May 2011 Article – Barbados Today
On May 5th, nine Studio Arts BFA students celebrated the opening of their exhibition at the Morningside
Gallery at the BCC. Senior Tutor, Allison Thompson noted in her message in the catalogue, “As a centre of learning that focuses on both Visual and Performing arts, the Division nurtures, develops and showcases the future of cultural production in the region.”
I am interested in how we get to the “future of cultural production in the region.” The future for art graduates anywhere in the world is challenging and in the Caribbean it is even more so. Many BCC graduates spend more time decorating windows in retail outlets, making jewelry or teaching at primary or secondary school rather than making art. Very few get signed onto a gallery, produce work full time, exhibit locally, regionally and internationally, and make a living off the sale of their works? This begs the question, what happens after the lights are turned off at Portfolio 2011
The Principal’s catalogue message gives much food for thought. Dr. Best states that there is “currently much emphasis on the development of the cultural industries in Barbados” and “due to the dedication of students and staff in the various programmes that the quality of visual and performing arts in Barbados has improved in immeasurable terms to the point where these are recognized as fields in which careers may be built.” Do we even know how art careers are built? There are persons (consultants, advisors, technocrats, experts, directors etc) who build their careers around the arts in this country, but it’s not the artists.
Let’s begin with the BCC programme – the engine that shapes the young artists. I asked Ms. Thompson what the programme lacks. She said “we need funds for the day-to-day running of the programme and maintenance of the physical plant. The dance programme is located off campus. The Performance Hall needs major repairs but has always been completely inadequate. We need a serious performance hall that can seat a minimum of 200 people. We rent tents and have people sit outside in the sun and rain to watch our performances. We have to fight for chemicals for printmaking and photography. We don’t have enough cameras. We should have internet access in our classrooms. We need more classrooms.”
As someone who has recently started back teaching at the College, I am also aware that the library is not up to par.
In terms of the emphasis on the development of the cultural industries, the reality on the ground is that we are a ‘developed’ nation without a National Gallery of Art and the cultural industries legislation is yet to be passed. There is nowhere for artists to display experimental, unconventional works that push the
boundaries of artistic practice.
Does the BCC, for example, have a collection of art, based on the regular acquisition of work from their graduating students? How do we measure growth in the cultural industries? Where is this immeasurable improvement that the Principal makes reference to?
Dr. Best suggests that the Portfolio ‘is arguably the most important exhibition and provides the base for the initial exposure and growth in confidence for graduates.” The five-year journey for the art students is undeniably important in terms of their own personal growth and development. That is clear. My concern is what happens next. Where do these students go once they leave the nest of BCC?
Dr. Best goes onto to write that ‘as more emphasis is placed on the development of the cultural industries we would likely see the names of the exhibitors in Portfolio 2011 featured because these students and their tutors will drive the growth of the industries.” The BCC is training artists and ushering them into the society – but does that mean that the cultural industry is growing in the way that these students or professional artists need? Which of the readers of this article have come or will come out to the see the show and when is the last time any of you bought a work of art? Without visibility and without sales, there is no awareness of the production, no insight into the creative research being advanced by the practitioners and no growth – intellectually or economically.
All throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, the only oxygen keeping the visual arts alive, comes from the informal networks – the non-funded, independent artists and collectives, who at great personal costs, keep on keeping on. Which leads to a positive note – at the Portfolio 2011 opening, the Lesley’s Legacy Foundation – an informal initiative, gave the inaugural cash award of $500.00 to Ireka Jelani, the BFA student with the highest GPA. The Division supports this award by offering the graduate the opportunity to hold a solo exhibition in the Morningside Gallery in the next 12-24 months. I challenge the BCC to contribute to this support and to the growth of the cultural industry by initiating the college’s own art collection by acquiring works every year from the Portfolio. This will expand awareness of the cultural industry, contribute to an enriched cultural space and economic growth; and by extension, sustainable livelihoods for cultural producers.
Come Out Tings – Portfolio 2011 runs until Monday May 16th daily from 9am – 8pm. Come out and see the show. Students are on hand to give you a tour. Purchase a catalogue for $5.00 which helps cover the costs of producing and printing the catalogue. Acquire a work of art from the students – the 10% commission goes to running the Gallery. Proceeds from the raffle of Ras Akyem-i’s limited edition lithograph go to the Creation Foundation which hopes to establish a scholarship for Graduate Studies in Art for graduates of BCC.
Photo credits – I gratefully acknowledge Corrie Scott who has kindly allowed me to use her photos of Come Out Tings. http://www.corriescott.net