BitDepth#825 - March 13

At the launch of Caribbean Intransit's Arts Journal, I asked the question of culture's keepers, does anyone care?
Culture: nobody cares
Panelists at the launch of Caribbean Intransit Arts Journal’s second issue at UWI’s Open Campus Auditorium. Photograph courtesy Daniella Carrington.

On Wednesday last, I took part in a panel discussion on the subject “Easy Access? Art, availability, technology, impact.”
The first notion, on seeing those words huddled promisingly together like that on a promotional poster, is that technology amplifies all those possibilities.

That’s not just theoretical, it’s something that I’ve experienced myself after building, maintaining and promoting an articulated presence for myself and my work on the Internet.
Such stories are commonplace enough that repeating the details of the process is largely unnecessary, but understanding the environment that breeds that kind of initiative is rarely part of the conversation.

It simply isn’t possible to layer technology over an existing process and hope that amazing things will happen. At its best, such efforts only create a sense of loss for the original method of presentation and at its worst, serves simply as shovelware, the unthinking recycling of work from another medium into digital distribution.

It’s the difference, then, between visiting MOMA and viewing a bad online gallery catalogue or, say, last year’s CarnivalTV online experience of Carnival Tuesday and this year’s unwatchable horror.
Technology alone doesn’t create an engaging experience, and culture is a highly perishable form once it’s removed from direct experience and grafted into the sterile environment of online access.

To recreate the effect of the original experience of engaging with art and culture requires a commitment to understanding the original work and deciding how to recreate and curate its presence online.
And to do that, you have to begin by giving a damn.

It’s one of the intriguing dichotomies of Trinidad and Tobago culture that those institutions and groups who are committed to recording truth in practice, and advancing the artform in novel ways are the least funded while those who are most committed to maintaining the status quo, regardless of relevance or public interest, are the best rewarded.

The politicizing of national culture over the last two decades has proven to be the single most stultifying influence on performance arts across the board in this country.
The most dramatic examples of this can be found in the Calypso Monarch competition, the semi-finals of Panorama and every calypso tent still open which no longer operate on principles of basic commerce but rather on subsidy and no longer speak to their core audiences with any authority.

As it stands today, projects that exist outside the ambit of the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism do so either on a shoestring budget or are angling for subsidy.
It remains consistently surprising that in the far larger camp of institutional arts curation and support there is no effort of note to expand access to local cultural expression using the Internet.

The complete absence of steelbands and traditional calypsonians from any modern Internet based promotion, distribution and engagement suggests an almost perfect effort to keep these artforms entrenched in parochial irrelevance.
Independent arts projects like Alice Yard and Arc Magazine place some content on the web, but they too still tend to treat Internet distribution as an adjunct to their business model instead of its core.

While some value remains in the mass media information distribution model of curated, organised newsgathering, cultural practitioners and artists remain disturbingly numb to the power of one person doing one thing, building and refining it through iterations while attracting an audience through marketing and the serendipity of search.

Today, tripping over online communications tools, the creative talent of Trinidad and Tobago finds itself invisible in the global conversation on culture.
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