A video on social media showing a local artist leaving the Grenada National Museum with some of his paintings while walking past some bags of garbage, is far from the message the person who posted it wanted to share.
The artist, Gordon de la Mothe, told The Grenadian Voice that he repossessed his paintings after learning of what he calls a “coup” by government to take over the museum operations.
The saga of the museum seems to be coming to an end with legislation in place to control the operations of the museum and “provide for preservation of the National Collection of artifacts, specimens and other historical and cultural material.”
However, there are discrepancies between the information gleaned by The Grenadian Voice from government and some people who previously operated the museum.
de la Mothe contends that the “government has taken over and failed to recognise any of the people who were running the museum before the Act was passed.” The Act stipulates that “all property transferred to or vested in the National Museum, under this Act or however otherwise acquired by the National Museum, shall be held in trust for the State of Grenada.”
It makes provisions for a Board of the National Museum responsible for making policy directives for establishing a National Collections Policy; conducting research and excavating historical and cultural material relevant to the national collection; collecting and disseminating information relating to the national collection and to the museum and its functions; including delivery, receipt, declassification, withdrawal, disposal, review of and access to public records; exhibiting Grenada’s historical and cultural material in Grenada and abroad; and keeping proper control of the Museum’s finances.
The transition, according to de la Mothe, is not fair as he calls for a better settlement on the issue.
“I took some of my paintings back because I had put them in the museum under the organisation of which I was a part. Well then, the museum has been taken over and I thought that I did not want to leave my stuff there until I know what my position was with the new management.
The government has taken over now and has not recognised that the museum has been going for 40 years and all that have happened is like the museum did not exist. It was a coup really they just took over the place and have not recognised any of the people who were running the museum; even the funds are complicated; it is a mess!”
However, Brenda Hood, who served as Minister of Culture for several years and presented the Bill to establish the Grenada National Museum Act of 2017 to the Senate, recalls the lengthy discussions with stakeholders that informed the content of the legislation.
In an interview with The Grenadian Voice the former Minister commented on the process prior to the bill going to Parliament.
“There were discussions held; all sorts of consultations in the museum. I was there, there were all kinds of people there and it was decided to send it to Parliament because that’s the way to go because the Museum belongs to the people of Grenada. I think the transition was fine because it didn’t just happen one night, it took a while. We have had numerous meetings, when I was the Minister of Culture, with John Pitt; … I even went over to his parents’ house to speak with them about it.”
Artifacts from the Kalinago, our Indigenous peoples, are among the thousands of items displayed and stored in the historic structure at the corner of Young and Moncton Streets in the Town of Saint George’s.
A 1981 report in the University of Michigan graduate school of business administration alumni magazine Dividend provides some insight on how and when the collection began.
David Merriman, who graduated with a Masters in 1936, recalls his retirement plans to enjoy the beauty and tropical climate of Grenada. “Instead,” he is quoted “my friends and I found so many pieces of pre-Columbian pottery that our collections were embarrassing they were so large. So we talked about needing a museum for these pieces. The government set up a committee to consider the idea, but the officials appointed to the committee lost interest and dropped out. We were left with the authority to start one.”
As recorded in the Gazette of January 16, 1976 the government acquired the land and building bounded by the north on Young Street, on the south and east by Monkton Street and on the west by the Drill Yard “believed to be owned by or under the control of the beneficiaries of the estate of the late S A Francis.”
That building and property, owned by the state thanks to the Land Acquisition Ordinance, proved to be ideal for a museum.
In the words of Merriman: “The location couldn’t have been better. We found out that this basement area had been built about 1700 by the French as an army barracks. The government put in a concrete floor, ceilings, lights and cabinets and we had five excellent, stone-walled rooms.”
Merriman, together with fellow American Leon Wilder and local resident Jeanne Fisher, turned their efforts to expanding the “African Heritage” exhibits.
Dr James DeVere Pitt served as chairman of the museum committee and was involved with the museum until his death in 2016. Through the years as people died or migrated, Dr Pitt and Fisher, in 1996, established The Grenada National Museum Incorporated under The Companies Act No 35 of 1994 in an attempt to gain legal authority. Dr Pitt also established the short-lived Grenada University of Science and Technology, which was one of the businesses using space at the museum complex.
In 2018 the main gallery on the second floor was renamed the Gordon De la Mothe Gallery, in honour of one of Grenada’s most prolific and renowned visual artists. The Grenadian Voice, covering the opening of the gallery, reported the following on August 23, 2018: De la Mothe “recalled his involvement in the development of the museum shortly after Grenada’s independence and the importance of preserving Grenada’s rich cultural heritage so that generations to come can get to know and understand their history. He called for greater support for the island’s heritage and cultural centre – the Grenada National Museum.”
The Act defines the “National Collection” as “objects, records and other historical and cultural material that provide evidence of the history of the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, and is in the sole ownership of the National Museum.”
With the legislation in place, moves are afoot to transform the museum into a more user-friendly facility that caters to students, researchers and visitors alike.
In addition to the “deep cleaning” that has been underway since COVID-19 forced the temporary closure in March, the Museum has been a hub of activity. Curator Jonathan Hanna, together with staff, are working to catalogue, scan, sort and re-arrange the thousands of historic treasures and documents on display and stored in boxes and crates. They also plan to utilise the space more efficiently, introduce more interpretative displays and generally “modernise” the Museum, taking care to protect and preserve the contents.