2: The Arts in Anglophone Caribbean Society

By Walcott, Derek | Cross / Cultures, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

2: The Arts in Anglophone Caribbean Society


Walcott, Derek, Cross / Cultures


Creative Arts Summer School: The End of an Experiment

THE FIRST SUMMER SCHOOL in the creative arts to beheld at St Augustine ended yesterday. It is difficult to judge the success of such experiments. Each student's assessment is private and he may not know what he has learned or altered until much later, but what the school has given him is a feeling of community. He has been reminded of something he is being taught to forget: that despite our political fragmentation, our art is unified by history.

The University has now been opened to a number of people to whom it has been academically inaccessible, and the school has taught them that their talent is considered as seriously as any of the sciences. The general air of informality and exchange, and the workshop atmosphere of all the courses, whose emphasis was on production not theory, should have renewed their confidence.

Some of these writers, steelbandsmen, folk-song collectors, playwrights, actors, and painters will be returning to communities which cannot support them professionally, but to whom they are invaluable. They may look to Portof-Spain as the metropolitan centre of this area, however tentative its market, although a prolonged existence here could lead to a different kind of frustration. But the city's role as the cultural centre of the Eastern Antilles is not completely filled out.

The siting of the Creative Arts Centre in Jamaica, and on the Mona Campus, may have academic overtones that could put such artists off, and in distance, anyhow, it is as inaccessible, as St Augustine once felt. But there is no single building in the city to which one can point as a likelier place for such meetings. The 'foreign' students of the summer school, if they did not know Trinidad before, must now have confirmed the fact that its creative potential is at its peak.

The stiffening effect of near-professionalism in a few of the public arts - the steelband, folk-dancing, and calypso and folk-singing - requires that all such performances are equal to anything seen abroad. But there is still no arena for experiment and perfection. Eventually another Creative Arts Centre will have to be built, and if it is located at St Augustine a succession of summer courses like this first will make the University part of the artistic life.

This younger generation of artists have had a physical example set for them by the literature and painting of their predecessors. One of the most important aspects of the course was that reference could be made to existing texts - that such a thing as West Indian literature, however small, exists for the young writer to draw strength from. Even ten years ago such references would have seemed egotistical or pathetic. There is even evidence that these young artists and writers can reject some of that literature and painting, that they have never felt any astonishment at the fact that we have our own writers and painters. Their tendency, instead, is to be more severe than our contemporaries, and all this without envy.

It has been suggested, long before this school, that one of our colleges could accommmodate, yearly, a writer or artist in residence. This has become regular practice with American universities. In our own case it seems essential. From now on this new generation will be forced to look more closely around them, to decide that their roots are truly here. The Immigration Bill implies all this, and it is its one left-handed blessing. This will mean that the young artist and writer, whether he feels locked in or not, has no other historical choice but to be West Indian.

The writer in residence should be, first of all, someone willing to return from exile to freshen his roots. His presence at Mona or Bridgetown or at St Augustine could affirm the University's belief in the importance of the creative arts. Through conversations, occasional lectures and a loosely defined connection with the liberal arts, he could be an example to the hundreds of young men, not all academically qualified, who give up art and writing because it offers no future. …

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