Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 4th 2013 Contents A11
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, June 4, 2013
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for JUNE 3rd 2013
The Art Society (ASTT), which has
been occupying a $7 million plot of
state land in posh Federation Park,
Port-of-Spain, has been threatened
with eviction by the Commissioner
of State Lands.
The ASTT received the letter in Sep-
tember last year saying it must now
pay $275,000 a year in rent.
At a recent meeting the audience
was told it might be the last one the
society could hold at that venue. Mem-
bers and art lovers were there to hear
artists Embah, Peter Minshall, Althea
Bastien and Wilcox Morris talk about
T&T art from 1962-76. The talk took
place on the grounds of the society s
headquarters, while inside, works by
members were on display in a show
called Belle Eau.
The society was given a 30-year lease
at a peppercorn rent by the government
in 1966. It expired in 1996.
The ASTT, whose mission is to nur-
ture, promote, protect and advocate for
visual artists, built a gallery on the site
in the 1980s with the assistance of
ASTT president Gail Guy told the
T&T Guardian that before it got help
to put up a building, the society had
been moving from place to place and
at one time was even in the St James
She said since it got the lease, the
ASTT had been paying a peppercorn
rent of $1 a year, but rent shot up and
they paid $300 at the last payment.
The lease expired in 1996 and the
ASTT, she admitted, sort of forgot to
pay attention to that fact.
"Then we began writing letters asking
for an extension of the lease and it was
in September last year we were offered
another lease (the $275,000 rent)," she
The Commissioner of State Lands
has now given the ASTT a month to
say if it is going to pay the $275,000
a year rent and pointed to a law that
speaks of eviction, a distressed Guy
She said the society was writing let-
ters to various government ministries,
including the Housing and the Envi-
ronment Ministry, Ministry of Food
Production, Land and Marine Affairs
and the Ministry of Arts and Multi-
culturalism, appealing for help.
She said they spoke via telephone to
Dr Roodal Moonilal, Minister of Hous-
ing, because the Commissioner of State
Lands was removed from the Ministry
of Food Production, Land and Marine
Affairs to his ministry.
Moonilal promised to look into the
matter but in April the society received
another letter, similar to the first,
repeating the threat of eviction, Guy
"They gave us one month to state
whether we intended to pay the
$275,000 a year rent."
She said the society spoke to Asgar
Ali, adviser to Moonilal, about the mat-
ter and he said the Federation Park land
was valued $7 million.
"He said institutional leases are pro-
vided at a cost only slightly less than
the market cost."
When the T&T Guardian called the
office of the Commissioner of State
Lands for a comment, his secretary
said, "He just came back from a meet-
Asked when we could speak to him,
she asked what about and said, "I don t
think he will want to comment on that."
Guy said the ASTT, which is regis-
tered as a non-profit, non-governmen-
tal charity, has never been an institution.
"The government gives us a stipend
of $20,000 a year and we provide them
with audited accounts showing we
never carry over more than $200,000
However, the ASTT got a "really lucrative arrange-
ment" when the 101 Art Gallery rented its gallery for
five years from 2004-2009.
"The months of September, October and November
were rent-free only in lieu of the 101 Art Gallery
modifying and maintaining the gallery, by installing
air conditioning, for instance," said Ilka Hilton-Clarke,
a former treasurer of the ASTT.
"Any rental outside this period was paid for by
the 101 Art Gallery."
She said the gallery was also rented out to artists
and other individuals and businesses outside the
September/October/November period, when it was
not in use by 101.
Asked how much rent the ASTT collected, Guy
said, "I am not about to disclose that.
"The how much is confidential information. We
must respect confidentiality."
ASTT secretary Trot Seepersad said the society
had plans to construct an arts complex on the site
and the present gallery was only the first phase. The
complex will house workshop spaces, artists resi-
dences and fine-arts classrooms, she said.
Asked if the society intends to find another building,
Guy said, "Of course we are not going to sit back,
curl up and die.
"If they (the Government) do not respond positively,
then it s going to be an open fight.
"We have no arrangements right now. We are giving
the Government the opportunity to do the right
Ingrid Ruben, director of culture at the Ministry
of Arts and Multiculturalism, said Guy had appealed
to the ministry asking for its intervention. She said
Guy told her they are awaiting feedback from other
ministries, so the arts ministry had not done anything
so far, Ruben said.
Expressing her willingness to assist, Ruben said,
"I asked her to put their request for help in writing."
Ruben said, however, that the State had virtually
given the Federation Park land to the Art Society and
should continue to support it.
"They are a charity. They have no money to pay
such a rent. When you go to an art exhibition, you
don t pay."
ART SOCIETY HISTORY
The ASTT Web site said a small group of
painters, poets and writers, including Amy Leong
Pang and Hugh Stollmeyer, were part of the
Society of Trinidad Independents, which was
involved in contemporary art in the 1930s.
The society had a pioneering influence on art in
T&T and, in 1943, through the persistence of Sybil
Atteck, the Art Society was formed. It was
patronised by the British Council, which provided
free studios, lecturers, books and scholarships for
20 years. The society has since maintained a
programme of classes and critiques and its main
activity is its annual November exhibition.
Art Society faces eviction
States Lands boss hikes rent to $275,000
The Art Society building in Federation Park,
St James. PHOTOS: ANDRE ALEXANDER
President at the Art Society Gail Guy, left, looks
through the book Carlisle Harris Artworks with the
artist Carlisle Harris at the launch of the book at the
101 Art Gallery in Newtown recently. Harris is also a
past president of the Art Society.
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