Editorial for August 15: The art of government

There’s a fine line between government supporting the arts and government sanctioning the arts.

From September, Cabinet will have the power to appoint Cayman National Cultural Foundation board members – similar to the appointed boards of the National Gallery and National Museum. We are pleased one of the foundation’s board members will represent the estate of the late Helen Harquail, the key benefactor to the foundation and National Gallery.

However, we are wary that eight of the nine board members will be political appointees. Currently, under the original 1984 law, the foundation’s board has seven members and is responsible for its own succession.
Considering the foundation receives a significant amount of government money (nearly $570,000 in last year’s budget), it is understandable that government wishes the foundation to conform to other statutory authorities. We can only hope that Cabinet realises the importance of keeping politics separate from the arts.

If the foundation and the local artists it supports no longer feel they can operate with freedom, how does that handcuff the country’s cultural scene? For example, how effective would the foundation’s annual “Rundown” event be if ruling party figures were exempted from the show’s irreverent commentary?
The foundation’s artistic director Henry Muttoo said, “I have every faith that [Premier Alden McLaughlin] and his team will take into consideration [the foundation]’s enviable track record of non-alignment to any causes other than Caymanian artistic and cultural expression, and the freedom of artists to create.”
We wish we could share his optimism.

Readers don’t have to delve very far back into this newspaper’s archives to discover front-page stories on questionable goings-on in relation to appointed boards, such as the Airports Authority, Port Authority, Tourism Attraction Board, etc. We shall see how often future culture ministers choose to exercise their new power to give the foundation directions “in the public interest”.

There’s no dispute that the 1984 law is terribly outdated. We do not suggest the current system of foundation membership designation is ideal. We also understand government’s position that it needs the publicly funded foundation to meet requirements under the Public Management and Finance Law, and agree there needs to be cooperation among Cayman’s multifarious cultural organisations.

We wonder, however, if this situation could have been avoided more than two decades ago by government commencing a 1992 law that would have converted the foundation into a general membership organisation with an annually elected board. Legislators passing laws that don’t come into force is not a new phenomenon in Cayman.

Under the terms of the 1992 law, the foundation would have started recruiting members, whose dues and fees presumably would be a source of funding for the foundation and its efforts. That may have cut down on government’s need to subsidise the foundation’s activities so heavily, and headed off the current hazard of political people determining what kind of art is worthy of support from the Cayman Islands public.

As Mr. Muttoo points out, the current premier is a former member of the foundation and helped shape the 1992 law. That bodes well for the foundation, for the time the current government remains in power, at least.