Culture in Guyana

Guyana Chronicle
December 19, 2006

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HERE in Guyana, we have come a long way since Independence when it comes to Culture and the Arts.

In the post-Independence, Burnhamite era, artistic output flourished with books and pamphlets being printed by the dozens, a great many village concerts unassisted by boom boxes, and play after play being performed at the National Cultural Centre and the Theatre Guild Playhouse in Georgetown.

Of course, back then, this expression came with one caveat - that artists possess not so much an individual artistic licence as they did a ticket on the socialist state's gravy train. Or as Martin Carter once eloquently put it, "A mouth is always muzzled by the food it eats to live."

Today, freedom of expression is a given in Guyanese society. Artists are not constrained to the expression of an overbearing ideology.

However, while the restrictions have been taken away, so it seems has the gravy train.

Today, the largest artistic funding in Guyana comes from two places: the corporate sector, and the public health sector, particularly in the area of HIV/AIDS.

PEPFAR, GT&T and Ansa McAl alone have in the past five years contributed phenomenal amounts of money into the hiring and promotion of local musicians and - in the case of current HIV/AIDS radio serial drama, "Merundoi" - writers.

And while these initiatives have been good in launching the careers of some talented young people - Timeka Marshall, a former GT&T Jingle Competition winner stands out here - there is need for the establishment of an environment in which artistic skills are developed outside of any corporate or other influence, where talent is advanced and rewarded with as few strings attached as possible.

There is no real obstacle preventing the establishment of an Arts Council, dedicated to the nurturing of upcoming artists, in Guyana.

It just takes a non-partisan and autonomous board of citizens, a clear and accountable facility for the justification of the choices made, and a proper marketing and revenue earning strategy.

There is no real obstacle also in establishing proper copyright legislation and enforcement here in Guyana.

This is one of the key components of creating not only an artistic renaissance in Guyana but also the technological evolution that seems ever on the horizon for us.

If the recourse to legal measures taken by an artist to protect his or her work is an onerous and lengthy process with no clear outcome, what is going to happen to the local computer programmer who can possibly invent the next big thing in Internet software?

Our legal system has a laissez-faire attitude to textbook piracy, while young people around the world are making billions of US dollars by selling their copyrighted computer software.

The need for the strengthening of Guyana's artistic and cultural identity - whatever the individual elements of the general amalgam may be - is apparent all around us, something we encounter day to day and not even recognise it.

When President Bharrat Jagdeo refers to our food import bill as "horrendous", he is in essence talking in part about our importation of culture.

Some economists - notably recently in CARICOM as well - have begun to bandy about the notion of cultural industries, the idea being that developing nations can pre-package their cultural and ship it out.

The reasoning behind this suffers from this basic and self evident flaw of all reasoning which pushes free and fair trade in a decidedly restrictive and unfair global environment as the magic bullet, or carpet rather, which can lift developing countries out of poverty.

The reason that the cultural products of other economies are able to penetrate third world economies such as ours easily is not because of any inherent strength or superiority of their culture: it is because of the conditioned perception, and the reinforced reality, of the inferiority of ours.