|Dr Nelson receives a gift of appreciation from Director of the Philip Sherlock Centre, Brian Heap|
SIR PHILIP SHERLOCK LECTURE by Lilieth H. Nelson, PhD.
February 25, 2014
'Revisiting the Concept of Aesthetic Strengthening through the Creative Arts'
At the outset, allow me to indulge in a brief historical journey to Tuesday, February 25, 1902, the day on which Philip Manderson Sherlock was born, when the Daily Gleaner carried snippets of information about “fighting on the Turkish frontier”, “troubles in Spain” where workers were on strike, “agreements between Russia and Corea”, “modifications of the order prohibiting Chinese from entering the Philippines” and reports of the “Vagrancy Bill being discussed by the Legislative Council” in Jamaica. All of these ‘weighty’ matters appeared alongside information about a “dance at Titchfield Hotel” and “how Mr. Wheeler got rid of his rheumatism”, along with advertisements about “afternoon tea at Myrtle Bank Hotel” and “Mrs. Noel DeMontacnac’s Musical Evening featuring her choir of ladies’ voices”.
Allow me to indulge a little more as I share with you some advertisements, which appeared on that day of Sir Philip’s birth, displayed on the DeCordyva’s Advertising Sheet of the Gleaner. An advertisement for Ayer’s Sarsaparilla sold by Leonard deMercado, aimed at people who “Can’t Eat”, carried a testimony by a Tasmanian male that the first bottle of the potion “worked wonders” for curing his indigestion, bringing back his appetite and making him “strong and hearty”. The Bee Hive Stores at Harbour and Church Streets lured “every description of boys and youths” to come and buy from their “enormous stock” at prices to suit everyone, while Hurcomb and Company of 120 Harbour St. summoned buyers of “gentleman’s clothing ready for immediate wear” offering prices ranging from 7s6d to 20s for a suit. Among advertisements extolling the “curative principle of Cod Liver Oil” with “no taste, no smell no nausea’, were advertisements for “ladies’ boots and shoes” and those for gentlemen, available at T. D. Lacy’s National Boot and Shoe Stores, 47 King St., Singer sewing machines for 3 pounds, buggy and mule cart harnesses, Newfoundland fish, salmon, herrings, mackerel, rice, kerosene oil, crackers, whisky, Gold Medal Rum from Daniel Finzi & Co. of 28 Port Royal St., Muslin from The Louvre at 110 Harbour St. for 3d per yard and Ashton & Parson’s Infants’ Powders “for the little princes and princesses” authenticated by the claim that they were “used in the Royal Nurseries”. I mention these to share with you the assumption that the Daily Gleaner reflected the potpourri of textured society into which Philip Sherlock was born. Thus, even though the examples reflect a mixture or collection of seemingly unrelated and unusual assortment of items and subjects, to me they are more akin to a musical medley or a collection of miscellaneous literary extracts. It is this creatively textured environment which shaped the visionary for whom these series of lectures are named.
It is no wonder that Sir Philip could be described by Prof. the Hon. Rex Nettleford as “a great spirit, the avatar of all that gives force, purpose, life, hope and meaning to the turbulence, contradictions and chaos of our multi-sourced existence” and one of “the chosen few who believed that the intractable problems of underdevelopment and attendant immiseration of the mass of the population had to be met by the empowerment of our people through their intellect and the creative imagination”. Nettleford pointed out that Sir Philip was a poet, historian, policy-determiner, classroom teacher, social worker and philosopher, administrator and man of public affairs and that it is “this call for texture rooted in deep understanding of the need to inform intellectual pursuits with the arts and the imagination, which enriched the operation of the University of the West Indies”. He referred to establishment of “the Sherlock vision of the creative arts and the humanities acting as catalyst for intellectual pursuits and remaining handmaiden to the science and technology branches of knowledge”.
I thought of examining the role of the Creative Arts Centre which was built in February 1968 – 46 years ago, through the re-naming to the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts in 1993 – 21 years ago and to its current role in the University. There was so much information which I could have shared from first- hand experience, about this Centre’s role in the unearthing, showcasing and preserving of the Creative Arts at the UWI across these periods. I thought of exploring the legacy of ‘illumined consciousness’ which encapsulated the vision of Sir Philip Sherlock, a legacy which has been caught and molded into my experience and that of myriads of students and staff of the UWI, who have spent countless hours in this Centre, and for whom there has been no turning back from the moment that we found in this Centre a haven for nurturing our creative spirit.
However, it was the inaugural distinguished annual lecture in the Creative Arts given by Professor Errol Hill in 1994 – 20 years ago, in which he referred to the concept of “aesthetic strengthening and intellectual depth in the University and the wider Caribbean, which Sir Philip believed must underpin a cultural union in the region” that sparked my interest in setting about the task of addressing specific issues within that context, especially those which have surfaced over the last 20 years. So you may ask why it is of any importance to re-visit this concept. It is not solely to drink again of the stimulating ideas of Prof. Hill as he demonstrated “how exposure and cultural cross-fertilization shapes the Caribbean man”. Rather it is with the intention of assessing the strides we have made in relation to his thesis of the “role of drama and theatre at the centre of this process” and to expand the concepts shared two decades ago in light of current experiences.
To focus on the concept of intellectual depth in the University would require another lecture, as the ramifications, as well as the peaks and troughs through which our University has gone with respect to this concept are legion. Thus the aim of this lecture is to share perspectives based on re-visiting or re-examining the concept of aesthetic strengthening through the creative arts, and the main objective is for you the audience to be engaged in the analysis and examples shared, to the extent that you may take away some ideas about possibilities for you to begin, or continue to play your part in ensuring that there is no turning back in this process.
Across the years some twenty-one distinguished lecturers have shared their perspectives on a wide range of issues related to the creative arts. Included in this august body have been our own graduates and faculty members - Prof. Kamau Brathwaite, Prof. Barry Chevannes, Prof. Rex Nettleford, Dr. Erna Brodber, Prof. Bridget Brereton, Mr. Rawle Gibbons, Ms. Olive Senior, Dr. Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, Prof. Hilary Beckles, and Dr. Barbara Gloudon, as well as luminaries in the Creative Arts within and outside of the Caribbean, such as Prof. Paule Marshall, Dr. Peter Minshall, Dr. Olive Lewin, Ms. Natalie Thompson and Dr. Kai Miller. These eminent persons have explored the following wide range of topics centred around Theatre, Festivals, Rituals, Myths, Education, Narratives, Histories and Heritage, Contemporary Caribbean Performance, Finding a Voice; Black Performance Geographies, Visualizing the Oral Tradition Through Film and ; Theatre and the Marketplace. A Panel comprising Sir Roy Augier, Prof. Edward Baugh, Miss Maud Fuller and Prof. Barry Chevannes shared a Retrospective about Sir Philip Sherlock: A Caribbean Man. A presentation in memory of one of Sir Philip’s protégées, entitled Rex Nettleford: A Celebration, replaced the lecture in 2010; and in 2012 A Light Shining From the West: A Son et Lumiere Presentation conceived by Dr. Brian Heap was staged in an aesthetically delightful setting, inter-weaving all aspects of the creative arts – music, drama, dance, spoken word, visual, multi-media and communication. I share this information so that you can appreciate how honoured I feel to be asked to give the 2014 Sir Philip Sherlock Lecture and for you to commiserate with me as I try to communicate the outcome of my contemplation and the enormity of the task.
Though it may not be deemed necessary to define aesthetics to this audience, in the interest of clarity of context I will do so in order to shine the light on that which is to be strengthened. By aesthetics I go beyond the clinical definition presented as “a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty” or the “branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and expression of beauty, (and taste) as in the fine arts”. I do take issue with the use of that word “fine” to describe some creative art forms, a word which has the undertone that some of the creative arts are “coarse”. Some of us, especially those of us born well before the 60s, may find ourselves open to heated discussions with Prof. Carolyn Cooper, Dr. Donna Hope, Dr. Clinton Hutton or Dr. Stanley-Niaah, on the notion of “coarsened sensibilities” portrayed by some of the current performing art forms. A topic for another lecture indeed, but that aside, I return to the concept of aesthetics which underline the issues discussed in this lecture. By ‘aesthetics’ I refer in part to the “creative sensibility” expressed in thought, word and action. I recognize that in Kantian philosophy, aesthetics is defined as “the branch of metaphysics concerned with the laws of perception” incorporating the “study of the psychological responses to beauty and artistic experiences”. While I am in sync with the minimalist notion of aesthetics as “a conception of what is artistically valid or beautiful”, there is dissonance in my mind when Ron Schram, referring to architecture, makes a statement such as “they’re looking for quality construction, not aesthetics” confining aesthetics to “an artistically beautiful or pleasing appearance” with the implication that quality is compromised with attention to aesthetics. I go back to the Greek word aisthētikos translated as “perceptible by the senses”. Thus the emphasis being placed here is on ‘perception’ through the five senses as well as the sixth sense, and on the “evaluative criteria” applied to art, bearing in mind that "traditional aesthetics assumed the existence of universal and timeless criteria of artistic value." Now I wish to superimpose the concept of “rational investigation” on that of “evaluative criteria” as the art forms are perceived by the senses. This assumes that those engaged in, as well as those engaged by the creative arts can experience something aesthetically pleasing, that is something perceivable by the senses, and at the same time is subject to rational investigation and evaluation, and it is this along with those so engaged, which presumably can benefit from strengthening, from being made stronger, more forceful or more effective. Thus I will explore some ways in which involvement in the creative arts has been strengthened by the addition of several new players, and how these players have been made stronger as they experience the expansion and enrichment due to experimentation, taking creative liberties, and exercising their freedom to forge, stamp and popularize a Caribbean identity.
In several universities internationally, the creative arts is a subject of study. Some even offer a Bachelor of Creative Arts degree with a wide selection of areas of study under this umbrella, including the performing, visual and graphic arts, cartooning, media, film, publishing, galleries, museums, and unique techniques and skills available to students. The UWI still has not yet fully embraced this discipline, though a few courses have been made available within two faculties.
The definition of creative arts which resonates with me is that of original work produced by “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination” as a result of an inventive, inspired and fertile mind enhanced by a generous share of giftedness and cleverness. Despite my comment about the discomfort I feel with the word “fine” which has been used often when referring to the creative arts, due to the suggestion of ‘finesse’ as opposed to ‘coarseness’ , I have to share with you that when I was a Sub-Warden in Irvine Hall during the 70s and 80’s, Mr. Cedric Harper, the Warden at that time, used to have frequent discussions with the Hall Committee members, and indeed, with many of the students who would stop by for a lyme on the ‘spine’, about establishing or maintaining “tone” in activities and events, and in their ‘demeanor’ as members of Irvine Hall. The inflection of voice was enough to communicate his meaning and expectation. It is that ‘tone’, that aesthetic, that ‘finesse’ that ‘refinement’ and ‘perfect balance’ in contrast to the “coarsened sensibility” to which Prof. Nettleford often referred, which I propose that we need to continue to strengthen through involvement in, or engagement with the creative arts.
Drawing on his personal experiences in drama and theatre, and placing the role of these “at the centre of the process”, Prof. Hill, in the first Philip Sherlock Lecture, shared his views about “how exposure and cultural cross-fertilization” shaped the Caribbean man.
Prof. Brathwaite in his prose-poem explored the symbolism of what he terms “tidealectics” in which the “present reality of the second Middle Passage (back across the Atlantic), is haunted by the memory of the first Middle Passage (from Africa to the New World) and referring to Sir Philip’s writing declares “where there is no pride, he say, no place for creativity, the people pickney perish”.
Prof. Chevannes ended his “Song-Searching Interrogation of Self” with the assertion that “songs were and are expressions of being, given acts and artifacts of the creative imagination, to borrow a favourite phrase of Rex Nettleford..(and that) the realm of this imagination … is the same whether it be art or science, for ultimately it is the discovery of self through creation.”
Peter Minshall stated that “the work doesn’t happen unless it is embraced and performed” and quoted what he thought should be the hymn of all artists from one of his favourite playwrights, Frederico Garcia Lorca
The poem, the picture, the song
Are but water drawn from the well of the people
And it must be given back to them
In a cup of beauty so that they may drink
And in drinking understand them-selves
Prof. Nettleford spoke of the artist as always being at the centre of the cosmos and in referring to the vision of Sir Philip, who hand-picked Errol Hill and Noel Vaz to bring the spirit of the things that creative artists do into the University “and to refine the otherwise coarsened sensibilities” was pleased to attest to the fact that we had come a long way, so we did not “have to be subversive any longer”. He further asserted that “it is the presence of the creative artist and of kindred souls who exercise creatively their imagination and intellect that enable what was once Africa’s, Asia’s and Europe’s encounters on foreign soil to further forge in the crucible of the Caribbean heritage, a viable plural society where people will live not just side by side but together”, and that “it is largely through the arts that we have come to understand the dynamics of these 500 years of becoming, producing in the Americas (including our own Caribbean) genuinely new peoples, and a new sense and sensibility of sufficient substance and uniqueness to make a difference in the development of humankind”.
So the textured, complex people that we are can be related to the realization and development of our creative potential, which leads to self-reflection, self-realization, self-reliance, self-respect and self-esteem which if we continued to strengthen, instead of allowing the dwindling and dissipation due to neglect, will result in restoration of tolerance and more peaceful and less violence-prone, more enterprising and productive people.
Nettleford speaks of “the discipline that underpins the mastery of a craft through which all art finds expression, the demands made on continuous re-creation of effort and application, the challenges encountered on the journey to excellence, habits of realistic self-evaluation, the capacity for dealing with diversity and the dilemma of difference” in the performing arts as constituting “excellent preparation for learning to be (which is the stuff of ontology), learning to know (the substance of epistemology) and learning to live together (the essence of creative diversity..)”.
I want to share three points aimed at demonstrating the current role of the creative arts in nurturing and strengthening aesthetics in this university in particular and by extension the Caribbean. First I submit that while there is no doubt that there are several eminent forerunners, this role has progressed and mushroomed over the past 20 years, since Prof. Hill argued the need for the Caribbean theatre to exhibit the “assurance of its own idioms” and “to speak with its own authentic voices, to move to its own rhythms, to shape its own images (and) to captivate its own audiences,” and threw out the challenge to “contemporary Caribbean dramatists, choreographers, composers and theatre practitioners as they look towards the Twenty-first Century.” To illustrate this let us touch briefly on a bit of history to establish the perspective underlying this point.
The Creative Arts Centre opened in 1968 with the stated intention of placing the creative imagination at the centre of university life. As the first such Centre, it had to serve the entire region and so was placed in the Extra-Mural Department. It planted the seed for similar Centres to be established at St. Augustine and later at Cave Hill campus. Currently, the PSCCA, falls under the Mona Campus and is the ‘home’ for eight clubs and societies. The University Dramatic Arts Society (UDAS) and the UWI Camera Club, which can trace their origins to 1948, are the two oldest. In addition, there are the University Singers, which began in 1958; the University Chorale, which had existed in the 60’s but was revived in the 90’s; the University Dance Society; the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra; the University Pop Society and more recently, the Classical and Jazz Society. Another group, Quilt, arose out of the PSCCA, and though not a member, it finds a creative stimulation base there.
The theatre, which seats 250 persons and has a proscenium arch stage that is about 35 feet wide and 25 feet deep, as well as a major performance/display area in the complex, known as The Round, is the vibrant ‘hub’ for numerous creative activities and programmes throughout each year. These include the major seasons of the clubs and societies, the medical students' Smoker, the Tallawah Tertiary Drama Festival, the Philip Sherlock International Arts Festival, and the annual Philip Sherlock Lecture. Other activities include readings, book launches, workshops, lighting seminars, festivals, community events and distinguished lectures. There are courses in yoga, floral arrangement, creative writing, instrumental music, voice and speech. The centre also hosts exhibitions, international exchanges, and continuing professional development seminars.
It is in the performances of the students’ clubs, societies and groups that Prof. Hill’s challenge has been realized. Time will not allow me to analyse the performances of each group in order to demonstrate this, but as most of you will know, I have been a part of The University Singers for some 30 years from the 1963/64 to 1993/94, and have been associated with the group directly or indirectly throughout the 2000s. It is therefore from this group that examples of ‘aesthetic strengthening through the creative arts’ is taken to illustrate the first point, and these can be substantiated with examples from some of the other performing groups at Mona. You will therefore understand why I have chosen to single out the University Singers to illustrate my points.
The University Singers had its origin in the academic year 1957/58, when seven students studying at Mona campus, got together under the leadership of Mr. Robert Henry, (a Jamaican who has made Trinidad and Tobago his home), to pool their musical talents and share them in a performance of Words and Music. The leadership of that group has been borne by Sir Colville Young of Belize, Mrs. Marjorie Gray-Bayley, Mr. Geoffrey Fairweather and Dr. Carol Gascoigne-Smith Ball, (Jamaicans), Dr. Rupert Moss, (Bahamian), Mrs. Marguerite Marks-Clayton, (Guyanese), Dr.Patricia Webley-Bethune, Lilieth Nelson, Dr. Noel Dexter and Mr. Franklin Halliburton (Jamaicans). That which is common to all these Directors is dedication, combined with love of music, to quality choral tone and to the joy of sharing this music in performances at home and abroad…. a kind of aesthetic satisfaction, if you will. The group has grown in numbers to a current size of some forty-five singers. Over 1500 students who came from all the countries which contribute to the UWI have been members of the University Singers family over the 56 years, participating as singers, musical directors, conductors, arrangers, composers, accompanists, costume designers, lighting designers, stage managers, front of house managers and assistants, business managers, tour directors, or marketing and public relations managers. For over 21 years staging has been creatively executed and overseen by Prof. the Hon. Rex Nettleford and this role was taken over by Mr. Kevin Moore after the Professor’s passing. The longest serving musical director is Dr. Noel Dexter, who has used his exceptional gift and remarkable ability to identify and nurture to perfection and outstanding contribution, the musical potential of individuals.
The membership of the University Singers comprised not only students from different Caribbean countries (although the proportions have shifted with the trends in decentralization of the University), but also students pursuing studies in every faculty and department of the institution and students living in, or attached to every Hall of Residence. Analysis of the membership revealed that some 20% of members were from the Faculty of Medicine and varying percentages were from faculties of the Humanities and Education, Pure and Applied Sciences, Law and Social Sciences. Of the students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree while they were active members of the University Singers, over 15% attained first class honours, over 90% completed their first degree within the minimum time required by the University, and some 20% went on to pursue post-graduate studies. It may be argued that academic excellence would have been attained by these students whether or not they were members of the University Singers, but I would like to think that their involvement in this outlet for their creative self, played a part in strengthening them academically, even as it strengthened them aesthetically. There has been a ripple effect of this heightened sensibility and immersion in the beauty which they experience from involvement in this creative art. Many of them have gone on to start choirs and play lead roles in performing arts groups in their respective countries and environments to which they have returned and in so doing, they have been making indelible marks in the process of aesthetic strengthening throughout the Caribbean and beyond.
Shifts in the repertoire of the University Singers reflected shifts in focus over the years, related to changes in the institution as well as changes within and outside of the Caribbean region. These shifts have resulted in transitions from aesthetically satisfying performances of music ranging from that of European composers delivered in long demure gowns enhanced with elbow length gloves, some excellent renditions of Spirituals and Art Songs to Caribbean Folk Songs tacked on at the end of the programme, delivered with minimum staging. The transitions over the years have been remarkably juxtaposed to increasing comfort levels with sense of identity as Caribbean people, our connections with the ‘motherland’ and with each other. So the range of genres of music shared and presentations based on careful research and experimentation have ushered in the presentation of choral theatre at its finest. This saw the integration of theatrical elements – musical (vocal and instrumental), visual (staging, lighting, costuming) and kinetic (movement), as well as the enrichment of successive concert programmes with a wide range of classical, religious, popular and other music composed by Caribbean people. The integration of creative talents and expertise – music, movement, technical, et al, has resulted in audio-visual pleasure and narrowing of the performer-audience gap. So audiences now come not just to hear or see the University Singers, but to experience the performance.
Past and present students who are members of the University Singers family have attested to the fact that despite the great demands on them in terms of commitment, time management and musical discipline, they have benefitted from the group’s uncompromising attention to quality and excellence, and they have experienced growth and development as individuals through opportunities for team work, honing of their musical talents and skills, travel and exposure to persons and audiences in the countries of the Caribbean and beyond.
Successive students have attested to the aesthetic strengthening they have experienced as members of this group, which has led them to appreciate more fully the art forms (international and regional), build their Caribbean awareness and sense of identity, encouraged them to conduct research and to experiment, as opportunities arise for unearthing, developing and exposing their talents and building their confidence as performers, composers, arrangers and as the uniquely different individuals that they are. So we find a Franklin Halliburton, a young man of exceptional talent, who studied Law, progressing from singer to arranger and composer, conductor and musical director, able to showcase not only his intricate compositions and arrangements, but the results of his experimentation in a folk opera based on the labour struggles of 1938 which led to the Morant Bay Rebellion. I could also single out Kathy Brown, who studied Medicine and now is a well-recognized Jazz composer and performer, Ewan Simpson, who studied Law and Djenne Greaves, who studied the Sciences as shining examples of persons who have been strengthened aesthetically as they have grown and developed as members of the University Singers and have transferred their expertise to other spheres.
At this point I will share with you some examples of what I consider aesthetically strong presentations of the University Singers, but I want you to be cognizant of the fact that all the other performing groups, and indeed all the creative arts groups, have attained levels of excellence and have been valuable vehicles for strengthening members of the student body and staff, the whole image of the University, and by extension the Caribbean region, aesthetically. All the other seven groups, clubs and societies of the PSCCA have provided the framework for aesthetic strengthening of individuals at various levels on this campus and the same can be said for the centres established at St. Augustine and Cave Hill campuses.
EXAMPLES FROM PERFORMANCE OF THE UNIVERSITY SINGERS’
I hope that you will understand why I have used information drawn from my experience with The University Singers to show the hybridization of creative spirit of persons of diverse backgrounds and disciplines, and the impact on them of involvement in this performing arts group. These perspectives are substantiated by the responses which I have obtained from persons on the UWI, Mona campus, and which I will share.
This leads to the second point which is based on the perception of members of the university community which reveal the extent to which they are in sync with the notion of aesthetic strengthening via personal involvement in the creative arts. Towards this end, a mini survey was conducted in which present and past students, faculty members, administrative and support staff members of Mona Campus were interviewed. Twenty four persons were interviewed, most of whom were undergraduates and large groups of students were observed in performance. Each interviewee was asked five questions as set out in the Interview Schedule shown.
Three methods were used to collect the responses. Face-to-face interviews recorded on video, recorded on IPod or with pencil and paper and administered as a questionnaire via E-mail. I now share some snippets of the interviews recorded on video and responses obtained by other methods.
SAMPLES OF VIDEOTAPED INTERVIEWS
The salient points which emerged from the interviews are that the creative arts have undoubtedly been vehicles for aesthetic strengthening, but have also strengthened individuals academically and played vital roles in their personal growth and development. Aesthetically involvement in the creative arts has facilitated finding the creative side, experiencing the beauty of being, uniqueness, cultural awareness, and heightened perspectives; provided an outlet for relaxation, expression of passion and creativity.
Academically, involvement in the creative arts has enhanced institutional knowledge, idea generation, expertise and honing of skill sets, influenced time management, encouraged thinking outside the box, enabled discipline , provided the base for post-graduate studies and opened the way to the pursuit of careers in creative business, events planning, entertainment media and culture.
In terms of other personal benefits, interviewees shared that involvement in the creative arts has enhanced their growth and development as individuals, helped them to become centred, focused, confident, disciplined and rounded and nurtured their freedom to be themselves as they move along the path of self-discovery. To quote two graduates who continue to be active members of the University Singers: “Being a member of The Singers has served as a vehicle for exposure to many life experiences that would not otherwise be easily gained. Apart from the honing of my musical skills and awareness, participation in the group afforded me the meeting of academic minds, travel and exposure to other cultures, building of self-esteem and the development personal relationship skills that is priceless.” (Lurane, Graduate, Modern Languages, University Singers)
“Sir Philip Sherlock was a Caribbean man and scholar, Sir Philip believed that excellence in academic pursuits was inextricably linked to the creativity of the mind, body and soul. This was made manifest by, inter alia, his seminal contribution to the establishment of a Creative Arts Centre now fittingly re-named in his honour. For me, in his time, Sir Philip must have represented the ‘soul’ of the UWI.” (Lurane, Graduate, Modern Languages, University Singer)
Involvement in the creative arts has strengthened me in terms of “increase in confidence, gaining leadership abilities, learning to exist and cope in groups with people from different backgrounds and having varied perspectives, learning other attributes such as dedication, hard work and commitment.” (Jerren, Graduate, Pure & Applied Sciences, University Singers and University Chorale)
The students interviewed have shared that they have grasped opportunities at this University to be involved in the creative arts through one or more of the following groups - University Dramatic Arts Society, University Dance Society, The University Singers, University Chorale, Creative Writing Club, Panoridm Steel Orchestra, Camera Club, Performing Arts Groups from the Halls of Residence, Tallawah, and more recently, Visual Arts Club, Classical & Jazz Society and Quilt.
This brings me to the third and final point I wish to share, which is based on a statement often referred to by Prof. Nettleford, which equates the process of being to driving a car. The rear view mirror is just as important as the windscreen through which we look forward. Note however, that though the car’s windscreen is large in comparison to the rear view mirror, it does not mean that the past is insignificant in comparison to the future. As I look at the current role of the creative arts in aesthetic strengthening it has been of value to revisit and reflect on that which obtained in the past in order to align oneself to move forward efficiently and effectively. The creative art forms are valuable as the ‘rudder’ to steer the aesthetic strengthening of the people of the Caribbean and beyond. Some products and by-products of this strengthening are engagement, joy, peace, inspiration, self-confidence, discipline, self-understanding, freedom to be, and endless untapped possibilities for generation of business opportunities with competitive advantage as we establish and take advantage of niche marketing (as the reggae, kaiso, and dance hall artists are doing).
As Dr. Brian Heap, Head of the PSCCA, stated, “Our society and many of its institutions seem to be in dire need of strengthening – aesthetically and otherwise”. The thesis of this lecture is confined to the role of the creative arts in aesthetic strengthening, but it is recognized that other aspects of being in the Caribbean would benefit from strengthening through such areas as economic and financial planning and management, balance of social norms and practices, including family life, care and respect for children and the old, organizing for education opportunities and gainful employment of the young in order to teach them the work ethic and set them on the path to independence, integrity and positive influence in political leadership, environmental planning and management with foresight.
Having been steeped in internationalization of universities for over two decades, I tend to agree with Bergsten that we in the Caribbean region need to pool our resources and diversify beyond the traditional markets if we really want to expand dynamic economic growth in this region. He advises that we “release (our) grip on traditional trading partners such as the United States and Europe and look towards new partnerships and linkages with the world’s emerging markets; La tin America, Brazil and more so East Asia and China” for “neither North America or Western Europe are the new dynamic leaders of the world economy” and “the emerging markets of developing countries around the globe now account for the half of the world economy, they are growing three times as fast as high income, traditional economic power houses and that’s where the dynamism” exists.
These emerging giants worldwide are already strengthening themselves aesthetically with the creative arts of our region, as they are with other areas of our offerings, so one way of boosting those who find fulfilment in the creative arts is to create the framework for them to earn a decent living and perhaps by extension boost our economy, by taking advantage of the opportunities to “emphasize those things that (we) do best and try to make sure (we) do them well ..on a competitive basis”.
However, we must build our own Caribbean Aesthetics, as Dr. Jean Small, under whose watch these Lectures were initiated, puts it. Out of this conviction and her dedication to aesthetic strengthening through the creative arts, she initiated Caribbean Laboratory, a course which I was privileged to take sitting at her feet at the then School of Drama.
The overarching point of this lecture is that though the process began a long time ago and is ongoing, those of us who have been nurtured aesthetically and academically by the dedicated fore-runners, since we still have the gift of life in this century, we have a responsibility to play our part in the continued strengthening of this process. What are we strengthening? It is this unique set of experiences, perceptible by the senses, which we must systematically place under the scrutiny of our own and internationally agreed evaluative criteria of artistic value. We must superimpose “rational investigation” on that of “evaluative criteria” and work to ensure that the art forms are perceived by the senses. This assumes that those engaged in, as well as those engaged by the creative arts, who experience something aesthetically pleasing, and who have subjected it to rational investigation and evaluation, have a critical role to play as catalysts in making the the process stronger, more forceful and more effective at the individual and institutional levels.
Thank you Sir Philip Sherlock for being. Thank you Dr. Heap for catapulting me into this endeavor which forced me to think when I thought I had retired. Thank you my son, Stefan, for responding with painstaking patience to my demands on your videography skills. Thank you my family, friends, colleagues and kindred creative spirits for coming to participate in this Lecture from across the stage lights.
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