In light of this month’s Culture Week celebrations, the Virgin Islands should commit to vigorously incorporating heritage preservation and cultural projects into the hurricane recovery process.
After sound recommendations from residents, the territory’s Recovery to Development Plan includes a list of such initiatives that are win-wins for residents and tourists alike.
They include restoring museums and historic sites damaged in last year’s storms; developing a culture policy and strategic plan; building a central library that would house the territory’s archives and other documents; launching new national parks; and passing legislation to protect heritage sites, among others.
These are all great ideas. The trouble is, they are not new. In fact, some of them have been discussed and promised for decades with little, if any, action.
And the new recovery plan doesn’t include timelines for completion, it doesn’t prioritise projects, and it doesn’t explain in detail how the well-meaning initiatives will be funded.
Clearly, more work is needed. The Department of Culture — ideally with the assistance of the VI Studies Institute at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College — should consult with stakeholders and the general public and then propose a specific plan and a timeline for accomplishing such goals as soon as possible. Then the Cabinet and the House of Assembly should agree to allocate as much funding as possible from the recovery loans that we hope will be coming soon.
Without a carefully conceived strategy for including cultural initiatives in the recovery process, we fear that well-meaning plans will continue to get kicked down the road for the foreseeable future.
To the listed strategy, we would add a major expansion of HLSCC’s VI Studies Institute to a more comprehensive programme that could help educate residents about the territory’s history and culture starting in primary school.
An expanded institute could also spearhead more cultural events, like the writers’ workshop hosted recently by the locally based Moko Magazine. Though that event was fairly small, it could be expanded in the future, and similar workshops could feature visual artists, crafters, storytellers and others whose skills and knowledge are too often greatly undervalued here.
Though there typically is a cost to such cultural initiatives, they should not be considered a drain on the public purse. On the contrary, at a time when visitors are tiring of sun, sand and sea, any cultural project stands to provide an invaluable boost to the tourism sector. Such efforts also attract grants, business sponsorships and other funding that might not otherwise be available.
Talking about the importance of culture during this annual observance is well and good. But to bring about real change, a deep commitment and substantive action are needed over the long term.
Ultimately, we see no reason why the hurricane recovery process shouldn’t herald the start of a cultural renaissance in the Virgin Islands.