Today’s Editorial for September 19: To be or not to be

At face value, promoting Caymanian culture in order to enhance this country’s tourism product sounds like a good idea.

But when a government says it will spend what will likely involve at least a million dollars on a plan to create a performance troupe to promote Caymanian culture, people should take a hard look at the idea. In a time when the country is increasing public debt at unprecedented rates to build infrastructure, the government ought to be sure that any non-essential project it undertakes is not only needed, but feasible as well.

When it comes to a distinct Caymanian culture, even our legislators seem confused about what that means with regard to the performance arts. One legislator suggested tales of ‘rolling calf’ represented Caymanian culture, but a quick Internet search will show its origins are Jamaican.

It is envisioned that the new entertainment troupe will, among other things, display Batabano-type costumes and spectacle. While the name Batabano has long links with Cayman, the carnival itself only dates back to 1984 – certainly not long enough to represent a culture – and it is loosely fashioned after the carnivals of the Eastern Caribbean in any case.

Many other performance arts here in Cayman draw heavily from other countries as well. But even if we accept some borrowed arts – like quadrille dancing – that have been here long enough to be ingrained in Cayman’s culture, the question still remains whether many tourists would really want to spend several hours experiencing such performances.

Over the years, tourists and non-Caymanian residents who have attended such things as Gimme Story and Rundown often left not understanding it, partially because they couldn’t comprehend the strong Caymanian or Caribbean accents used in those productions, and partially because they had little frame of reference to the content.

In debating why a Cayman cultural performance group was needed, one MLA likened it to the spectacular cabaret at the Tropicana in Havana. But that show is put on by the cream of the crop of performers in Cuba, which has a population base of more than 11 million to draw from. That show is successful because music, dancing and lavish costumes can cross cultural divides even if attendees don’t understand the words in a song.

Perhaps most glaringly amiss in the proposal is the fact that it is a government plan and not a private sector one. It assumes that the private sector – places like the Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Marriott – not only would dedicate a place to put on productions of the performance troupe, but that they would want them to perform on any kind of a regular basis at all. Since Cayfest has never really packed in the tourists, let alone residents, what makes the government think quadrille dancing and enactments of traditional pastimes like kitchen dancing will?

It could be argued that if there really was a demand for such performances, some entrepreneur in the private sector would have started such a troupe already.

The government is talking about funding a troupe of eight to 10 performers plus administrative personnel, including several professional managers. The will not come cheap. If the idea bombs the taxpayers will be left to pay for the failure.

By all means, the government should work to develop Caymanian culture into the tourism product. But spending millions on a performance troupe in today’s economic climate is not only excessive, it’s just too risky

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