Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Mortimer McPherson | Give our people a creative chance - Funding creativity for economic growth and social stability

Published:Wednesday | April 10, 2019 | 12:13 AM

I oftentimes get tired from having to fight to get our people to appreciate the importance of human empowerment in the arts. I struggle to understand why we find it so difficult to fund creativity, to assist our people to engage art towards critical thinking, critical inquiry and problem-solving.

I weep when I see how much is spent on entertainment; how willing corporate Jamaica is to sponsor pleasure yet avoid sponsoring the creative industry, especially visual arts training.

Here, I invite all to take a trip to our high schools’ visual arts departments and behold the decrepit tables and stools still in use, note the untidiness of many of the classrooms in which creativity is expected to unfold, the lack of basic resources necessary to produce even the most mundane and ordinary art pieces, the poor lighting and cramped spaces which seem to have been allowed the art students, as if they are an accursed lot, not worthy of a space for fresh air.

All this while our principals, administrators and teachers bask, for the most part, in air-conditioned offices and staffrooms with lounges attached.

Such a travesty of justice.

Many workshops have proven to me that many of our visual arts facilitators in the classrooms are very much in need of training to come up higher in skills competence, yet many believe that a degree is what paints, draws, sculpts, and design. This is so very far from the truth.

No wonder our students fail visual arts so dismally, hardly a classroom role model. Yet there are many talented students going through our education system each year.

I implore our policymakers to look at where we want to go as a country in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in the near future, fund art-making and designing skills, empower our people to create and make, so as to assist the country to break out of poverty and crime.

MANY REJECT NOTION

And it gets worse. While our people perish for lack of knowledge, we fatten the coffers of foreign creatives and makers, then complain of crime.

Many of those who reject the very notion of their children engaging in the fine arts complain of foreigners and expatriates taking our jobs to design and build roads and bridges, design into architecture, teach animation, apply cad drafting technology and techniques, and at the same time 90 per cent of our trophies and awards are designed and made in a foreign country.

One just needs to view the statistics on the 2018 visual arts results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) to see how poorly our students did, or should I say our teachers? For, inasmuch as the teachers themselves did not physically sit the exams, they did so indirectly, being the ones who guided the students. And inasmuch as teachers take credit when students do well, equally so should they accept the responsibility when their students perform less than satisfactory.

Of the 174 schools which sent up candidates for the CSEC visual arts examinations, fielding a total of 2,350, only 33 students achieved a grade one, 243 attained a grade two pass, 888 attained a grade three, equalling 1,164 attaining a pass, with 1,186 failing the examinations. This is more than 50 per cent of the entered candidate who performed way below the standard. Yet there is absolute silence on the matter.

NO CRY FROM THE MINISTRIES

While all this is taking place, many principals and school administrators are converting art classrooms into offices, removing visual arts from the school curriculum, and still with the expectation that our woodworkers will become good furniture designers, our architects great draftsmen, and our country a creative one. Such foolhardy thinking.

There has been no audible outcry from the Ministry of Education, none from the Ministry of Labour, none from the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, and no statement as to what and how the problem may be solved if we are to have a creative society able to innovate and be a part and player in the ever-expanding and global creative industry. We now do not only need ‘a few good men’ but, instead, consciences that care.

Our institutions of higher learning have seemingly removed themselves from the picture and it makes me wonder if they even care about the quality of the students coming into their universities and colleges, or even the quality of the output.

The School of Architecture needs to pay attention, the teacher training colleges need to take more than a cursory glance, and Edna Manley College needs to be more stringent in its screening and its fine art teaching process. It is necessary for our training institutions to understand that quality control is of paramount importance, not only to the manufacturing sector but also the education industry.

BENEFITS OF FINE ARTS

Our policymakers must now be made to realise and understand that the fine arts are an important policy asset and prosperity generator for our country.

In addition to their inherent value to society, the fine arts offer a distinctive blend of benefits, including:

ECONOMIC DRIVERS: The fine arts create jobs and produce tax revenue. A strong fine arts sector is an economic asset that stimulates business activity, attracts tourism revenue, and retains a high-quality workforce. The fine arts have been shown to be a successful and sustainable strategy for revitalising rural areas, inner cities and populations struggling with poverty.

EDUCATIONAL ASSETS: The fine arts foster young imaginations and facilitate children’s success in school. They provide the critical thinking, communications and collaborative and innovation skills essential to a productive 21st-century workforce.

- CIVIC CATALYSTS: The fine arts create a welcoming sense of place and a desirable quality of life. The fine arts also support a strong democracy, engaging citizens in civic discourse, expressing important issues and encouraging collective problem-solving.

- CULTURAL LEGACIES: The fine arts preserve unique culture and heritage, passing a country’s precious cultural character and traditions along to future generations through visual documentation in painting, sculpture, drawing, fibre art and surface decoration.

Our policymakers must recognise other value-added advantages to making the fine arts a part of public policy:

- Incorporating the arts improves the impact of other national policies and services. Numerous countries have recognised this and incorporated the fine arts into economic revitalisation, education, literacy, workforce development, tourism, community sustainability and social service plans. Jamaica has an opportunity to both improve livability and boost its economy by investing in the fine arts.

- Small businesses and individual entrepreneurs are critical to every country’s economy. The fine arts is a dynamic contributor to the small business sector. The creative industries are comprised of many talented workers who are self-employed, and this is borne out at our yearly Potters Fair, Devon House Craft Fair, JBDC Christmas In July and the yearly Liguanea Art Fair, among other such events.

Rather than us seeking to encourage ‘loader men’ and street-side stalls and then boast that we have provided jobs, let us instead engage in funding creativity, empowering our people to think critically and creatively so they can work diligently and honestly.

Let us be honest in appreciating that art matters. Give our people a creative chance.

- Mortimer McPherson is founder of Studio Mortimer Limited. www.studiomortimer.org. Email feedback to artisanmac@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.