Fontana's Miss Lou project is most fitting

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

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Amidst the garrulous political exchanges between the Government and the Opposition over the past few days, this newspaper had the pleasure of bringing to greater public attention a project that, we believe, is of immense importance to the preservation of Jamaica's culture.

On Monday our sister publication, the Observer Central, reported on its front page that Fontana Pharmacy is spending $2 million on a project to use 1,700 storyboards in a drive to educate young Jamaicans about cultural icon, the late Louise Bennett Coverley, popularly known as “Miss Lou”.

The initiative is being implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport.

According to Fontana representatives the storyboards, which will provide a synopsis of Mrs Bennett Coverley's life and work, will be placed in schools, Government buildings including parish libraries, and other public facilities across the country to “prompt” the interest of young people.

The project, we hold, is most timely, given that the country is this year marking the centenary of Miss Lou's birth. But its significance is even more pointed in this age of social media that has, to a large extent, pulled young people in particular from their cultural roots, swamping them with trivia and other useless clutter.

The upshot is a devaluing of human character and a lack of appreciation for the value of mature, rational discussion to stimulate minds. Anyone who doubts that just needs to reflect on the types of videos, on the whole, that are being shared on social media and observe the behaviour of people out for a meal or drink. In most cases their heads are buried in their cellphones; the art of dialogue lost.

Maybe though, this obsession with technology can be utilised by the people who work hard to preserve our culture. For material like the storyboards planned by Fontana Pharmacy could, we expect, be copied in high-resolution format and shared digitally.

Additionally, we don't believe it is outside the ability of people with expertise to capture performances of Jamaica's cultural ambassadors and convert them to a format that would be compatible with current technology. Indeed, similar types of projects have been done before in other jurisdictions to great effect.

Having that type of record of Miss Lou would indeed be classic, for she was known, loved and respected here and abroad for her valiant efforts at promoting Jamaican folklore worldwide. Indeed, her warm personality made it easy for Miss Lou to utilise her monumental talent to promote our heritage and dialect, exemplifying how we, as Jamaicans, would like the world to see us — convivial, fun-loving and intelligent.

Mr Kevin O'Brien Chang, the Fontana Pharmacy chairman, noted that Miss Lou, who died on July 26, 2006, knew Jamaican culture better than anyone else and inspired Jamaican and West Indian cultural emancipation.

Mr Chang correctly noted that people remember Miss Lou mostly as a poet who made people laugh. But, just as important, she etched Jamaica's name in the annals of history with her writings and larger-than-life stage performances that eventually earned her the highest accolades, even from those who initially snubbed her efforts at celebrating Jamaican culture.

The Fontana project is most fitting and deserving of support.

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