Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
As it is the cultural centre of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, hundreds of students make regular use of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA). And yet, according to Dr Brian Heap, senior lecturer and the centre's head, many of those students know nothing of the man for whom the facility is named.
Sir Philip Sherlock, acclaimed by Sir Shridath Ramphal as "among the greatest West Indians of the 20th century", helped to found the UWI and later served as its vice-chancellor. The tireless Jamaican historian, children's author, educator, social worker and poet was working on another book when he died in 2000 at 98 years old.
The recently established Philip Sherlock Centre Awards is an attempt to revive interest in Sir Philip, Heap told me. The inaugural awards ceremony took place at the PSCCA on Thursday, June 13. At the delightful function, three former staff members of the centre, who each embody Sir Philip's spirit, received the first awards, a framed portrait of the icon.
The awardees were Dr Jean Small, Noel Dexter and Marjorie Whylie.
Small, an actress, playwright, director, poet and educator, was the first woman to be appointed to the post of tutor coordinator of the PSCCA. Her citation notes that while there, she "introduced several innovative measures aimed at providing the necessary financial stability of the centre, and at broadening the scope and reach of creative expression" at the university. Through her efforts, the centre was rededicated in honour of Sir Philip in 1993.
Dexter, an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, educator and choral consultant, has worked for more than 30 years as a director of the choirs at both the UWI and the School of Music, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and is most widely associated with the University Singers.
His citation refers to him as "a household name in the Anglican community with respect to his vibrant songs of worship and praise" and states that Dexter is "widely recognised for his significant contribution to the preservation of anglophone Caribbean folk music through his musical arrangements, his direction of choral performances, and publication of songbooks, and collections of our region's music".
One of Jamaica's most celebrated musicians, the versatile Whylie has distinguished herself as a performer, educator, researcher and composer. She has devoted herself to the study and teaching of the traditional folk music of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
Her citation notes Whylie's accomplishments as staff tutor and head of the Music Unit at the PSCCA and as musical director of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) and the leader of the NDTC Singers, as well as an inductee into the Jamaican Jazz Hall of Fame for her outstanding contribution to jazz. It reads in part: "Whylie has instructed scholars and researchers and entertained audiences at home and abroad with her creative blending of indigenous Jamaican folk and African polyrhythms, European art music and classic jazz."
Before their citations were read, Small, Dexter and Whylie were wittily introduced by Professor Edward Baugh; Vivian Crawford, the pro-chancellor of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech); and journalist, talk show host and playwright Barbara Gloudon, respectively.
The awards are to be made annually, Heap told the audience, but henceforth there will probably be only one given each time.
Suspecting that there was not only ignorance about Sir Philip, but also about the Centre, I asked Heap for information about the institution. Here is what I learned.
The Creative Arts Centre opened in 1968 with the stated intention of placing the creative imagination at the centre of university life. As the first such centre, it had to serve the entire region and so was placed in the Extra-Mural Department.
There are currently seven clubs and societies. The oldest two are the University Dramatic Arts Society (UDAS) and the UWI Camera Club, which can trace their origins to 1948 and the opening of the University College of the West Indies. In addition, there are the University Singers, the University Chorale, the University Dance Society, the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra, and the University Pop Society.
The theatre seats 250 persons and has a proscenium arch stage that is about 35 feet wide and 25 feet deep. Renting the space costs between $70,000 and $75,000 per show, depending on what technical requirements and facilities are required. The other major performance/display area in the complex is The Round.
The centre's programme for the year includes numerous calendar events such as the major seasons of the several clubs and societies (the University Singers season is now on), the medical students' Smoker, the Tallawah Tertiary Drama Festival, the Philip Sherlock International Arts Festival, and the annual Philip Sherlock Lecture.
Recent major events included the Jamaica Dance Umbrella in March, featuring Catherine Denecy from Guadeloupe, the University Players' productions of Whiplash and Departure in the Dark, the visit of a Chinese Puppet Theatre, and the University Dramatic Arts Society's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for schools.
Other activities include readings, book launches, workshops, lighting seminars, festivals, community events and distinguished lectures. There are courses in yoga, floral arrangement, creative writing, music and voice and speech. The centre also hosts exhibitions, international exchanges, and continuing professional development seminars.
Current lecturers are Dr Heap; Michael Holgate; Nadia Roxburgh, technical manager; Noel Dexter, music consultant and choral director; Peter Ashbourne, fellow in music; and Beryl Johnson, staff tutor in music.
Heap, a theatre director, actor, lecturer and researcher, grew up in the north of England and arrived in Jamaica in 1973 to teach at Campion College. Not long after he attended his first Jamaican pantomime, Queenie's Daughter, Heap became involved in Jamaican theatre himself and notably went on to direct 15 Little Theatre Movement pantomimes.
Heap has been awarded the ITI Actor Boy award for Best Director five times and, in 2002, received the Institute of Jamaica's Silver Musgrave Award for outstanding contribution to drama education.
In addition to work with UDAS and the Tallawah Student Drama competition, which nurtures budding theatre practitioners, in 2003, Heap was able to re-establish the dormant University Players, whose productions he directs.
Heap has developed a secondary drama curriculum for the Jamaican Ministry of Education and is co-author with Pamela Bowell of the book Planning Process Drama, which is used worldwide in the training of drama teachers. He has also worked with Dr Anthony Simpson at the University of Manchester, UK, on the use of process drama in promoting HIV/AIDS education in Jamaica and Zambia. Together, they have produced a book on the subject, Process Drama - A Way of Changing Attitudes.
Heap serves as performing arts coordinator for the Multicare Foundation and is the executive director for VSA arts of Jamaica, affiliated with the International Arts and Disability programmes of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.