|An advocate for the arts|
Guardian National Correspondent
Published: Aug 18, 2012
With the country’s cultural affairs lumped together with sports and youth in one government ministry, it’s often difficult for the person who takes charge of this ministry to consider every single concern of the cultural community during their tenure.
Yet that is exactly what former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Charles Maynard did in just a few short years in this position.
Maynard’s death earlier this week is a shocking tragedy to the artistic and cultural community in The Bahamas because he was the greatest friend we had in the House of Parliament. Sentiments echoed by the artistic community as the news spread of his passing reflected their deep appreciation for the man who stood for a nation made of more than just sun, sand and sea, and strove – oftentimes unsuccessfully – to help others see that too.
“He really understood where we were coming from as a cultural community,” said former Director of Cultural Affairs Nicolette Bethel. “He believed in many of the same things we believed in.”
“I have deep respect for him because he understood the principle of culture as being more than just entertainment and diversion,” she continued. “As a businessman, he really got the idea of culture as a part of the economic fabric of a country. Maybe that made him ahead of his time because I think he found his colleagues were far more traditional and conservative in their understanding of culture.”
Indeed throughout his tenure, the one project Maynard persistently returned to was to host the Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta) in The Bahamas as he believed it would successfully place the unique art and culture of our nation in the regional and global spotlight.
But as Bethel points out, often Maynard’s job was more of a delicate balancing act between two communities divided over what was important to a build a nation, and for that reason Carifesta 2010 could not be hosted by The Bahamas, despite Maynard’s persistence.
“He once told me, when he was fighting the battle for Carifesta, that he was told he had to make a choice – either he’s a cultural activist or a member of Parliament,” said Bethel. “In my experience, his colleagues in particular didn’t really respect culture the way he did. I didn’t see the enthusiasm in his personal lives, whereas I saw it in Charles.”
Despite taking criticism from all sides – as his colleagues chided him for siding with artists and the artists took out their frustrations of the government’s short-sightedness on him – Maynard continued to do what he could to help the artistic community realize its potential.
As a result of the Carifesta cancellation in 2010, a group of artists and cultural activists decided to host their own arts festival in Nassau, called Carifringe. It successfully celebrated a range of art forms in The Bahamas and could not have occurred without the support from Maynard, says Carifringe creator and coordinator Jon Murray.
The former minister not only helped them secure funding, but also attended their press conferences and showed his support in any way that he could, finding the experience the perfect exchange between the artistic community and the government.
“I felt he understood how our exchange should work,” said Murray. “He knew it was not their place as administrators and facilitators to dictate what is going on in the art community – he needed a collection of artists to come together to say what they want and then the civil servants can facilitate these things.”
“He never had desire to have control. He got it – he knew politicians were politicians and that cultural people need to be in control of their own work and there needed to be a synonymous relationship between the two,” he continued.
“One of the criticisms of Carifesta was that it was completely government-run and funded so artists wouldn’t have control of their work because the government would decide what was appropriate or not. He recognized it shouldn’t be like that, which was a great thing.”
Indeed, Maynard worked hard to define the balance and create boundaries between cultural and political groups, effectively navigating and for the most part dispelling decades-old resentment and tension between the two with no complaint.
Maynard made particular strides in this regard in the Junkanoo community, which engaged in years of dispute with government decisions regarding their parade. Despite the formation of the Junkanoo Corporation of New Providence in 2004 to allow Junkanoo community leaders to be responsible for their own affairs, tension and difficulties still lingered, and it was Maynard who worked with the group to create a written agreement between the JCNP and the government outlining their separate responsibilities.
“It has made life easier because all of our roles are defined,” said Chairman of the JCNP Silbert Ferguson. “One of the points is that everyone is responsible for their own bills – responsible for raising our own funds and making sure the parade works properly. Charles was very instrumental, when we took on corporate sponsorship last year, in helping us to not ‘give away the house’ and not get anything for it.”
Ferguson credits Maynard with his ability to truly listen as a talented problem-solver – where he saw difficulties, he presented solutions and opportunities to expand. Not once, says Ferguson, did he ever feel Maynard making a choice in self-interest – despite his own Junkanoo affiliations as a Saxons Superstar.
“Charles has been a very good friend even as he organized the parades downtown,” said Ferguson. “I always asked him on Junkanoo nights if he was going to dance when his group, the Saxons, came in.”
“He said he couldn’t dance; so I said, listen here, everybody knows you’re a Saxon, so just go have a good time. That was something we laughed about. The groups accepted that because they knew he was fair. That’s how we were. We were creating that important bond where we separate the competition from the way we live.”
Indeed, as Leader of the Saxons Superstars and National Coordinator for Junior Junkanoo Percy ‘Vola’ Francis points out, Maynard had the rare foresight in a minister to put in place policies and make decisions that would live far beyond their tenure.
“In my experience, every new government that comes in would come in with a different outlook on something – they want to do things their way,” said Francis. “But I always believed that rather than reinventing the wheel, let us set standard policies so that it doesn’t mater who the government is – the policies will still remain what they are instead of dissolving something and starting again.”
“It’s like a tree growing really nicely, and then you cut it down and plant another tree. Charles believed in standardizing certain policies that would remain.”
Francis says Maynard had big plans for the cultural community of The Bahamas now that the new Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium had finally been completed. In fact, he was turning his attention to the long-forgotten National Center for the Performing Arts before the May election results. However, there is no reason why his cultural legacy cannot still live on in the new stadium.
“You saw the London Olympics performances and what they did in their stadium – just because the new stadium is a sports venue doesn’t mean it cannot be a cultural venue,” said Francis. “Why build a big white elephant that will just be sitting there waiting for sports events when there are a variety of different cultural events we could have right in there that would be suitable?”
“I think that was also part of his dream – to see something like that happen. He tried really hard to make his ministry ‘one’ ministry – youth, sports and culture, never one over the other. That’s a big job. That’s the trinity.”
Though Maynard’s work as minister of youth, sports and culture would be over in barley three years with this year’s election results, he was looking forward to being a big part of the cultural community in his personal life again, says Francis.
Despite Maynard’s efforts to attend as many cultural events and happenings as possible, his greatest love remained Junkanoo. Francis credits former Chairman of the National Junkanoo Committee and founding member of the Saxons Phil Cooper for instilling in a young Maynard the value of Junkanoo to Bahamian society.
“He’s an integral part of the Saxons and he spoke so much, after the results of the last election, about getting back into the line-up of the rush again,” said Francis. “Every Junkanooer he spoke with recently, he emphasized his desire to come back. I think his last rush with us was during independence and I spotted him and he seemed so happy, so relieved and so very excited about Junkanoo.”
Francis credits Maynard with being the first minister in his position to make an effort to support every cultural event – during Junior Junkanoo parades, even those on the out-islands, Maynard could be seen giving his support to young Junkanoo enthusiasts and cultivating in them a pride in their Bahamian cultural heritage.
“It was so prestigious to actually have a minister accompany us to these islands, and he became an integral part of this growth and relationship we were forming,” said Francis. “The people on the islands appreciated the fact that we had a minister who took time out and attended these parades, and he was that kind of guy – very jovial, very down-to-earth, very compassionate and passionate about his job. He loved what he did and he had fun doing it.”
“Sometimes with him, when you went to the Junior Parades and one big sweet piece of music kick up, he gone,” added Francis. “He’s doing the shuffle, the slide. Sometimes too if we were just passing through and band was playing, he would tell me he had the urge to sing, and he would go and grab the microphone and sing. He had passion.”
Maynard’s passion and commitment to arts was as infectious as the Junkanoo rumble that moved his feet – through his unwavering support and often thankless balancing act, he managed not only to get artists on his side but also show everyone who he came into contact with a vision for a better Bahamas, no matter what affiliations you had. We can only hope this vision will be carried on by those now in a position to do so. He will be truly missed as our advocate and friend.