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How to Venice Biennale | NOW Grenada

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by Samuel Ogilvie

Mind-blowing. Epic. Interesting. All descriptions used by some who have experienced the Venice Art Biennale for the first time. Being (as of the writing this article) in the same boat myself, I venture to add another descriptor to the mix: eye-opening.

As a (somewhat) young visual creative working in Grenada, it’s rare to witness the global pinnacle of artistic endeavour in person, except perhaps through cinematic works. As such, in discovering the opportunity to attend and observe what is the world considers the Olympics of the art world through the Grenada Venice Intensive programme, I jumped at the chance.

There’s nothing, not even these words, that can really prepare you for the entire scope of what the Biennale – and Venice itself – has in store for you. But hopefully, this will be enough to whet one’s curiosity and appetite to experience it for oneself.

Let’s begin with the island of Venice, which is a work of art itself. Literally a man-made island from the 13th century, Venice has become a major tourist attraction. In fact, there are more visitors than actual Venetians, and it can be a little overwhelming to see the volume of humans walking through the narrow alley “streets” that count as Venice’s main thoroughfares.

Speaking of walking, be prepared to do a lot of that to get around: there are no terrestrial motor vehicles on the island, except for a moped I saw parked safely behind a showcase as a prop for a very fashionably-dressed mannequin. Gondolas, possibly the most famous Venetian mode of public transport, are now expensive tourist rides, which you can indulge in at your own leisure. Vaporettos and water taxis that ply the Grand Canal and smaller channels are the main methods of transportation in Venice, but even so, be prepared to do a fair share of walking. Travelling light is highly recommended, especially as the climate (at the time of my visit in July) was very much like Grenada’s.

You won’t be bored with all the walking though… Venice’s Baroque architecture is a sight to behold, and their existence even today stands as a testament to the ingenuity of early Venetian builders. Time, however, has taken its toll, and the threat of buildings sinking into the unsanitary waters (a phenomenon coined as l’acqua alta) is evident at certain times of the year. Still, it is a wonder to see the multi-storied tenements line the canals with doors that open inches from water.

The Venice Art Biennale — now in its 58th iteration — is held every two years (as “Biennale” suggests), usually from May to November. With each new biennale comes a new curator who selects individual artists and national representation through an application process. Though it has only been open to international participants officially since 2011, the number of national pavilions (areas where nations exhibit their art) have increased dramatically since then — and Grenada has had a pavilion consecutively since 2015! No small feat for one of the Caribbean’s smallest island nations.

This year’s biennale has a record high of 91 nations, as well as numbers collateral events exhibiting throughout Venice, and even a few on nearby isles that fall under Venetian jurisdiction. Thus, visiting each and every pavilion almost feels like an engaging game of hide-and-seek… or perhaps treasure hunt, as there are some art gems to be discovered.

The curated creme-de-la-creme, however, are all gathered in two main venues: the Arsenale and the Giardini. You can easily spend a full day at just one of these vast locations and still feel like you’ve missed something, so densely packed are they with fine art presentations. The Giardini, in particular, is its own adventure — just when you think you’ve reached the end of an exhibit, there’s a little curtained doorway or path that leads you to even more eye candy.

But art is not just limited to eye-candy, which was truly the eye-opening thing for me at the Biennale. Many exhibits also had audio components to it, and for some, there were no restrictions on how close you were able to go… some pieces, you could even touch. For me, to be able to see and hear feel and hear these works of art, to gain almost a microscopic view of the materials used in their creation, to even get a whiff of the tangential smells that come with said materials — all this made it a revelatory experience for me.

It is inspiring, too, as some of what was on display seemed very possible to make with resources available in Grenada. A big part of what makes the biennale so prestigious is the scale of the works on show — an aspect that we may find difficult to achieve here in Grenada. But the spectacle of huge works does not take away from it took to make them: thread, old pieces of cloth, water, hose, wood. This and more tells me that Grenada has what it takes to create world-class fine art.

As a videographer and actor myself, I was intrigued by the amount of video art on display at all venues of the biennale. Here I discovered the concept of multi-channel video, where multiple screens (or more so, projections) display synchronously or asynchronously but tied together by their audio track. So, for instance, in the case of a 2-channel video, one screen might display a person talking to another person off-camera, while the other, adjacent screen displays the other person listening and responding to the first person. The use of different channel videos was rather inventive in some exhibits and made me think of ways I could implement similar techniques in my own video work — albeit, converted to one channel use. And who knows what the future may hold? The seeds have definitely been sown in my consciousness to pursue more personal artistic expressions.

So, if you can make it to Venice by November, you’ll be able to bear witness to some of the most highly-regarded fine art in all the world. And if you can’t make it then, Venice is still a captivating location to visit, with no shortage of creative endeavours to experience such as live violin and classical music (a personal highlight for me), museums, grand cathedrals with panoramic views of the city and other notable ancient architecture. Nearby isles of Murano and Burano have their own artistic flavours — glasswork and lacework, respectively. If you miss having a sea bath, head to the island of Lido, where motor vehicles exist and a long, man-made beach of acceptable quality (you know we Grenadians have high beach standards) awaits you.

Venice Intensive participants

Just don’t set foot in the waters of Venice City proper — it’s illegal and dangerous, healthwise. Bottled water is cheap and available, so do make sure to stay hydrated with all that walking you’ll definitely be doing. And sunblock lotion or headwear is advised too. Food and other drinks can be expensive, especially if you plan on eating at a restaurant for every meal. But oh, the food… you really can’t go wrong with any menu selection in Venice.

Grenada’s presence in Venice for the Art Biennale cannot be lauded enough. Many other countries have tried to earn a spot at this prestigious showcase, and for Grenada to be able to present for the third time in a row is a testament to the quality of artists coming from our shores. It has made a way for Grenadians to be able to travel and experience places and things we may otherwise not have had the chance to. The Grenada Arts Council, Art School Greenz and the Government of Grenada are to be commended for their hard work in getting Grenada to be recognised on the global art stage, and for creating the opportunity for myself and other participants of the Grenada Venice Intensive to be able to partake in the event. Art opens doors.

Since the Grenada Pavilion at Biennale di Venezia was opened in early May, much has happened in and for Grenada.

  • The Chocolate Festival
  • The Chelsea Flower Show
  • The Music Festival 
  • Regatta in Carriacou, and of course,
  • Carnival — all showing off the best of Grenada

And all this while, on a daily basis, visitors in Venice, Italy have been trekking through the Grenada Pavilion at Palazzo Albrizzi in Cannaregio. Many, many visitors. This exhibition continues through 24 November. A good long run exposing Grenada to many for the first time. See the website www.grenadavenice.org to learn more.

One set of visitors were the young creatives from Grenada who travelled there in July to experience the Biennale di Venezia first hand. Asher Mains led the group including Haron Forteau, Tamika Gilbert, Carol Youssef and Samuel Ogilvie, who has written about his impressions.

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All medication for USNS Comfort clinics is FDA approved

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by Linda Straker

  • Medication used at free clinics is approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • FDA is the US Federal agency responsible for protecting the public health
  • More than 40,000 persons have received clinic services and more than 600 surgeries performed

Patrick Amerbach, Chief Medical Officer onboard the US Naval Ship Comfort which will be in Grenada until 20 September, has assured that all medication used at the free clinics is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Everything we are using here is FDA approved. Everything that we do here is of a quality standard as done in the US healthcare system,” Amerbach said on Sunday following the opening ceremony to welcome the hospital ship to the island.

The FDA is the US Federal agency responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices as well as ensuring the safety of food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.

The ship with its 956 medical staff is on a five-month multinational medical assistance mission and at its completion will have made 14 port calls in 12 countries throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, including the three OECS territories of Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Kitts.

Besides the surgeries that will be done onboard the ship, doctors from the ship will be holding daily clinics at the National Stadium and at the Grenada Trade Centre. They will be offering healthcare in several areas including wound care, urology, orthopaedic, eye care and general surgery.

Acting Health Minister, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell described the initiatives as one that will have a powerful positive effect on the healthcare system and at the same time strengthen the relationship between the countries who will benefit and the USA.

“This initiative is a very strong partnership for the people of the region. The impact of this initiative is something that Grenadians will feel for a long time,” he said as he welcomed the US delegation, the ship and the crew members.

Acting Health Minister, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell speaks during the welcoming ceremony for the USNS Comfort

Referring to social media fearmongering that the USNS Comfort will be engaging in clinical research without permission from patients, Dr Mitchell said that people are always sceptic about certain initiatives, but he is satisfied that the services onboard the ship is of a high acceptable medical standard. “If I did not recently do my own medical check-up, I will certainly do it now,” he said, encouraging Grenadians to take advantage of the opportunity.

Linda Taglialatela, US Ambassador to the OECS described the initiative as a celebration. “Today we celebrate the strength of our relationship,” she said, disclosing that thousands of persons in the region have received the services of the ship.

Ship’s Captain Brian J Diebold said that more than 40,000 persons have received services at the clinics and there were more than 600 surgeries, with gall bladder and cataract as the most common.

Dr George Mitchell, Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health said that the services from the ship are providing an opportunity for many who were seeking simple surgery, to receive it at a quicker time. “Citizens sometimes have to wait months to get the service at the hospital,” he said without naming specific medical surgeries.

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Public workers to vote for new First Vice President in special election

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by Linda Straker

  • Devon Francis resigned as 1st Vice President on 18 June
  • Public Workers Union will be voting in a special election on Wednesday, 18 September
  • Approximately 3,000 public workers are qualified to vote

The membership of the Public Workers Union (PWU) will be voting in a special election on Wednesday, 18 September because a member of the executive council who was elected during the March 2019 Annual General Meeting has resigned.

Daisy Hazzard, Public Relations Officer for the union said that Devon Francis who was elected to serve as the 1st Vice President resigned from the post as of 18 June 2019. “Therefore, this special meeting and election, which is in accordance with the union’s constitution, is to fill the post which is now vacant,” she said. She explained that Francis, who is a medical doctor by profession, had given “personal matters” as his reason for resigning after serving for less than four months.

Approximately 3,000 public workers are qualified to vote in the election which will be held at the union’s headquarters in Tanteen. Nomination will be done on the day of the special meeting and the person elected will serve for the period 2019 – 2021.

Hazzard also confirmed that since the new executive was elected, several shop stewards have resigned. “That we have dealt with internally as an executive council, but we must come back to the general membership to fill the vacant executive council post. There is no other option,” she said.

In March, Rachel Roberts was re-elected to serve as the union’s president for the period 2019 – 2021. Most of the other members elected to that executive had openly campaigned for another person to serve as president.

It is understood that Roberts and her executive members are not always in agreement about making decisions that are in the best interest of union and its members, and as a result, there is growing uneasiness among the executive.

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Grenada Cabinet to implement new cabinet procedure

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by Linda Straker

  • New cabinet procedures to be implemented as part of public sector reform project
  • Manual approved by cabinet in June 2019

As part of the public sector reform project, Grenada’s cabinet will be implementing new cabinet procedures which, among other things, will make the weekly meeting of the cabinet of ministers more strategic with less time on routine matters.

“This manual allows more time for in-depth discussion and how to focus on major priorities,” Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell told participants during the first training workshop which exposed ministers of government, permanent secretaries and other senior public officers to the templates of the manual.

Dr Mitchell said that one of the shortcomings identified is following up of decisions made by the Cabinet of Ministers, but the implementation of the new procedures is expected to not only reduce the problem but to make it a thing of the past.

“Sometimes decisions are made and when you ask for a follow up there is a fight to find out the state of it,” the Prime Minister said, explaining that the new procedure will include a summary of an implementation plan, because many times decisions are made and implementation plans are not included. “Hopefully this manual will make a stronger cabinet secretariat which is the oxygen where cabinet decisions are made,” he said, promising to ensure a stronger secretariat.

Head of the Cabinet Secretariat, Beryl Isaac, told the participants that they should see the new procedures as the secretariat bible. “Not implementing the manual is not an option, this manual has to be our bible,” she said, reminding them that different results will not be achieved if the same format is continually used. “If we want to see a different result, we must do things differently,” she said.

Besides providing for less time on routine discussion, the main feature of the manual which was approved by cabinet in June 2019, includes a new process for proposed legislation with policy objectives and main features agreed by cabinet before laws are drafted. It revises the submission template and provides a summary implementation plan for all complex proposals.

It also provides for more consultation between ministries in preparing proposals for cabinet; more explicit engagement with local and international partners in developing policy proposals and a stronger cabinet office to better support ministers to comply with the procedures in the manual.

The new procedures were developed following a review of Grenada’s cabinet processes by Dr Mark Johnston, an experienced cabinet advisor from the World Bank. The cabinet secretariat will hold other workshops during September and October, before a date of effect is announced for implementing the new procedures.

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