Key location makes sense
It is absolutely amazing how so many people have, over the years, had the answers for the success of the Pelican Craft Centre. It is perhaps a good thing that the centre remains in the public eye and has gained the attention of someone as credible and consistently sound in his analyses of the myriad situations in the island as Leonard St Hill. His suggestion in the April 2 Daily Nation caught my attention and urged my response.
Mr St Hill’s first statement confirmed that the fundamental importance of crafts to our cultural base is lost on many, even a mind as analytical as his. To proffer the notion that a craft market (a term too simplistic to represent what the centre is) is not the best use of reclaimed land adjacent to the Bridgetown Port because the economic returns from such a market are not commensurate with the cost of the land betrays the understanding of the greater issues here.
We are in agreement why the Pelican (Village) Craft Centre came to be. It was established in 1964 as a “tourist-oriented industrial park” by the then Barbados Development Board. This action was prompted by the construction of the Bridgetown Port in 1961 and the increased cruise ship arrivals bringing high volumes of tourists to the island.
Additionally, on a worldwide scale, crafts were in the ascendancy. The time was therefore right for the attention paid to craft production and promotion to capitalize on the immediate market of tourists in general and cruise ship passengers in particular.
However, this decision did more than provide people with souvenir items. It generated jobs, especially among women; provided a growing cottage-based industry with structure and a central outlet, encouraged a sense of pride and empowerment in craftspeople and, importantly, served to awaken public awareness on the importance and significance of crafts.
Consequently, while the site may originally have been viewed as opportunistic for retailing crafts to a captive cruise market, Pelican Craft Centre grew to represent far more than that.
When that reality is recognized by all, individuals will cease to try to find some ephemeral fix to the successful management and marketing of the centre. Pelican Craft Centre, as I have written for as long as I can remember, represents but a part of the whole which is crafts development.
As such, its management must be treated in its entirety and not superficially. If I were to digress and enter into a historical discussion on crafts, I would wish to emphasize that crafts represent mankind’s very first form of creative expression.
Whether one subscribes to the biblical or historical interpretation of man’s existence, one will find that weaving, in prehistoric form, was the first creative thing man did. One should also be aware that the Industrial Revolution, to which modern man owes his advancement, began as the result of a craft, the spinning of cotton. Here at home, the domestic economy of Barbadians in the years of enslavement and beyond was built on the production and sale of artisanal items, such as baskets, clay pots, wooden items and others.
The point here is that crafts are integral to existence and should not be relegated to any afterthought or shoved in a corner somewhere, such as within the Bridgetown Port. Now more than ever, with World Heritage Status for Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison, crafts must be promoted and seen by all – not just tourists within the Port.
The Pelican Craft Centre is perfectly situated in the buffer zone of the Heritage Site and must be promoted as a total cultural magnet that attracts not merely the transient visitor but is an attraction and learning facility for the Barbadian as well.
The entire Pelican Estate, including the former Tropical Battery Building, should become for Barbados what the Distillery District in Toronto has been transformed into or what Olde Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts has become.
It should be a cultural centre where all manner of creative activity lives and at the centre of which is crafts, because they existed first.
Interpretive areas should be set up throughout the centre informing and educating all and sundry about the crafts that built our economy, the poetry that defines us, the arts that promote us, the dance through which our expressive nature is projected, our music and so on.
Pelican Craft Centre must become an attraction and importantly, an experience. Visitor patronage will never be an issue if it becomes that!
No, Mr St Hill, far from removing he “craft market”, as you put it, into rural areas, a concept on which I have also expressed my views, I would strongly recommend increasing its footprint to include all the buildings in the estate.
Transformed into a living cultural centre with cultural activity year-round, the Pelican Craft Centre can become the new tourism product that is now lacking, according to a 2009 BHTA study.
Tourists will be grateful for such a cultural oasis in close proximity to their point of entrance and exit. Any thought of transforming the Pelican Craft Centre into duty-free shops and hotel accommodation for people who are increasingly “culturally aware travellers” should be far removed from the minds of right-thinking people.
• Sandra O. Browne PhD is a crafts historian and craft development coordinator, Entrepreneurial Development Division, Barbados Investment and Development Corporation.