Value the arts
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, August 29, 2021
with Philip Clarke
Over the 20-plus years that I have been an arts educator and practitioner, I have come to the conclusion that as a nation we do not truly value the arts.
The question is how does one value the arts? Could it be a case of 'a prophet has no honour in his own country'?
It is evident by virtue of how much financial emphasis is placed on sport, economics, science, engineering, medicine, business and finance that these disciplines and careers have high value in society. Nonetheless, I wish to provide reasons we should continue to place value on the arts.
First of all, the practice of the arts develops rigour. This is the quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate. A detail-oriented individual is in high demand these days for careers that require management skills and human resource skills. Consistent rehearsal for productions and the attention to detail to achieve the right sound quality, choreography, artistic edge, character and lighting ( to name a few ) not only creates a great artist but a human being that will not settle for low standards. Excellence therefore becomes habit, not an act.
Consequently, an individual with these skills will be able to listen critically and creatively in order to solve problems. This helps them to listen actively and respond respectfully to constructive criticism, feedback and the perspectives of others. On stage whether you are a singer or actor and also in film, you are constantly vulnerable to an audience that continuously forms their view of you. The arts helps to build within an individual the capacity to respond to criticism. The act of learning lines for a play, song or creative performance prepares the brain to articulate a perspective by choosing to express it in such a way that your audience understands. Over time, the individual develops the ability to analyse, evaluate and integrate information and concepts across disciplines. This not only leads to versatility but a high level of marketability.
The person who participates in the practice of the arts becomes resilient. There is an old saying in theatre “the show must go on”.
The phrase may have originated in circuses, dating back to the 19th century. When a circus performer got injured performing their death-defying or otherwise demanding act or when an animal got loose, supposedly the ringmaster, and the band would keep the entertainment going so that the crowd wouldn't worry and panic. Hence the expression was born.
This culture of professionalism exists especially in the theatre world today and is the essence of why it builds resilience. These are skills that can relate to life in general and prepare our youth to function in a globalised world. The art of performance is wrapped up in the discipline of the arts which leaves an audience completely satisfied each time. One does not achieve this overnight. In the same way that our sportsmen and women train hard to perfect their form and skill, the artist has to work at the discipline of the arts.
These are life skills that will bring value to any organisation, group or relationship. So why don't we value the arts?
Veteran reggae artiste of international repute Freddie McGregor, in his article, 'The future needs your help' ( Jamaica Observer's Let's Talk Reggae series on Sunday, July 11), alluded to the fact that there is a lack of support for our music and culture. He lamented how embarrassing it is when he sees governments in other countries support music and culture. Dr Dennis Howard in his article in this series (Sunday, July 25) — 'Include culture in development matrix' — puts it succinctly, “A critical gap in all economic policy programmes has been the sidelining of culture in the development matrix.” Dr Howard described our Jamaican culture as our superpower and I totally agree.
The practice of the arts using our culture develops personal, academic and technical skill sets which prepare our youth to adapt to change, equipping them with the ability to embrace failure, and persist in the face of adversity. 'Wrong and strong' is a phrase used in the Caribbean performing spaces which means we press on without apologising or advertising to our audience if something goes wrong. Since the audience does not know the mistake, we push on because we are resilient. This is how we remain relevant despite what is happening around us.
So when we see performers delivering their craft and sharing their talent with an audience, do not for a minute ignore the work that has gone into their performance. This is why you need to encourage and applaud and support their livelihood as an artist. Do not scoff at the performer but recognise that the practice builds gladiators for the world. Enrol your children in an arts programme so that you can build citizens of rigour, resilience and relevance. Creatives will always survive and we know Jamaicans are creative.
To my fellow artists and practitioners, do not short change yourself by seeking short cuts and displaying shoddy work. Do not embarrass yourself and your art by not taking time to hone your craft. Decide not to contribute to the apathy and indifference that exists when the rest of the society decides to pull the plug on the arts simply because we need to cut costs. Be proud of what you do and uplift another artist rather than criticise them.
All of us have a role to play in restoring the dignity and respect that arts and culture deserve. Take responsibility. As Booker T Washington, educator, author, orator, and adviser to several presidents of the United States of America said, “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”
Philip Clarke is a two time Actor Boy awardee who has distinguished himself as a performance coach who trains singers, poets, speakers , DJs and actors to enhance their stage performance. He has a passion for young entertainers whom he believes need to be trained in the art of performance and communication. Currently he is the Director of Arts and Culture at the University of Technology, Jamaica.