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Caribbean Beat Magazine

Breaking 
the Barriers

Donna Yawching on an ingenious outreach programme from the University of the West Indies

  • Leroy Clarke. Photograph by Robert Taylor/ Trinidad Express

We in the Caribbean are a family split up. We live in our separate islands, separate in terms of policy and philosophy, as well as geography, and we don’t know what’s happening anywhere else.

The speaker is Trinidadian artist Leroy Clarke, and he has pinpointed a problem which the University of the West Indies (UWI) is attempting to address. Using a US$95,700 grant from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the university has been running a Scholars & Artists in Residence programme in an attempt to break through the walls of cultural isolation. It’s called the Sherlock Programme, after former vice-chancellor Sir Philip Sherlock. Project officer Simone Augier says its aim is “to stimulate intellectual and artistic exchange in the various participating communities.”

UWI is a regional organisation, and even in its Non-Campus Countries (NCCs) there are university centres which run courses and manage UWI programmes. It is toward “these so-called outposts” (as Clarke describes them) that the project is directed. The one-time CDB grant has been used to place academics and artists in these “outposts”, a process that is expected to prove fruitful for both the visitors and their hosts.

“We find that a lot of people tend to focus their work on the countries where there are campuses,” says Augier. The new programme is designed to widen these horizons.

Leroy Clarke thinks it’s long overdue. “I welcome the programme,” he declares. “It’s the kind of thing that should have been initiated long ago. Anything that makes this (Caribbean) space, the members of this space, more conscious of itself, I support heartily.”

A well-known visual artist, Clarke was one of ten artists/scholars selected to kick the programme off. Others include Hazel Franco, dance; Adrian Augier, festival management; Pen Cayetan, culture; Anson Gonzalez, literary arts; Paul Keens-Douglas,  story-telling; Adziko Simba,  literary arts; Kendel Hippolyte, theatre; Ralph Premdas, indigenous studies; and Arlene Weekes (aka Akuzuru), textile art.

The participants, who hail from across the Caribbean (including Guyana), were chosen from a field of 77 applicants who responded to regional advertisements, or who were nominated by various organisations. The five-member selection committee based its decisions on the needs of the different territories and how these matched up with the range of skills on offer. “We wanted a wide scope,” explains Augier. “We didn’t limit it to academics; it was wide open.”

The programme runs from June 2000 to February 2001, and entails four-to-eight week postings in a variety of NCCs. The participants are provided with air-fare, housing expenses, a work base and a stipend to pay for their subsistence and work materials. In exchange, they are expected to act as resource persons/facilitators for the local intellectual and artistic communities, even while pursuing their own research. Public interactions lie at the core of the programme, and include workshops, performances, exhibitions.

Clarke, interviewed before his posting began, is enthusiastic: “It’s all about enlightenment and raising the consciousness. I’m not going to teach art as much as I’m going to teach self-creation.” He points out that in the Caribbean, most of our artistic talents are pushed in the direction of tourism. “I hope to be able to show a different direction.”

While most of the postings were scheduled for the fall semester, Trinidadian dancer Hazel Franco was back home by August, after spending four weeks with the Bahamas National Dance School. A specialist in Caribbean folk dancing, she found her stint in Nassau enlightening. “I didn’t know anything about the Bahamas,” she confesses, “but when I left there, I had a much better sense of the Bahamian people and their culture, and how they connect with the other people in the region.”

Franco offered daily instruction at the dance school, and was able to introduce her students (aged 4-18) to concepts of dance that were totally unfamiliar to them. It was, she says, “a challenge,” but not an insurmountable one. By the time she left, the same students who had asked with such puzzlement, “What is this Trinidad folk-dance?” were competently performing the joropo, belé and jig. “I think they did gain something out of it,” Franco reflects. “I was really pleased with the performance we put on at the end.”

Like Leroy Clarke, Franco thinks the Sherlock Programme holds a lot of promise. “I hope they get the funding to keep it going,” she comments. No doubt the project’s creators at the university are hoping the same.