As Plato more or less said, “The arts give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything.” In Ancient Greece, the arts and crafts were part of everyday life, and the pursuit of beauty permeated society. While dedicated to the gods, festivals involving theatre, dance and music were far from just religious exercises but were relevant to their time. The tragedies showed how leaders’ flaws lead to their downfall and the later comedies often included political commentary and satire.
You’d never have found the Greeks virtually frittering away their time on unsocial media. They took their entertainment very seriously and used drama as a way of exploring the world they lived in, and what it means to be human. The theatre at Epidauros, built some 2,400 years ago, is still in use today, so forgive me if I point out that old theatres should be considered as more than historical landmarks. The Plaza had the best acoustics in the country but has been left to rot by the culturally illiterate. Serge Constantin must be turning in his grave. It’s a pity Hades refuses to let his ghost return to haunt the corridors of power.
The Caudan Arts Centre is a great concept, combining conference facilities with support for the arts and artists. The gods are therefore going to overlook your preference for Zulu rather than opera, even if they feel dismay at the idea of turning old theatres into museums. Incidentally, while including an altar to Zeus may no longer seem appropriate, there was a fine tradition in earlier centuries of adorning theatre ceilings with frescoes of the gods. Instead, the ceiling and dome of your foyer are resplendent in white and beautifully lit. It was perhaps overoptimistic to expect otherwise in an age of pure, clean lines.
The country has a poor record in preserving its patrimony. The destruction of Le Nef was a particularly wanton episode. Even if it was quickly rebuilt, there was no blame assigned and the issue was quickly swept under several carpets. More recently, La School has been relegated to the photo albums. Like all the arts, old buildings link mortals to the past and provide inspiration for the future. Does yet another block of flats make mortals happier? Monuments to greed, what thoughts do they inspire? Besides getting in the way of spirits…
The public and private sectors could work together to advance the arts but it might need Business to take the lead as Ministry officials aren’t noted for timely action or initiatives. Joint sponsorship of restoration projects would be a great way forward. As a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the Port Louis Theatre could even be renamed after a philanthropist. The Leclezio Theatre has a nice ring to it. Its relaunch could be celebrated in style with a performance of Aristophanes’ The Frogs, which by the way has nothing to do with the French. It’s a comedy in which the underlying theme is “old ways good, new ways nanié pa bon”. The final chorus urges citizens to reject decades of leaders and turn to well-educated men of known integrity.
The new centre shows what entrepreneurship can achieve, apart from wealth. The Head of the Civil Service might also add that holding many directorships makes it easier to raise a few million for the restoration of historic buildings and support for the arts. You’re already doing more than most to help the arts and hopefully, what you’re doing at the Caudan will inspire others to follow. Meanwhile, we’ll arrange a line-up of spirits to hover through the air, even if the gods are absent. We can’t wait to hear the sounds of the new Steinway.