Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 3rd 2013 Contents B3
Peter Sheppard is a meticulous
Since July, details of the project
he s spearheading, the 70th anniver-
sary version of the Art Society s
annual November exhibition, have
been up on the society s Facebook
page, including all deadline and event
dates. (This year, besides the main
exhibition, which will run from
November 15-30, a film screening
is scheduled for November 23.) By
August, an event page had been cre-
ated on Facebook.
By September, Sheppard, the soci-
ety s first vice-president, was dis-
tributing 8x8 canvas panels for
members to create work that will be
displayed together on one wall: 70
pieces in all. Each will be sold for
$1,000. All the money will go to the
society. Sheppard gave out 80 pan-
els---just in case everyone doesn t
In a recent interview outside the
small black, grey and white building
in Federation Park that is home to
the society, Sheppard occasionally
referred to a white binder that con-
tained everything on paper related
to the exhibition; the documents
were neatly grouped by coloured
flags: letters are tagged orange, quo-
tations are green, notices to artists
are pink, the list of artists who took
canvas panels is purple. As the artists
return them, their names are high-
lighted in yellow.
Paintings from Carlisle Chang,
Norris Iton and Art Society
founder/former president Sybil
Atteck were already leaning on one
wall in the gallery, ready to be hung
as part of the "icons" section of the
This is the second time that Shep-
pard, a painter of miniature works
whose passion for organising exhi-
bitions is borne out by having put
on 19 of his own, has headed the
committee in charge of the Novem-
ber exhibition. The showcase of
members work---all kinds, including
photographs and sculptures---has
been held for 67 of the society s 70
years of existence.
Abigail Hadeed, a photographer
and a member of the society s board
at the time, curated the exhibition
of photography that ran for a week
in November last year, and board
director Tessa Alexander organised
the Belle Eau members exhibition
The rotation of responsibility
among equally competent organisers
is why Sheppard says he feels pres-
sure to get his turn right.
"It feels like The Apprentice," he
said, referring to the US reality TV
show starring billionaire Donald
Trump as the tough boss of a group
of contestants. "I get anal with this
thing because I don t want to go to
the boardroom and get fired."
The sharing of responsibility and
the hard work and dedication of a
few are what keep the society going
in yet another tough period in its
The Commissioner of State Lands
has informed the society, which has
been paying $1 a year to lease the
land where it s headquartered, that
it now had to pay more than
$200,000 in rent annually or face
eviction. The sum is far out of reach
for an organisation run by a volunteer
board using donations, members
dues, a $20,000 subvention from
the Government, and income from
the rental of its gallery space.
The board has written back to the
commissioner and the relevant gov-
ernment minister, challenging the
basis of the decision and asking for
a meeting, to no effect. Society pres-
ident Gail Guy, a former diplomat,
sees it as an indication of the Gov-
ernment s low regard for NGOs.
"We re not important, yet if they
need anything they come to us," she
said. "We are almost an extension
of the Government and its policy on
the visual arts."
The impasse is causing other
problems for the country s oldest
visual arts organisation, whose his-
tory has been that of struggling for
survival even as it strives to meet
its goals. These are, as set out by
the founders on September 13, 1943,
"to encourage the practice of the
fine and applied arts and crafts and
to foster their appreciation and prac-
tice in T&T by every possible means."
The original lease was conferred
in 1965 in the midst of a contretemps
remarkably similar to the one the
society faces now. The Government
wanted the society to vacate the
building in Woodbrook it had occu-
pied since 1958, to make way for
another project. The condition of
the building and its surroundings
was so bad that then-prime minister,
Eric Williams, himself called it dis-
It took the society another three
decades, going from one temporary
location to another, before it built
the current structure. The simple,
single-storey building---which houses
basically an art gallery---was intended
to be temporary until a multi-use
centre could be built.
Shortly after that, the 30-year
lease expired and the situation hung
in limbo until last year. The uncer-
tainty is one of the things that have
hamstrung the organisation s more
ambitious goals over the last two
Art Society under threat
Gov't drastically raises land lease fee on headquarters
The Art Society through the years
1943: On September 8, the Trinidad Art Society was founded by Sybil
Atteck, first president OT Faulkner and others.
1944: In January, the society held its first exhibition, attracting 1,860
visitors; that year it held its first November exhibition.
1950: November exhibition judges accused of playing favourites.
"Artists whose work had been rejected staged a rebel show on
the railings outside the exhibition hall," one newspaper reported.
1964: Opening of 21st anniversary exhibition at the National Museum
boycotted by senior artists.
1965: Society moves out of Woodbrook market; holds "breaking
down" party. Forced to move because headquarters being
turned into recreation ground for Woodbrook Secondary School.
Government grants society half-acre of land on Federation Park.
1966: Launch of Art Society Building Fund; Minister of Education and
Culture Donald Pierre laid foundation stone at proposed national
arts centre on Federation Park land.
1994: Sod turned for permanent home in Federation Park.
1995: 30-year lease for Federation Park land expires, the Government
makes no move to renew it.
2003: Art specialist Mark Pereira began work on rehabilitating
Federation Park building.
2004: Trinidad Art Society was renamed the Art Society of T&T.
2011: The society was told that the lease-renewal issue has been
referred to Cabinet.
2012: Society receives letter from Commissioner of State Lands to
say it must pay a drastically increased lease fee or be evicted.
2013: The society celebrates its 70th anniversary with a variety of
Continued on Page B30
Hall's recent play
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