“GREATNESS WAS SPARKED THERE”:
Today, we venture another step closer to realising an old and long overdue dream, that of honouring our very own in the persons of Derek and Roderick Walcott.
While the dream is long overdue, it is not a stale dream. It is a dream that has found new life in the creation of a museum and arts centre on lower Chaussée Rd. It is a dream that marries a number of noble pursuits: national pride and identity building, arts and culture, heritage conservation, urban renewal and tourism product development.
A MORE MATURE COUNTRY
It has been said by many cynics and pessimists, perhaps with good reason, that Saint Lucia has been a society of dead heroes. We often neglect to honour our heroes – those who helped shaped our identity, our freedom, our convictions; and remember them only after they are dead and buried.
However, it is in fact a symptom of our colonial past that we have often not realised and recognised too loudly our successes, and the successful amongst us. And so, in many respects, today this project signals that we are becoming a more mature country.
WE CAN CELEBRATE OUR OWN
Earlier this year at our thirty-fifth anniversary, we were all pleased to come together as a country to honour Saint Lucia’s first prime minister, Sir John Compton. Constitution Park was transformed, enhancing its aesthetic quality and there were many who were pleased to see that a Labour Party Government could take such a bold step in honouring a prime minister of an opposing political party.
But it showed that Saint Lucia has matured. We can take a new path in striving for our own identity. We can celebrate our own, because John Compton no longer belonged to just the United Workers’ Party, he belonged to all Saint Lucians.
Today, Ambassador, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is helping our nation to continue along this maturing path through a national project to honour and celebrate the memory and intellect of the Walcott Brothers.
Most Saint Lucians know of our 1992 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, the Honourable Derek Walcott. However, the majority still know of him only in name, and not through the genius of his works – his plays, his poems, his words – what he has produced, what has brought him world-wide acclaim.
However, even fewer of our younger generation know of his brother, Roddey Walcott. Roddey was the man who, for a number of years, held the fort here in Saint Lucia , so to speak, while Derek had gone off to university in Jamaica and then onto Trinidad.
Roderick Walcott is remembered well by an older generation who knew of the Saint Lucia Arts Guild – simple people, amateurs who came together to produce, to create, to entertain through theatre. Sadly, the Arts Guild of the 1950s and 60s is now relegated to a distant memory. However, its raison d’etre remains in our youth who are seeking expression and opportunities through arts and creative industry.
I and many long for the day when the works of the Walcott Brothers can be seen daily and enjoyed by all, young and old, native and foreign, from all walks of life.
THE MUSTARD SEED
You see, Ambassador, there is a great importance that our young must see the smallness of the place from which greatness came. And this is why it is important to maintain the historicity and authenticity of the Walcott House.
It is a small house and even back then would have been surrounded by a mix of working class people. And yet within those walls, a single mother raised three children. Poems were written. Plays were rehearsed.
Children were taught to sew. Carnival costumes were manufactured. Pans were struck in the yard. Paintings were conceived. And a realisation of a people’s greatness was sparked there.
And it all came from a tiny home, not a luxurious palace. And so, this house says to our youth that mustard seeds can grow magnificent trees. It reminds us all that your path, your identity need not shaped merely by pursuits of money and “bling.”
It says that you can be poor but you need not turn to crime, you need not become depressed if you embrace the power of your mind.
ESTABLISHING A MUSEUM
In 2006, when I was Prime Minister, we took a decision to vest the property – which had seen life as a printery the Lithographic Press, and by then already been abandoned – to be placed under the responsibility of the Saint Lucia National Trust, for the purpose of establishing a museum.
And meetings were held. And ideas were sketched. But it essentially was left in abeyance for another five years.
Somewhere around late 2012, I believe, Trust officials met with me as the minister responsible for the Trust, and one of the projects they raised was that of the proposed Walcott Museum. And I gave my opinion that the project should be pursued and an undertaking to secure the financing to ensure it could finally find life.
A MAJOR START
The Trust has since run with the project, and has partnered with the Ministry of Physical Development, Housing & Urban Renewal to assist in the design, planning, project implementation and the myriad of actions that will be necessary to make this project a success. As things go, the grant of 2.8 million US dollars or about 7.5 million EC dollars from the Republic of China (Taiwan) may be seen by some a small amount for all that this project hopes to achieve. However, it is a major start.
I have been advised that the Trust is approaching this as a national project, and will be seeking corporate support, as well as additional international support so that this institution can become something world class and truly representative of Saint Lucia’s cultural genius. I urge all who can to make a contribution to this national effort.
A PLACE OF LEARNING
Today, Your Excellency, this first cheque disbursement which you will shortly present represents an important milestone for realising a project that will create among other things:
1. A reconstructed Walcott House in keeping with the traditional architectural vernacular, which will serve as a museum and gallery; and
2. An Arts Centre which will include additional exhibition space, a 150-seat training, experimental black-box theatre which will be used for teaching theatre, art rooms and reference library.
The wish of having a centre for teaching and learning the arts is a specific wish of the Honourable Derek Walcott, who has indicated that his mother, Alix Walcott, was a teacher and that in her honour it should always be a place of learning.
Additionally, so as to ensure sustainability, it is proposed that the facility would include a gift and book shop and restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating set within a courtyard.
In the coming weeks, as the project will break ground, I am sure the media and the entire nation will be apprised in greater detail at the formal launch of Walcott Place.
And so, once again Ambassador, may I extend my thanks to the Republic of China (Taiwan) for its generosity as we embark on yet another project of bilateral cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you