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Taking pan to higher heights

Friday, March 4, 2011

It is reassuring that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has committed, in a very public way, to making $7 million available for the completion of the Pan Trinbago headquarters. The promise of state funding for this purpose goes back to the era of the government of the National Alliance for Reconstruction of ANR Robinson. Then the funding was supposed to have come from proceeds recovered from the fraudulent activity of a PNM minister in the Eric Williams era and some funding was made available. Subsequently, the Patrick Manning administration committed to the effort and made $3.7 million available to Pan Trinbago for the purpose of building the home of pan. But clearly the sum was insufficient to meet the needs of developing the facilities required. The construction that began more than a decade ago has been neglected for several years with the structure at Orange Grove being exposed to the elements. Reports are that if it is to be continued, there would need to be technical studies done to determine whether it would be safe to continue building on the basic infrastructure or indeed if it would be wise to restart the process.

Now Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, who was instrumental in having the land at Orange Grove made available for the construction effort, is saying that it is time to get the job done. And this is not soon enough. It cannot be that as a society we could so neglect the wonderful heritage bequeathed to the nation and the world by so blithely ignoring the responsibility to establish such a basic requirement as a steelband headquarters. But beyond putting down the physical headquarters for the steelband movement, what is required is far more than simply having a place for panmen to meet and discuss the staging of the next Panorama or J’Ouvert Bomb Competition. Pan has gone out to the world, and that is how it should be if the instrument is to be advanced. No one is afraid that the piano, guitar, trombone are instruments available and played all over the world, so why should we be hesitant about exposing the pan?

However, the birth place of the steelband has to find ways and means to continue being the leader in the development of the instrument and the musicianship which emanates from it. A pan headquarters must be a place of innovation, science and technology, an instigator of revolutionary ideas for the steelband and steelband music. It has to be a place from which entrepreneurial vision must come, a place which could motivate business people to go out and develop new means of turning steelband music into a billion-dollar industry. But Pan Trinbago must be immediately warned that the nation would require much from it for the state funding made available to the movement. Stated differently, the headquarters must not be for the establishment of a bureaucratic administrative complex. Neither should it become a place of ceaseless infighting and contestations which the pan fraternity, as with so many other local institutions, succumb to at times.

One is sure that the Government will not simply dole out funds to Pan Trinbago or, indeed, any other organisation without structures in place to ensure value for money. The Prime Minister has been quoted as saying the figure to go to the construction would be $7 million. Perhaps the Government will also consider additional funding, if it becomes necessary, for capital projects such as developing the pan and exposing tuners and innovators to research projects. Equally required however would be for Pan Trinbago to develop economic projects for making the organisation self-sustainable over a period of time. The pan organisation owes it to the memory of the pioneers to make the instrument and the bands commercially viable and not simply and eternally dependent on grants from the Government or monies from corporate sponsors.


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