Several strategic areas in the city will be transformed into cultural and historical landmarks. That’s the plan embodied in the Downtown Rejuvenation
Project. It was officially launched at the House of Culture today and it covers the reconstruction of the House of Culture, upgrading of streets and
parks in downtown Belize City and the creation of a more vibrant and flourishing commercial center. The outline of the project was unveiled today and
Courtney Weatherburne has the details.
Courtney Weatherburne Reporting….
Diane Haylock - President, NICH
"Why did we think that such project was necessary? Well first of all, this house is history, this house is heritage, this house is an important part of
Belize. And there was a feeling that perhaps the way it was being used, the way it was presented was not befitting it's status in that history, it’s
place in that history."
In order for the House of Culture to take its rightful place in history, a rejuvenation project was launched to give the old house an overhaul and promote
its historical significance.
Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer
"The initial idea was to do something with this ground, with this remarkable architectural feat we have in Belize and to really allow it to have
Belizeans first and them our visitors be able to come to this facility, to these grounds and learn about the history, learn about the heritage. Not
only of Belize city, but of the country itself."
But the project is not only limited to the House of Culture.
Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer
"While we began to look at just this little area here, that is in yellow, which is the house of culture where you are right now. As the process
evolved, what we realised is that the true impact and importance of this house is not only limited to the boundaries of the house of culture. And that
the history and the value of such an architecture because of the historical values that it has - it really impacts this entire area here as the
original settlement of old Belize.”
And that portrait of “Old Belize” is guiding the project.
Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer
"So this is the basis on what it is that we are looking at for this project. We're looking at what Belize city downtown once was. The values that it
had. They old port which was behind the supreme court building. The architectural buildings - both the brick ones and the wooden ones. All of these
assets are things that maybe from a common perspective would say that these things are just old structures, best thing we knock them down. But from our
perspective, we have realised that these really are very important vestiges and also assets that not only tell the story of how Belize city was settle
but also it tells a very important story of how life was back in the colonial days. We saw it important to see how we could maybe not go back to what
it once was but to use the aspects that are still with us to allow us to appreciate what our history was, our heritage is and use that to compel the
development towards the future."
And in order to seize that future, the past must be preserved and embraced.
Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"So much of our Belizeanes has been lost to history, our architecture, our unique expressions, these things are things which tell the story of who we
are as a people. Where we have come from and where we're going. And it is in incumbent on us to be champions of preservation of our heritage and that
must start in the area of highest concentration of heritage sites which is in our downtown Belize City.”
That is where most of the work will be done including building a boardwalk from the Swing Bridge to the Bliss centre
And upgrading the streets and the grounds at the House of Culture.
It is quite an ambitious project looking at key target areas in the city, but can it be done after years of just consultation?
"All the stakeholders are very invested in the project. I have seen and worked over the last 3 years with the partners from BTB and from NICH. And I
see the heart we bring to the project, I see that they have been very committed in terms of bring us to this point and taking us forward. City council
like wise in terms of our technical persons and myself. We're very passionate about improvements in key areas including in the downtown so that we
really put our seal on insuring this project is implemented in the way it was implemented. It's community led, that it has buy in - it targets the
assets, that it's focused on heritage, preservation and enhancement. And we talk about a comprehensive approach so that the success of it will depend
on the people who's face are on the project, talking about it, trying to build that consensus."
The 2 year project costs $15 million dollars. The project is in the bidding stage, but works are expected to begin in June.
Last night we told you about the launch of the city rejuvenation project that focuses on reconstructing the House of Culture as well as upgrading other key areas in downtown Belize City. While it has been approved and has received a resounding applause from stakeholders, one cultural critic says it stinks. Yesterday former NICH President, Yasser Musa went on a facebook rant against the project, calling it "retrograde, racist and disturbing." He continues by saying "The crowd called NICH must mark April 8th as a celebration of colonial and myopic thinking." We caught up with Musa today and he explained why he considers this project an affront to Belizean history and identity.
Yasser Musa, Artist "To be pulling a very sick stunt like this is completely, in my view, retrograde, it is racist and it is something that should be thoroughly condemned. That colonial museum idea is stupid. With fifteen million dollars, that is what they are spending on a colonial museum. With that money there should be a culture fund that artists, musicians, writers, researchers, historians, teachers can access small grants to go and do their projects. They have to tell stories, they have to build exhibits, they have to design concepts, innovate things, and create things. That is the beauty of art. What this colonial museum is doing is taking the side of the colonial power, taking the side of the people who are the oppressor, not the oppressed. So my view is to flip the coin and to say that the teaching, the education system must be connected to the cultural system and that has to happen. Belize is not a building, Belize is not a colonial idea. Our people have overcome that long ago."
Musa recommends that instead of investing all that money in reconstructing and upgrading spaces, NICH should create a culture fund, transform Liberty Hall on Barrack Road into a museum and creative arts center and distribute the money across the country for artistic and cultural development.
Musa needs to get a grip. Colonial architecture is beautiful, and old Belize City was, from what I can see in photos, quite lovely. They are talking about restoring old buildings, not bringing back slavery for heavens sake.
I applaud this initiative wholeheartedly!!!
Belize city is the gateway to the country, and it is a fairly bad ( although improving) first impression at this time. If it reclaims some of its former grace, the entire country will benefit. Civic pride enhances the lives of everybody. When about 1/5 of the population of the country lives in Belize City, I'd say this is a direct upgrade to the lives of people who matter.
The story refers to the introduction of a colonial museum that will cost milkions of dollars. Whilst I agree that Colonialism is a very important part of our history that should be recognized and learned from, Mr Musa appears to be lobbying for financial,support to maintain, grow and develop our current history in the making. Helping our artists, muscians and cultural traditions stay alive and even prosper.
History is important and so is supporting our culture today.
I love the colonial building in the old capital and would love to see a full face lift project as it beautifies the city and suports pride in our communities too. Although many will see colonialism as a dark blemish in our past, it is a huge part of what our nation is built upon. We cannot ignore the past or only pick and choose the parts that are favorable otherwise the ugly truth in history is buried and therefore doomed to be repeated.
So, we have a limited amount of money to utilize for projects - the puzzle is always how to spend the money and end up with the best bang for the buck.
Sadly the choices made are often proven to be mistakes in hind sight.
Mayor Bradley invited Mr. Musa to collaborate. Hopefully they will find positive avenues for expression. Often grants and loans come with requirements related to the use of funds. Some lenders or grantors are all about museums or all about something else, and if you want their money you must highlight their particular area of interest. It's complicated.