Institutionalizing Culture

Saturday 17th, January 2015 / 09:21 Published by

pam-burnsideI recently read an article which stated that the Prime Minister wished to ‘institutionalize culture’ which made me wary as I tried to figure out what exactly that phrase meant. Was he referring to an “institution” such as those in existence decades ago where the mentally challenged were institutionalized, cut off from the real world and pumped full of drugs to keep them docile and incoherent; or on the very opposite end of the spectrum – was he referring to the formation of a centre of learning where Culture could be nurtured and cultivated for enrichment of the mind and soul of the people?  I pondered whether this was a Freudian slip…..as Bahamian Culture to my mind is being dehumanized and debilitated in this present stifling environment.

Culture is a living organism that undergoes constant change – it adapts to the environment and is a unifying force for a country and should be embraced in unison by its people. Culture must be nurtured and enriched, polished and praised in a nourishing environment so that it can continue to grow and flourish. Culture is a humanizing force – it defines who we are as a people.

If we examine the recent actions of this government we are led to believe that they are following the path of stunting Bahamian Culture by polluting it with foreign entities and burying it beneath a barrage of toxic waste.

Bahamian Culture is being poisoned and stunted. It has no encouraging environment in which to flourish and grow because it is being strapped down by unenlightened persons many of whom come from a legal background whose direction is adversarial and confrontational – me against you/who will win? It is being predicated upon old precedents rather than being exposed to an awakening of the mind. How many ‘cultural’ lawyers have readily embraced their artistic side and allowed their humanity to flourish? Persons such as Jeanne Thompson, Winston Saunders, Cleophas Adderley come to mind.

In order to create, one must first de-construct…..there must first be chaos in order to bring order. When you are cooking, the kitchen becomes a flurry of activity and ‘stuff’ is everywhere….. but are you the type of cook who makes a mess and leaves it behind for others to clean up, or do you clean as you go (which is how professional chefs are trained) in order to keep your work area organized? When you build a house, the same thing happens, ‘stuff’ is everywhere but there is an organized process to be followed in order to reach the goal. When you plant a garden you have to clear out the weeds, dig up the soil, and empty the pots before the final product is put into the ground, and then it must be watered, nurtured, watched, cared for, fertilized in order to flourish.

The same is true for the arts and creativity…it is a process which needs to be recognized, understood, given encouragement and allowed to organically create and recreate itself! Can you understand that, politicians? Are you cognizant of the fact that in your school environment when you had music, art or literary classes  your teachers were preparing a creative environment in order for you to embrace the ‘arts’…..or did you consider it (as males) too ‘effeminate’ to get involved in? Is this the underlying problem of our lack of male-politician-creativity-understanding in this macho-ridden society? If so, you are killing our country slowly with your ignorance!

I also shudder to think that I myself might have been a product of such an environment! I am so happy that upon receipt of my acceptance to study law at the Inns of Court, I did an about face and decided to walk the road of creativity by pursuing a tertiary education in English Literature and Fashion Design. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I think of it!

I do not claim to have all of the answers, but I certainly lay claim to having expertise in the field of Culture with decades under my belt. I have spent my life surrounded by cultural activities since my childhood days watching my mother, a founding member of the Carver Garden Club, take part in flower arranging and decoration, or my sister at ballet classes with Hubert Farrington, or seeing photos of my eldest sister in piano recitals with Meta Cumberbatch and later on assisting her  in the formation of the National Arts & Crafts Exhibition,  and later on in life when I became a founding student of Shirley Hall Bass’ dance classes which led to spending years at the Dundas enjoying performances, followed by active participation as an adult along with my late husband Jackson Burnside, as we focused on promoting and celebrating our rich Bahamian Culture in its many rich and diverse forms.

I cannot, however, claim any knowledge of what to do in the Halls of Parliament – when to speak, stand, bow, wear ‘animal hair’ wigs and robes –  and I cannot assume to be able to make comment on same, but I sure know a thing or two about culture…. and I know that it does not mean, for example: giving  an Hawaiian image pride of place  on all the Independence Cultural invitations, or showing a photo of oneself wearing an authentic Chinese dress as an example of being a Bahamian junkanoo, or scraping the saw in a suit and tie, or putting the word ‘Junkanoo’ before the word ‘carnival’ to make it Bahamian.

If we do not condemn these abominations we run a serious risk of losing our Bahamian-ness. Our Bahamian Culture is in critical condition due to a lack of focus, understanding and appreciation by those persons who consider themselves the powers that be, but are incorrect in that assumption – the power resides in we, the people and we, the people must make our voices heard.

On December 1, 2014, Nassau became a member of UNESCO’s prestigious global Creative Cities Network as a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts due to 6 long years of hard work by ordinary, passionate and committed Bahamians – and without any governmental help. This is a positive acclamation of the power of the people to make things happen for OUR benefit, because that is where our focus MUST lie – we need to set our culture compass on course to use what is ours to do what is right and make this country great again. It is our legacy, it is our right, it is our mission.

Pam Burnside

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