Letters & Opinion

The Case For The National Cultural Centre At Barnard Hill: PART III: The Historical Gift

Image of The National Cultural Centre


THIS is the final part of the series on why government should not proceed with its plan to remove the National Cultural Centre NCC) and Cultural Development Foundation’s (CDF) headquarters from their ideal location at Barnard Hill in the city to a flood-prone site at Union outside the city and replace them with temporary buildings for the Courts. Here, ACCT (Artistic and Cultural Community Team), a coordinating group for the Artistic and Cultural Community) presents the historical aspects of its case.

Would you take back a gift that you gave to someone, a friend, especially if your intention was to assist that person improve his/her life? You would be regarded as a downright cad if you did so! Well, that’s exactly what the Allen Chastanet government would be if it took Barnard Hill away from the Artistic and Cultural Community.

You see, the property at Barnard Hill was donated to the arts and cultural community by the deceased former Prime Minister Sir John Compton in response to a longstanding outcry by artistes in St. Lucia for a Cultural Centre. He chose Barnard Hill because it reminded him of another hill he had seen in Italy – one dominated by a superb cultural edifice with a panoramic view of the city below.

He was astounded by its prominence in the city and for him Barnard Hill was the perfect site to build a similar beacon for the arts in Saint Lucia. At Saint Lucia’s Independence celebrations in 1979, Sir John publicly announced that the St. Lucia government had reserved and donated the area at Barnard Hill for a cultural complex.

Sir John’s vision of Barnard Hill as Saint Lucia’s Acropolis with its Parthenon-like cultural complex was later contained in the design brief for the CDF headquarters which called for an edifice that would be visible from the heart of downtown Castries and which would later be complemented by other iconic buildings. Barnard Hill was to be the home of the arts and culture and the locus for their growth.

Later, the French government announced that it was donating a structure for a cultural centre to the people of St. Lucia. It was a temporary tent-like facility and was placed at Barnard Hill since this had been proclaimed by Sir John as the site for the cultural complex. Thirty years later, that “temporary tent” still houses the National Cultural Centre (NCC), which has become the traditional home for the arts and culture in St. Lucia.

As far back as 1970, the government had already taken steps to establish a national cultural complex when it imposed a 10% levy on income earned by St. Lucian artistes with the funds collected going towards its construction. By 1975, this stood at $200,000 which went into the erection of the building housing the offices of the CDF at Barnard Hill.

Today, this levy exists as a withholding tax on income earned by artistes. The CDF, whose membership comprises artistes, had been given responsibility for the development of the arts and culture in St. Lucia and its building, planned as an integral part of the cultural complex, was designed to be used for various aspects of the arts – for example, rehearsals and productions — and has in fact been utilized for that purpose.

Consequently, while the CDF was not given formal legal title to the land on which its headquarters has been housed for over thirty years, the Artistic and Cultural Community has poured sweat, tears and treasure into the Cultural Centre and the CDF building and has, therefore, earned equity in that property.

It is a tragic irony that the political party which Sir John Compton once led is the one now desecrating his noble ideas with its decision to take back his gift of Barnard Hill to the Artistic and Cultural Community. If this decision is implemented, not only will it be an affront to Sir John’s legacy but it will also displace the Cultural Centre from what is the best location for a cultural complex in the City of Castries.

The reason given for the relocation of the NCC also lacks logic. It is being proposed that the CDF and the NCC (which is now a temporary facility that needs to be replaced by a permanent structure) be moved into another temporary facility away from the city centre to provide space for temporary premises for the Courts. Why move from one temporary tent to another temporary tent (even though a larger one) so as to provide space for temporary buildings for another government department. Illogical!!

While one public good is not more important than another and so the justice system should not be deemed more important than the arts and culture and vice versa, the arts and culture have been neglected by successive governments since the donation of the land at Barnard Hill for that sector. The government should take the opportunity to reverse this and earn the eternal gratitude of the Artistic and Cultural Community by establishing a modern cultural complex at Barnard Hill.

There are existing plans as to how this can be accomplished and international financial backing is available as the Taiwanese government has pledged financial assistance for the building of a cultural complex in Saint Lucia. It was a promise made in 2007 when Saint Lucia switched diplomatic relations from the People’s Republic of China to Taiwan and the Chinese agreement to build a cultural complex at Barnard Hill suffered collateral damage as a result of that change.

Ten years later, it is time to repair that damage and to give meaning to the vision of Sir John Compton for the arts and culture, which he had espoused just over three decades ago.

1 Comment

  1. These AACT views are just . In fact I personally was the lead Architect in the design of the much envisioned National Cultural Complex between 1982-1984 as Head of the Architectural Section of the Central Planning Unit. The concept then still apply but there is always room for updating and make a design relevant to any new modus operandi. In fact I still have a copy of the brief and photos of a few drawings. Whether the drawings are still on file at Arch. Section is not known as I write this.

    My suggestion, as a registered architect, is for the Minister of Culture to recommend the Barnard Hill site for this facility as initially envisioned by Sir John with the necessary modifications if any, in synergy with the AACT.

    In light of budget constraints the Minister can perhaps appoint myself as the lead Architect again in association with the present Architectural Section to complete this well needed Architectural Document/Drawings, Specifications, etc. in interest of continuity.

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