Investing in the Arts
July 10, 2004
Whenever there are public performances by the National Dance Company, the National Schools of Dance, students taking the Royal Schools of Music exams or any of the various performing arts groups, there is also wonderment that majestic though they are, they are mainly the result of part-time practice.
Full-time teachers of the arts are perhaps fortunate that they are able to be continually involved in whatever is their discipline; perhaps frustrated that it is not always at the level they might wish. It is testimony to their greatness when their students, who attend classes for a stipulated number of hours and in some cases just one day a week, are able to flawlessly and gracefully entertain.
It is evidence of the students' aptitude when they are able to successfully combine academic excellence and artistic brilliance, and this lends credence to the concept that the discipline inculcated through practising an art form adds to one's life. One can but wonder at the quality of performing artist Guyana would produce if there were real investment in the arts.
There is no dearth of real talent in Guyana, though there is no Juilliard, no BRIT School. There are no pretenders either; the number of schools where music, dance and drama are taught and graded subjects can be counted on the fingers of one hand. This is a shame considering that music, dance and drama can be used to and do impart knowledge about life, social issues, health concerns practically everything under the sun, and that music and actions are the foremost methods used to pass on messages to very young children in the nursery and pre-nursery stages. Why these mediums are all but removed from their lives when children get to the primary level is a mystery. But this has never stopped the likes of Billy Pilgrim, Vivienne Daniel, Sarah DeMendonca, Mignon Lowe, and countless others from contributing, by passing on their knowledge privately or through government-controlled entities such as the National School of Dance. Whatever the government pays the professionals who run its performing arts programmes could never be enough. Nor, as has been said before in these columns, does it spend enough on maintaining Guyana's premier/only performance venue - the National Cultural Centre.
At least once a week, there is a news item or photo in the press detailing corporate sponsorship to one or another sports team or competition. Similar investments in the performing arts are between few and nil, particularly if one discounts the children's Mashramani competitions and the recent donation to the Creative Theatre Movement by the US Embassy. Granted, there may not be the level of soliciting that emanates from sports clubs and associations, but there must be a general lack of love for the finer things in life when no one donates to such causes because they have not been asked.
To truly hone and exploit the wealth of talent we have, Guyana should have at least one arts school/college where singing, music, dance and particularly drama - the present quality of which is more than a trifle deficient - are the major subjects, in addition to a basic academic programme, of course. It should be a school of excellence where entry is determined by the students' performance at an audition and therefore limited to only the very talented. Examinations at the end of the study period should be either set in accordance with what obtains internationally or done externally or before external examiners.
These and other stringent controls would ensure that over-zealous parents did not push their children in directions they did not want to go in. They would also ensure that there was always a ready pool of talent to draw from, especially since recently there seems to be an interest in making films in and about this part of the world. Best of all, the result, after a few years, would be an end to the mediocrity that sometimes passes for local shows.