Raising Money and Changing Plans

It is unlikely that Trinidad & Tobago has ever – neither before nor since – seen such an aggressive and nationwide fund-raising drive as was conceived of in 1952 by the Steering Committee for the Theatre Concert Hall. In its “Memorandum on a Cultural Centre for Trinidad”, the Trinidad Music Association was adamant that the project should not be solely funded by Government: “For any real good to accrue,” it said, “the people must be asked to contribute to the building of this hall themselves; through the efforts of indigenous organisations and through public subscriptions, they may learn to be proud of their own achievement.” As such, a broad and ambitious fund-raising campaign was developed – one which would capture the imagination of the nation, and hopefully encourage everyone to contribute as generously as their pockets would allow. The Committee had no choice but to be optimistic, the amount of money required to build the hall was intimidating in the least!

Breakdown of Estimated costs:

Dismantling hangar, transporting and re-erecting on new site 25,000
Main superstructure: floors, walls, roofs, etc 240,000
Specialist engineer services including drainage 15,000
Seating (2000 persons at 25 per seat) 50,000
Lighting and ventilation 30,000
Technical equipment 75,000
Furnishings – floor coverings, curtains etc 15,000
TOTAL $450,000

The Appeal for funds was launched June 29th, 1952 to immense coverage in the newspapers as well as on the radio. The publicity arm of the Steering Committee wrote impassioned pleas exhorting the general public to contribute. During that first week of fund-raising, one could scarcely open the papers without being assailed by a barrage of articles about the Theatre-Concert Hall Fund. It was unrelenting and aggressive, and that was exactly what the Steering Committee was hoping for:

“The Most Important Citizen”

“Now having your support, we want you to spread the doctrine, preach the Gospel as it were, yes, this means that each one of us must go forth and discuss the project. We know you gossip, you love it, then why not commence the crusade for Trinidad’s Theatre Concert Hall now. Please assist the Committee by talking to your friends, your neighbours, your business associates, ask them first of all for their promise to join this admirable crusade, for once we have everyone interested, we feel the donations will come in.”10

Johnstone herself – who was to become the face of the campaign – appeared on a number of radio programmes, and the Governor threw his full support behind the project:

Letter from His Excellency, The Acting Governor

“…the possession of a first-class Theatre-Concert Hall will mean much, not only to the many present enthusiasts for art and music and drama but to the future chances of all the people of this country to get the best out of life by the happiest and healthiest use of their leisure time. It is the concern of everybody who cares how he lives and how his children will live.”11

In addition to the press coverage, hundreds of fund-raising pamphlets were distributed around the country, schools were circularized, posters were displayed in shop windows and collection lists were sent to any organisation that expressed an interest in helping to rally support.

The pamphlet, entitled, “Proposed Theatre-Concert Hall Trinidad & Tobago”, warned the public that it was their responsibility to show that Trinidad was the centre of achievement in the Arts by building the Theatre-Concert Hall. “The success of the project is your responsibility,” it said, “and that responsibility amounts to four hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” It had a detachable section for those who wished to make a contribution, the idea being that donors would write on it their name, address and amount contributed, and once received, the Steering Committee would publish a thorough list of contributors in the newspapers. Everyone who gave money to the fund, whether it was 6 cents or 6000 dollars, was listed in the papers. The scheme proved to be quite a coup, for not only did it give contributors something to keep for posterity, it also gave the fund-raising process transparency and accountability.

The leaflet stated the original intentions of the Committee as being:

To provide:

  • An intimate and properly equipped theatre for play presentations and films.
  • A comfortable Hall for Musical Performances.
  • Proper facilities for the Presentation of Ballet.
  • A suitably lighted and equipped Hall for Exhibitions of Arts and Crafts.
  • Lecture Hall and Rooms for the use of Cultural Organisations. In short – to provide a fitting Centre for the development, practice and enjoyment of the ARTS.

It is important to note these intentions, because within a few months an important element would be ruled out and the Steering Committee’s laudable plans threatened with mutiny.

10 “The Most Important Citizen”, published in the Port of Spain Gazette, (29/6/1952)
11 “Give Generously Says Renison”, Port of Spain Gazette, (13/7/1952)