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Vivian Crawford: Preserving and promoting Jamaica's history

Published:Monday | October 31, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Vivian Crawford
Vivian Crawford (right), executive director of the Institute of Jamaica, after being presented with the 2011 Gleaner Honour Award in the category Arts and Culture by Christopher Barnes (left), managing director of The Gleaner Company. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer
Vivian Crawford (left, front) and James Moss-Solomon (right), Gleaner Honour Award recipients for Arts and Culture, and Voluntary Service, respectively, show off their awards in the company of (at back, from left) Frances Madden; Christopher Barnes; Elon Beckford and Curtis Sweeney, at The Gleaner's North Street, Kingston, offices last Wednesday. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer
Mr Crawford walks through the gallery at the Institute of Jamaica, downtown Kingston. - File

HE'S ONE of those persons whose personality can light up any room. Vivian Crawford, the charismatic, vibrant head of the Institute of Jamaica, has been leading the East Street, Kingston facility for more than 11 years, even though he initially signed on for only a three-month stint.

This did not happen by accident. Crawford is one of the nation's foremost authorities on arts and culture and has, over time, earned an enviable record of accomplishment in this area.

He spent some time with The Gleaner recently, reflecting on his journey with arts and culture over the years.

"It was sheer serendipity!" said Crawford, describing how he started working in the field.

"Sometimes you don't plan something, but you find yourself on a road and you follow it. And, as my mother used to tell me, 'Whatever your hands find to do, do your best'," he said.

And he has followed the sound advice of his mother.

He credits his love for the arts and Jamaican culture to his upbringing in Moore Town, Portland.

"It certainly propelled me to work in this area. You see, I grew up in a place and time devoid of technology. What we had, though, were stories. We depended on these stories for information and that is how we learned about our history and culture," said Crawford.

He has spent much of his life trying to preserve elements of local culture. Soon after he took on the job as head of the Institute of Jamaica, he made a visit to Spanish Town in St Catherine.

Crawford was appalled that there was nothing in place to commemorate the location of the 1838 reading of the Proclamation of Emancipation of Slaves, at the entrance to the old King's House building in the town.

He immediately launched a campaign and soon raised enough money to get a plaque in place. He still counts this as one of his greatest accomplishments and proudest moments.

Crawford has an intense passion for arts and culture. It's palpable and evident from the excitement in his voice when he speaks about it.

He believes more needs to be done in schools to promote local culture.

"We must share with the young people what we learned from those before us," he said.

"And it can't be only in the context of GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) and CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate). We must make (the study of arts and culture) part of everyday life. Not just something that happens in October. It must become a way of life," said Crawford.

And he practises what he preaches. He has volunteered his time at various institutions across the island, teaching the arts and elements of local culture to young people. He is particularly proud of his time spent at Boys' Town tutoring students there in the playing of instruments.

Culture must be preserved

Crawford is a member of the Ward Theatre Foundation and participated in the annual summer-school programme where inner-city children were given the rare opportunity to gain real experience in the creative arts, including music, drama and dance.

He was also chairman of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission for 10 years (up to 2007) and while there, presided over a nationwide campaign to preserve and promote arts and culture.

"It's important that we ensure that our culture is respected and preserved," he said.

But there are many sides to the man. Apart from being a warrior for arts and culture, he is also a financial whiz. He holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of the West Indies and the a master's degree in business administration from the Nova South-Eastern University.

He has been honourary treasurer of the University of Technology Jamaica for some 20 years. And, he is also a gifted organist. So talented is he, that despite his busy schedule, he remains in high demand for weddings and other social gatherings across the island. It's just another side to the multi-faceted man.

Now, over the years, Crawford has managed to accumulate a number of high awards and honours. Among them awards for music and for contribution to various schools and causes.

And now, the highly accomplished Vivian Crawford will have another award to add to his extensive collection of accolades as, for his lifelong commitment to the preservation, promotion and development of arts and culture in Jamaica, he has been awarded the 2011 Gleaner Honour Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture.