the gorgeous, gigantic John Dende Statue resides—which was designed and created by a Laventille resident called Leo Warner.

The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra perform during the 2023 Panorama competition.
(Copyright Maria Nunes)

During the Covid pandemic, I had an opportunity to pay a site visit to the space. It brought back wonderful memories of listening to Pat Bishop lovingly bouffe the band members for mispronouncing their Pan is Beautiful winning rendition of “The Bartered Bride” by Bedřich Smetana as “de battered bride”.

I also relived the moments of looking to the left and seeing the lights at the top of the Lady of Fatima Church and looking to the right and enjoying the breathtaking view of Port of Spain.

Very few institutions get a second chance to get things right, so this TT$14 million building is a unique opportunity that Despers must get right—and the band will not get it right unless a carefully considered business model is created and implemented.

If it works, that business model might be used as a guide for Invaders who have been working on acquiring their own space for many years now. It might also be used by Phase 11 Pan Grove, which is also in the midst of sensitive negotiations to own its space.

The Desperadoes Pan Theatre.
(Copyright Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts)

The list of potential users for such a business model can go on and on.

The first challenge Despers face is that this location will not attract supporters. The same issues that chased them from up the hill continue and are intensified nationally. Even the US government, amidst its own decades-old epidemic of mass shootings and child killings, has included midtown Port of Spain on its list of places to avoid.

No matter how much I love Despers, fear of crime and violence will keep me away.

Queen’s Hall, NAPA, SAPA, and the Little Carib are all cultural spaces that survive based on state subvention. As a society, we have not worked out how to make cultural spaces sustainable and this Despers space can now be added to that list of spaces that require continued funding.

What is needed is a strategic plan that considers the long-term view of the sustainability of a creative space.

The success of this kind of project requires a specialized skill set that may not be available in the current configuration. It needs collaboration between business strategists, art administrators, cultural enablers, and financial wizards.

As the new owners of this $14 million space, I wonder how Despers will fund the operating and maintenance cost of the building.

An architect friend told me that a back-of-the-envelope maintenance formula is to budget 20% of the construction cost for maintenance.

Despers, I love you and wish you the best—but this is a hard gift to have received.

Use Jamaica’s Champs example to fire up local sporting passions

Originally published on Monday 10 April 2023 in Wired868

Two of our Ministers recently attended Jamaica’s Champs Track and Field Event. This was a great idea to expand the education of Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, the minister of Education, and Shamfa Cudjoe, the minister of Sports and Community Development.

If their interest was really in coming up with a solution to our “sporting pothole” they would have looked over their “imaginary fences” and chatted with former President of The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) Larry Romany.

Jamaican teenaged sprinters compete at the 2015 Jamaica Champs track and field event.
(via Ketch Caribbean)

He would have pulled a quotation from a 2012 article in which he said: “Jamaica puts a qualified physical teacher into every school, but more than that, each physical education teacher in Jamaica is actually qualified in track and field.

“So they are a coach as well as a phys-ed teacher and they go into the system, and that is why Jamaica has had such success because there is a focussed attempt, a strategic intent on creating track and field stars.”

If the Minister of Community Development was curious about why Jamaica is dominating track and field globally, she would have reached out to former national hockey player Dr Iva Gloudon, a former High Commissioner to Jamaica. And she might have explained that Jamaica’s Champs has been staged for more than 100 years.

There are so many people “over the fence” who could share solutions to our sport and social issues and are ignored because of the perceived colour of their allegiance.

I hope that the two Ministers return home with the understanding that Champs is a grassroots activity. The average Joe Jamaican will find an old school tie or socks or t-shirt or undersized shorts and proudly strut their stuff at the Champs while rooting for their secondary school and re-living long lost memories.

Patrons at the Jamaica Champs track and field event.

When an activity assumes the cultural significance of Champs, it is an easy sell. But Champs is more than the expression of sport and culture, it is the culmination of years of hard work.

During my Caribbean Games experience, my mantra was: “sport must become the weapon of choice for our youth”. I still believe in the potential and possibility of this statement, but it will only become a reality when we devote the time and effort to craft the strategy for the sport industry.

Of course, this has been done before but our leaders choose not to build on previously laid foundations but to smash any bases that exist.

Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe (centre) joins the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team as they salute the crowd in Bacolet, after qualifying for the Concacaf W Championship with a 2-2 draw against Guyana at the Dwight Yorke Stadium on 12 April 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

As blood continues to fertilize our land and our people flounder it is urgent that we put a strategic plan in place to capture the imagination of our youth and fire up our people’s passion for sport and culture.

Whatever we do, there is the grim recognition that it may be another generation before we reap the rewards. But if action is taken now, my generation may pass on, confident in the knowledge that our future sports persons will thrive in a nurturing, passionate environment.

Look to the future and stop making excuses!

Ria Taitt’s article in the Sunday Express of April 04, 2023, quotes the Prime Minister as saying: ‘In order to get our independence, we agreed to some arrangements which are inimical to good order and brought obsolescence to management arrangements.”  In other words, some of the policies we agreed to 61 years ago are the root cause of many of our current-day problems. Is the blame for the current inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our institutions being placed on our colonial masters?

Where has our current Prime Minister been living over the past 61 years of independence?  He first served in Parliament in 1987 as an Opposition Senator and subsequently as a Member of Parliament in the capacities of Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, Minister of Planning and Development and Minister of Housing, Minister of Trade and Industry, and Leader of the Opposition.

Is this a new revelation?  Or is it an inconvenient truth that he is using to walk away from the fact that as someone who has held office for more than 30 years, he has little to show for the action he has taken to improve our systems, processes, and procedures?  Our Prime Minister has held office for 50% of our time as an independent nation and he has the audacity according to the Ria Taitt article to admit that “our system has not discouraged .. on the contrary, I regret to say, it has encouraged white-collar criminal conduct …”

Although it is true that in his 30-plus years in government, he was not the ultimate power holder he has, since 2015 been the power holder and has been in the best position to begin the process of changing the culture.

If he were truly committed to transformational change, he would have facilitated the work of the Economic Development Advisory Board and removed the bottlenecks which stifled them and caused Dr. Terrence Farrell to resign after submitting seven key suggestions to the Government. The suggestions included a Draft Diversification Strategy and Roadmap, a Proposal on Steelpan Manufacturing Industry for Export, and a Redraft of the National Innovation Policy.

If he was really interested, he could have been hyper-focused on reimagining the public service and how to improve the delivery of services to citizens.

If his primary goal was for the betterment of all citizens, he would have found a way to collaborate with the opposition to come up with a strategy to handle both the illegal immigrants from Venezuela as well as genuine refugees, reduce the importation of guns and drugs and lessen the incidence of crime.

History is important and yes, our road to independence was marked by several unfair intersections but isn’t it time for us to look to the future and stop making excuses for the continued deterioration of our country?

With the right leadership philosophy, our country will thrive.  We have talented people and abundant non-oil resources to transform our country.