The Saint Vincent and the Grenadines National Youth Lecture Series 2012 (NYLS 2012), ‘Youth in Arts & Culture: The Age of Self Expression’ was held late July at the Peace Memorial Hall, in Kingstown St. Vincent. Akley Olton was the featured speaker and has generously shared his presentation with ARC’s community. He does this with the hopes that it can bridge the gaps in communication and offer insight into his unique placement in Vincentian creative culture. Perhaps, Akley’s experience can help enlighten the many cynic and disempowered members in our struggling creative communities who are on the verge of giving up hope, and on some end educate those in power to the value and viability of a functioning creative industry, the development of a cultural bill to support its genesis.
Even though we are surrounded by vast limitations regarding finances and institutional support, change is evident and the paradigms are shifting. We have to start working to ensure that the creative visual industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines gets the assistance and support it requires in order to come into existence.
- ARC Magazine
I was asked to contribute to the Lecture Series by taking an unvarnished and genuine look at the following question. “The challenge of local youth seeking stardom through the artistic movement might just rest in the fact that stardom is increasingly associated with foreign cultures, ideals and practices that tend to contravene local traditional values. How do we therefore facilitate their artistic visions and ambitions while preserving local traditional values and cultural forms? Is this at all possible? “
The question starts by repeating a long held view that stardom through the arts must come at the expense of our local culture, our traditional values. If you think about it, that is the rhetoric upon which those who do not support the arts justify their stance. The stance being this, to support the arts or the desires of young cultural practitioners to earn, create and live from and off of their developed skills. This in turn engender a repudiation of all things Vincentian or traditional by way of our beliefs.
The issue as it is being expressed somehow seeks to suggest that there is stardom readily available once you are a young artist or cultural/creative practitioner. And it also, naively suggests, that we are ready and willing to let go of our culture and values and embrace foreign culture and practices. The question also brings into light, that success for the artist is measured by the loads of cash he or she can bank in their account on a monthly basis. All of these very problematic.
Before I tackle the question, Can we determine what Vincentian culture really is? Can we say that Vincentians understand what their culture is? Can we see examples of a Vincentian people united around a love of this defined culture and an appreciation for its value and power? No. Except for the tireless pursuits of a few who live and operate in isolation, with quite possibly only themselves as support, we have no real example of a well defined cultural product to which we can point or use as an example.
Let me start by indicating my own approach. I believe in doing, sometimes to my own detriment. I firmly hold the view that this is the kind of approach which the artist must take. We need fiscal incentives and investments from the private sector and we need to that are involved in culture and the arts, and arts must transcend politics at all times.
I was always of the notion that the arts were only something to dabble in, I was never of the impression that I could make a living from it or that it could be viable. Vincentians haven’t come into a serious and considered place of understanding the true importance of the arts. The government’s internal dynamics and political affiliations have always stepped in and affected its progression. It’s emphasis has never been on development of the arts, 20 years ago the youth were frustrated, today as adults their frustration has grown living a life in regret and deep cynicism because a path was not followed. The arts represent independence, idealism and freedom. The ability to reflect on our society and to express on the plight of its people with the intention to heal. Only when we are able to look within at our strengths and weakness, can we truly grow and this is one of the fundamental functions of the arts: Empowerment.
A reality that allows its youth to seek stardom, as the undeniable and single greatest ambition, must make an introspective assessment of its core morals and values.
There may be nothing wrong with wanting to be a star i.e. wanting to be the best at what ever you do. However there is definitely something wrong with the illusory nature of ‘stardom’ that the world exonerates. The explosion of media and peep-hole journalism has ensured that celebrities no longer exist as starry specks on the firmament, today we consume and carry them around in our pockets. Gossip columns, television footage and constant mobile updates keeps ‘stardom’ important and makes these personalities, people that we care about. Our minds have become dominated by the folly that this construct has perpetuated. It is the intention of media and social networks like Facebook and Twitter to captivate our minds with a capitalist agenda.
Many may respond defensively by referencing the obvious benefits of the media, which I by no means intend to counter, as it isn’t what I am attacking. My gripe is about maintenance of the vibrant resilience of our people, who survived the impossible in order to declare themselves Vincentian. After all of our vacant ramblings about emancipation and stories of our amazing triumphs, the former and emerging power constructs still control our minds from a distance. We do not know ourselves, and our sense of identity has been tainted with the ideology “of all that comes from outside is better”.
As distinguished Caribbean writer, George Lamming. announced the winner of the 2012 Bocas Prize for Literature, he lamented, that our people need to embrace literature dealing with aspects of history that have been largely erased from society’s collective consciousness, “The Caribbean region is facing its deepest crisis yet, We are like a people living in a house we do not know”i. Our society has for to long been dominated by the influence of foreign media, and its not that foreign media is bad, the problem is that our people have a weak sense of identity, because we have not been empowered to express and create.
The few resilient minds who decide to follow a creative path, often find them selves conflicted by the bittersweet reality of being an artist in St. Vincent. Most either give up and leave or become radicals in order to extend their brackets. I see no reason why there should be a constant battle, the significance of the arts should be engraved in our consciousness. The idea is not to institutionalize the arts, but instead it should be embraced and included in the mandates of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. A sound education in the arts must become a dominant apart of the general educational objective. Our people must understand, how to express themselves and how to read these expressions, they must learn how to be creative.
Generally we have a tendency of pointing out problems with out taking the time to find and suggest possible solutions. Any solution that is viable could only be derived after extensive deconstruction and assessment of the problem it aims to solve. Our youth have not been taught to question while trying to come up with new ideas or creative solutions. Little to no critical thinking and engagement enters the scope of our formal education system, we have been programed to imitate regurgitate of information. We are taught only to compete and dominate not to treat the mind as a tool to support a holistic and comprehensive development.
I have been blessed and deeply inspired some amazing Vincentians, they are children free from the conditioning that makes us so egotistical and competitive. As a child your wants are always immediate and the emphasis hardly ever on anything but fun. In my efforts to help in the development of the arts in St.Vincent I decided to volunteer at Camp InnovateIT, a summer program facilitating the sensitizing of young children and youth to filmmaking- the industry, production, acting etc. I did this to encourage the youth to tap into a source of power that will motivate and uplift them.
My story can be considered proof of the significance of arts education. My success and experiences only came into fruition as result of my interest in the creative arts, the the keen support of educations, in particular Ms. Vonnie Roudette. I had an interest in drawing when I started her class at the Community College, the transformation that I experienced was unexpected and life changing. In my journey, I have come to discover the true power of the arts, whether paining, drawing, writing or my new found love, filmmaking. The visual arts allow us to express ourselves, it opens a dimension that allows for deep introspection, where we can find true understanding of self.
For more information visit the SVG National Youth Lecture Series 2012 website. Thank you Akley for extending your thoughtful words to ARC’s community.