Nettleford Arts Conference shifts focus
Proposals deadline, April 17
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
"I think there is still a stereotype about what is the arts," said Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) administrator, Carol Hamilton. "So you do a little dance, a little drama and provide entertainment, and that's it."
That narrow view of the arts persists, even against the background that "there is this heavy discussion about the creative industries and the potential it has (for national development)," Hamilton continued.
As she and I chatted recently, the college's vice-principal for academic affairs was actually wearing her hat as conference adviser for the third biennial Rex Nettleford Arts Conference, to be held at the EMCVPA in October. She was chair for the first two, held in 2011 and 2013, and for this year relinquished the post to co-chairs Keino Senior and Simone Harris.
"I thought it would be a good idea if someone else took over the leadership role, but I remain as adviser, so that we can transfer knowledge and ensure the longevity of the conference, because it is a very important event," she explained.
Hamilton spoke about the stereotypical thinking that lingers around the arts when I asked her about the theme of the 2015 conference, 'Growing the Arts: Breaking Boundaries.'
She said the conference sought to teach the general public to "appreciate the value of the arts, which is not only spiritually enriching but can create wealth as well".
change of mindset
However, she warned, "the wealth won't come until people (the general public) change their mindset." According to a conference document she handed me, that mindset includes "preconceived notions of the value of the arts and their seeming lack of viability, sustainability and income-generation capacity."
Putting the conference in a global context, the document continued: "The conference seeks to provide an opportunity for local, regional and global voices of arts educators, policymakers, researchers and arts practitioners to raise awareness and lead the discourse as cultural agents for change and expression."
Hamilton said the "very successful" past conferences have, indeed, had international inputs and consequences."
"We had a number of repeats for the second conference, which is, to me, a measure of the success of the first one. We've sent the call for papers out, and we're already hearing from previous attendees about coming back," she said.
International linkages have flowed from the first two conferences. "A partnership with San Francisco State University, with which we now have an exchange agreement, came out of the first conference. A partnership for training with Martinique and Guadeloupe came out of the second conference. And there has been an agreement with the Netherlands. People are beginning to see the college differently, and respond to the college differently. Networks are being set up," she said.
The keynote speaker for the 2015 conference will be Ramu Damorandan, director of the United Nations (UN) Academic Impact, a unit within the UN, which interfaces with universities and colleges and helps break boundaries through academia.
Hamilton said one reason EMCVPA looked to the UN for a speaker is that the international body is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
Senior echoed Hamilton's remarks on the conference's international scope. The first two attracted participants from Japan, Canada, the United States and Caribbean countries, among others. Already, for this year, international presenters have indicated their desire to speak, give workshops, mount exhibitions or give lecture-demonstration.
"We're open to a wide range of presentation formats," Senior pointed out.
He said the first two conferences largely focused on economic development in the creative industries. Keynote speaker for the 2011 conference was former prime minister, Hon Edward Seaga. For the 2013 conference, it was Finance Minister Hon Dr Peter Phillips.
Senior said the 'breaking boundaries' theme for this year's conference comes in the context that "the arts faces several challenges and the way forward is to break traditional ideologies about them".
He spoke of the multifaceted nature of culture and the diversity of participants coming to address the wide range of sub-themes listed in the call for proposals, which was recently sent out. Those sub-themes include the arts and education, technology, feminism and sexuality, religion and spirituality, the state and the law, children, business, human rights and social justice, globalisation, advertising and propaganda, and tourism and economic development.
Abstracts not exceeding 300 words should include a brief biography and outline of the presentation to be made. They should be emailed by April 17 to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Calls for Proposals' as the subject.
Senior said presenters are also asked to submit written papers before the conference for possible publication in the peer-reviewed Jonkonnu Academic Arts Journal.