Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Annalee Davis is British Council’s Arts Manager

Published:Saturday | May 28, 2016 | 5:03 PMShelly-Ann Thompson
Teaching young people how to surpass obstacles with style, grace and an element of fun is the primary objective of the Run Free project.<\n>
Annalee Davis
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Barbadian artist, Annalee Davis, has been appointed Caribbean Arts Manager for the British Council Americas. Davis snatched up the position after the council searched for months to fill the post that is highly regarded as the path to artistically connect the Caribbean and its former colonisers.

"My experience as a practising visual artist, an educator, and a creative activist, means that I am coming into this post sensitive to the needs of artists and passionate about the Caribbean as a critical environment with many talented and committed artists working on the ground," Davis said.

Jamaican artists may be familiar with the contribution of the British Council to the development of the country's cultural and creative sector. The council, an organisation of The British High Commission based in New Kingston, have embarked on several projects locally. Popular is its Kingston-based Run Free project which fuses physical theatre, storytelling, and the movement discipline of Parkour. Davis, just two months into the post, is excited about Run Free.

"What's very exciting about that collaboration with Manifesto (Jamaica) and the National Theatre of Scotland is that 16 young Jamaican men are currently working towards presenting their work at the National Theatre of Scotland in October," she said.

The British Council works in more than 100 countries teaching English as a foreign language, developing programmes in the Arts, Education, and Society. Throughout the Caribbean, it's physically located in Jamaica, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago.

In terms of the arts, the British Council builds awareness of British talent, brings artists together and supports the development of skills and policy in the creative industries.

A part of Davis' responsibilities in this new position is to develop an arts strategy for the British Council in the Caribbean. That is, how the council can use culture as a way to shape relationships and build understanding between the United Kingdom and the Caribbean.

"I am also aware that there is a lot going on in the region in the arts and my interest is to build partnerships with existing projects to catalyse change and contribute to sustainability in the creative sectors," she said.

However, there are "a number of dynamic projects" immediately being rolled-out by the council that Davis will have to manage. Among them is a focus on Shakespeare. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the renowned writer.

In addition, the council will be strengthening its artistic alliances in Cuba.

"Theo Clinkard's choreographic collaboration with Danza Contemporanea called The Listening Room, will be performed in Havana in May providing an example of how the British Council works with the best of British talent to share knowledge and build capacity in other parts of the world," she said.

Davis, a practising visual artist, comes into the post with years of experience plus as a lobbyist for global creatives. She is the founding director of an artist-led initiative, the Fresh Milk Art Platform, a not-for-profit organisation which supports emerging contemporary artists throughout the Caribbean and internationally.

Professionally she sits "on the board of ARC Magazine, a Caribbean art and culture magazine and a co-founder of Caribbean Linked, an annual regional residency programme connecting young artists from all linguistic areas of the Caribbean at a three-week residency in Aruba."

Davis also co-developed the conceptual framework for Tilting Axis a roving project taking place in and out of the Caribbean. Its main goal is to negotiate strategic regional and international partnerships for the further development of infrastructure, production and markets for the Caribbean's visual arts sector.

Since assuming the post on March 1, Davis has been travelling to meet counterparts working in the Arts in the Americas region and in the United Kingdom including colleagues in the Bogota office in Colombia and in Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff and London. Her Caribbean induction has included travels to the Cuban and Jamaican offices where she met one-on-one with several practitioners.

"In Havana, I saw the launch of Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta's first season of dance put on by his new company, Acosta Danza...while in Kingston I was able to attend the launch of the Calabash Literary Festival," she updated.

Davis has also met with the Director of the National Gallery of Jamaica, Dr. Veerle Poupeye and attended one of the Anglophone Caribbean premier festivals, Trinidad and Tobago's Bocas Lit Fest. The recent literature festival included a partnership with the British Council around the celebration of Shakespeare and the participation of two British writers, Nell Leyshon and Kamila Shamsie.

With much to do and a lot places to be, Davis feels exhilarated by the post and is excited to shape a meaningful arts strategy for the British Council in the Caribbean that will create visibility for creatives working across the region.

"Given the deep historical ties between the United Kingdom and the region and the presence of a large Caribbean Diasporic population all across the UK, there are many possibilities for facilitating relationships and exchanges through the arts, to the benefit of both".

The British Council has seemingly taken a step in the right direction by appointing a Caribbean Arts Manager. Through this post, the region, the Diaspora and the United Kingdom can richly deepen its connection in the arts which has been a medium for social, political and economic transformation.