Everybody Gets a Piece of the Pie: Grants and other handouts for TT Arts and Culture.

Recently, there was the publication of the Audited Statement of Grants Disbursed by Ministry of Arts & Multiculturalism 2010/2011 in the daily newspapers, and it made for interesting analysis. (Statement published in Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 18 May 2012, pp.A60-68.) A total of $23.3M in grants was disbursed to organisations (private, public, for-profit, non-profit) and individuals for myriad endeavours ranging from assistance funding of cultural performances, to subventions for groups, to payment of manpower for celebrations in and around the country. It must be noted that according to the Auditor General’s Report for the year ending 2011, the Ministry spent approximately $358M, so that the grant profile only represents about 6.5% of the total. The pie chart above shows the breakdown of grant giving in five broad categories:

  1. General Funding – a named catch-all category for any kind of payment and sponsorship request by individuals, organisations and corporations not specific to other categories.
  2. Carnival/Pan/Calypso – stipendiary grants for steelbands, as well as grants to every kind of group that requests assistance at Carnival time. It is assumed that these grants are used up in the narrow Carnival period. (Steelband Grants – $2.6M, Carnival Grants – $3.7M, Calypso – $0.4M via various groups for competitions and fund-raising.)
  3. Festivals/Celebrations (Non-holiday) – covering both religious and community celebrations and festivals. 2 community-based festivals received $0.1M and 8 other organisations received $1.4M for other religious festivals.
  4. Annual Subventions – for registered cultural organisations that hold an overseer position within a selected discipline or community.
  5. Holidays Celebrations – funding for national holiday celebrations broadly categorized into:
    • Significant Milestone Anniversary Recognition (celebrating some legislative victory that changed the society: Independence from Great Britain in 1962; passing of the Shouters Prohibition (Repeal) Ordinance, 1951; full emancipation under the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.) $2.7M
    • Religious Festival Celebration (Divali, Eid ul-Fitr. There is no indication of funding for Christian festival holidays.) $4.6M
    • Commemorative Recognition (Indian Arrival Day.) $1.0M

Some features stand out in this supposed transparency exercise of statement publication:

  1. The criteria for grant access is not clear either here or on the Ministry’s website, and the scale of the public grant disbursement as a factor of the promotion of the arts and culture of the country is exaggerated when one takes into consideration the published budget of an entity such as The Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company, $6.5M. That company’s mandate is the facilitation of a globally competitive entertainment industry including marketing and promotion of national creativity, and assisting access to funding of exportable cultural projects.
  2. The multiculturalism aspect of the ministry is prominent with a hefty 36% of the grants (more than one-third) going toward specific named holiday celebrations. Agents for race, religion and heritage celebrations are granted public money for facilitation of exposure of aspects of these events. When combined with the $1.5M for non-holiday events, this brings up a total of a 42% piece of the pie. Other areas of the multiculturalism umbrella are picked up in the General Funding segment.
  3. The General Funding grants cover myriad requests for funding from individuals and organisations, both private and public. 208 funding requests received grants. Many activities which used to be local and private are now partly nationalized by dipping in the communal pot. By providing grants to private individuals outside of a public criterion treads from the notional landscape of meritocracy to one where “all ah we is one” symbolism is bandied about as popular sentiment.
  4. The stranglehold on Carnival Arts by government subsidy instead of private endowment. Carnival is said to generate millions of dollars if not a billion dollars to the economy, of which a large part is directly linked with music performance and broadcast and Carnival arts display and endeavour. A combined total of 277 steelband and Carnival grants were disbursed to 166 steelbands and 111 individuals and organizations associated with the Carnival Arts. Before this current minister got his post, when he was just Gypsy, the gate-keeper organizations for calypso and steelband were effectively funded in toto by the government with the attendant suspicion of selective subsidization of the expression of particular viewpoints. The impact of government funding on private donation has not been collected here, but the resultant decline in the revenue generation and subsidiary revenue streams by steelband and traditional carnival artists and bands is clear and obvious amid the shouting for help by these players. Recently, Nestor Sullivan, steelband manager and commentator, lamented the need for that movement to recognize that this is a business, and not simply a social phenomenon. The globalization of pan and carnival, he posits, was a result of diasporic movement by private individuals, not government fiat or subsidized promotion.

Public funding has been suggested as a necessity with a need to foster arts and scholarship in locations and disciplines where such activities would not be supported by market forces or private philanthropy. The duelling strategies of a government-funded agency like the Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company and the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism towards subsidizing artistic endeavour and output are supposed to further the aim of releasing the potential of our native arts and culture. The players who get public funding haven’t morphed their business models towards a more adaptive model in these time of diminishing capital for “unnecessary” luxuries like art and culture over the ubiquitous palliatives like wine and jam (no pun intended.) All-in-all, everyone gets a piece of the pie. Let’s hope the pie remains nourishing for the hungry.

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