On September 10, during ceremonies to mark the 216th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation, Manuel Heredia Jr, announced plans for a $14 million upgrade to the Government House (House of Culture) in Belize City, as part of a 3-year, $40 million downtown renovation project sponsored by the Ministry, NICH and the Belize City Council.
The Minister indicated that the House of Culture “will be transformed and established as the national Colonial Museum of Belize.”
That caught the attention of artist and former president of NICH Yasser Musa, who has raised objections to the plan. In a searing open letter released earlier this week he called the concept “mentally sick…a retrograde, racist and disturbing development.”
In an interview on Wednesday he told us why.
“I think that anybody has a right in this free Belize to promote any kind of history that they wish to do so, with private funds. However, when it comes to State funds, Government funds, I think that we must prioritize how we’re going to spend our monies.
So, when I heard the 14 million dollar price tag, I was shocked first by the scale of it; and second, what was even more disturbing, an what I consider deeply racist, is the mental approach of looking to a Colonial Museum, as if that is something that we need, and something that is required.
Obviously, spending so much money, you put a lot of value and a premium on that. So I don’t know where that is coming from. That to me is completely out of touch with reality, kin terms of the aspiration of the Belizean people in 2014, as it relates to cultural promotion.”
Yasser Musa adds that in the defense of the project issued by Mayor of Belize City Darrell Bradley to 7 News on Tuesday, where says that the plans do not exclude other aspects of Belizean history, there is no mention of any consultation with key stakeholders, who he says have complained to him about neglect from the current NICH board.
“In terms of cultural development, they are way off the mark. they are missing the mark. Let us take the word ‘culture’ out of it completely. How can you justify blowing away 14 million dollars, and have no explanation about consultation with the artists, with the community. Ask them, ‘You guys, what do you want to do with 14 million dollars?’
Do you think anybody has ever consulted anybody about that? They just sit down in a room and say ‘We’re going to do this project.’ From that standpoint alone, that’s crazy.
There is so much that the artistic community has to say, and I think they have to go through a process of consultation first.”
Yasser Musa has proposed three key works that the Government and artistic community can work on: renovation of the historic Liberty Hall on Barrack Road to a modern Museum of African Heritage with additional technology for creative development; a Museum of Natural History and Botanical Garden in Belmopan to display scientific knowledge; and inclusion of youths in a robust community oral history program by promoting music, literary and creative arts.