Former director of culture and film festival director cite lack of autonomy and identity
“I need culture to be an entree fairly than an appetizer, you recognize?”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The trajectory of the Bahamian cultural sector has often been shrouded in uncertainty, with creative artists and the broader society alike speculating that the sector has received little funding, development and support from the federal government over time.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Dr Nicolette Bethel and Leslie Vanderpool, opinion leaders within the Bahamian cultural sphere, each expressed the necessity for a structural shift within the cultural division, citing an absence of autonomy and identity amongst other issues to be present in the cultural sector.
Bethel, former director of cultural affairs and festival director of Shakespeare in Paradise, revealed that the department cannot even function by itself.
“The issue with the [cultural] division is that it shouldn’t be a fully-functioning, self-sufficient department, so if people talk concerning the ‘department of culture’, they’re dreaming,” said Bethel.
Based on the daughter of Bahamian cultural legend E Clement Bethel, the dearth of autonomy for the cultural division lends to a different major conundrum — the division can use neither donations received nor profits earned to fund its own costs.
“At once, what happens is in case you are a component of the federal government, and you might be following the Structure, all money that you simply bring into whatever agency you’re in has to enter the general public purse,” she explained.
“It has to enter the consolidated fund for the federal government.”
Calling the policy “problematic”, Bethel stressed that it doesn’t work for the cultural division.
“Culture can generate its own funding, can herald its own patronage, can raise money through promoting. It will probably do all of that,” she insisted.
She recounted an experience during which the division hosted a profit concert for national cultural entities, only to be told by the Ministry of Finance that they were prohibited from using the proceeds.
She also used the National Centre of The Performing Arts for example, saying that there was no line item for that entity.
“You couldn’t paint it; you couldn’t repair it; you couldn’t do anything because there was no line item, no account to do anything with that,” Bethel said.
“The Center of The Performing Arts was being rented and was bringing money into the consolidated fund. The identical thing with the national dance school, which was closed down under the Minnis administration. Same thing with the National Arts Festival.
“All of them bring money in, but they don’t get that a reimbursement out of the consolidated fund because any person else from the Ministry of Finance decides what allocation goes to be taken out.”
Leslie Vanderpool, founder and executive director of the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF), echoed an analogous sentiment in regards to the cultural division’s lack of structure and proposed the concept of the federal government forming a task force geared toward developing and managing the cultural affairs of the country.
“[The cultural sector] is non-existent; it doesn’t have a platform to actually express and expand,” she said in an interview with Eyewitness News.
“I feel as if we, as a collective, have to have a task force to proceed to make our voices heard.
“We’d like to have people lobbying. We’d like to treat culture, or the dearth of it fairly, like we face the pandemic.”
Vanderpool, who boasted that BIFF has showcased over 82 Bahamian movies and commenced the careers of over 52 Bahamian film directors since its inception, also hinted at an absence of cultural identity within the country.
“I need culture to be an entree fairly than an appetizer, you recognize?” she said.
She also asserted that Bahamian culture should inform its tourism industry — not the opposite way around.
“We’d like to actually reinvent the way in which that tourism is presenting itself and the ministry of culture is presenting itself,” Vanderpool said.
She said: “We rely a lot on ‘heads and beds’ and ‘butts in seats’ that we’ve type of pandered to those individuals who have those mega resorts telling us what culture is.
“If you may have a tourism entity that’s continually ‘mandating that or working towards that’, on a every day basis, they’re not necessarily concentrating on what the content is for these people to return all the way down to The Bahamas.
“They’re coming all the way down to come and see The Bahamas, and in the event that they got some type of content, you’ll see people returning.”
Written by Eyewitness News Intern Gabrielle Sterling