For the Reckord | Edna Manley College continues regional thrust
A key aspect of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts' (EMCVPA) annual staff development conference in recent years has been about upgrading the college from its already exalted status as the premier arts-training institution in the anglophone Caribbean to the regional school of the arts. This will mean not only an upgrading of the college's programmes and administration, but also a multimillion-dollar expansion of buildings into adjoining premises now occupied by the police's Transport and Repairs section.
At the staff development conference held last Thursday, EMCVPA principal Dr Nicholeen DeGrasse-Johnson announced that phase two of the upgrading programme will unfold this semester through eight visiting Cuban educators.
Four, who will stay for six weeks working in the Music and Dance schools, were introduced at the conference. After they have left the second group will come to work in the schools of Drama and Visual Arts.
DeGrasse-Johnson told me "they are here to do in-depth review of the curriculum to ascertain how the Cuban Arts curriculum can merge with our current curriculum. They want to see how that fit happens in the discrete art forms. They are also trying to ascertain the culture, students and faculty synergy those types of synergies."
The initiative flows from a CARICOM-Cuban cooperation programme agreed on at a December 2011 summit held in Trinidad and Tobago. Subsequently the EMCVPA was asked by Jamaica's then Ministry of Youth and Culture to write a proposal on transforming the college into a regional school of the arts.
The proposal was submitted in March 2014 and in September 2015, phase one of the project commenced with two Cuban "methodologists" coming to assess the EMCVPA's general capacity for the position. Phase three, which is to include the recruitment of Cuban professors and students for the EMCVPA, will commence after a report on the findings of the phase-two experts is considered.
I communicated with the Cubans through School of Music lecturer Rafael Salazar (himself a Cuban), and Dr Jorge Sain Sanchez Fuentes, the commercial, cultural and academic attachÈ at the Cuban embassy. He is also a medical doctor, a dermatologist.
The visitors are Professors Heydi Ramirez Ramirez from the National School of Music in Havana; Arlene Ramirez Soto from the National School of Dance in Havana; Dulce Luz Abon Mazar, head of the Theatre Department, School of Arts, Santiago; and Martha Arelis Gonzalez Paneque from the Professional School of Arts in Granma Province.
Dr Fuentes said one of the tasks facing those working on the project is to get the other CARICOM territories on board with the EMCVPA's upgrading. Up to now, Cuba has been working only with the college and the Government of Jamaica, not with the other CARICOM governments. Of course, the EMCVPA has been officially recognised and used by those other governments over its 40 years of existence. Students from their territories have been coming to the college for their diplomas and degrees.
What has become the 'mighty oak' that is the EMCVPA began as a tiny seed in the 1940s, when Edna Manley started an art workshop at the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica. That workshop grew to become the School of Art and, later, the School of the Visual Arts. Over the years, entities that were to become the schools of Music, Drama and Dance were individually established in 1961, 1969 and 1970, respectively.
In 1976, the four schools were pulled together into a full-time tertiary institution, the Cultural Training Centre (CTC), an arm of the Institute of Jamaica. It became recognised by the Organization of American States as the Inter-American Centre for Caribbean Cultural Development, and in 1995 was renamed the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, in honour of its founder.
A fifth educator was introduced at the staff development conference. Omarthan Clarke, a graduate student from Ohio State University, will be teaching in the EMCVPA's School of Arts Management and Humanities. After earning his bachelor's degree in art from Westfield State University in Massachusetts, Clarke started on graduate work at Ohio State, where he lectures in criticising Television.
Clarke will also be conducting research in arts policy management, focusing on how the Jamaican Government and the EMCVPA facilitate cultural and arts policies for the island's diverse national and international groups. Those findings should be useful in the college's upgrading programme.
In opening the staff development conference, Degrasse-Johnson said the college's 40th year is critical and everyone ought to work towards achieving the goal of a three per cent increase in the student population over the next four years. College orator Amina Blackwood Meeks led the staff and faculty in exercises in accepting accountability.