Much more effort needed to preserve our heritage
Mary Seacole - outstanding Jamaican woman

A country’s heritage is the totality of inherited traditions, culture, monuments, buildings, objects, and artistic representations — verbal, written, and visual. It is also the unique historic, social, and contemporary foundation of a society and country and the behaviour of its people.

Regrettably and this is a point we have consistently made Jamaica is not doing enough to preserve its heritage, and the proof is everywhere.

Every day, valuable historic representations of our heritage are lost through neglect and very little is done to retain contemporary representations. The most graphic example of this is that, after 60 years, successive governments of Jamaica have failed to acquire full control of the birthplace of National Hero Marcus Garvey.

More regrettable is that the majority of Jamaicans do not care or recognise the value of their heritage. A cruel history causes many Jamaicans not to want to preserve heritage, such as a plantation great house because of its association with slavery.

Many people see heritage as sport and dancehall music. But what explains the absence of a national performing arts and concert hall in a country that gave the world the international genre of ska and reggae? Why is there no national archive of reggae music? Where is the statue of Mary Seacole?

Look at the pathetic space devoted to the statue of Bob Marley. Who knows about Claude McKay and Don Shirley? This is where the Government must step in and act in the national interest and educate the population.

More resources need to be invested in the protection and preservation of our rapidly disappearing heritage. It is not only about money, because all citizens have a responsibility to preserve our heritage.

There is need for increased funding. It cannot be left to Mr Vivian Crawford and a gallant tireless few, struggling to manage and operate our underfunded cultural and heritage institutions. Tourism can help to preserve and maintain heritage sites such as Port Royal, Morant Bay Courthouse, and the Spanish Town square.

A national programme of education is also necessary, as are laws which penalise and discourage the destruction of heritage buildings and encourage the preservation of artefacts. Additionally, there should be tax concessions for financial donations to heritage.

The existing institutions, in particular the Institute of Jamaica and the National Art Gallery, need to be relocated from lower Kingston away from the daily damage of the sea salt and breeze. Now, much larger buildings should be constructed in environmentally safe areas, such as the unused lands at King’s House.

Government needs to increase the capacity to house the donations of private citizens. Many large collections of Jamaican visual arts of the halcyon period of Jamaican painting are going to waste when the owners would happily donate it to the Government.

What cannot be kept at the National Gallery should be used to embellish government buildings, such as the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

Much has been lost, but it is better to start late in preserving our national heritage than never, because once it is gone, it is lost forever.

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