Here Comes Culture
Today, I sat in my office at the Philip Sherlock Centre, and in walked creative enterprise and cultural entrepreneurship, in the form and body of Jermaine Rowe. Jermaine is a complete artist (for want of a better term as I’m not sure if ‘Triple Threat’ works for men). I hadn’t seen him in a long time but I knew he was doing some great work in the USA in the field of the performing arts. In my opinion, Jermaine embodies the possibilities for our culture within theatre and the performing arts. He is a living testimony of what we can become and the heights we can rise to in the arts. Now, I’m not saying he is a Marley or even a ‘big-name’ recording artist. That’s not my premise. My premise is that his track record of creative successes on multiple levels and in multiple creative arts fields is remarkable especially in contrast to where and when he started.
Jermaine’s website gives a little bit of his background:
Jermaine Rowe’s theatre career started in high school in Jamaica, where as president of his performing arts (group), lead the group to the Pan-African Festival in Ghana, West Africa, where they performed a show he co-created. He returned to Jamaica to become a principal dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, and for his theatrical productions at the University of the West Indies dance and theatre departments, he was awarded the Prime Minster’s Youth Excellence Award, the nation’s most prestigious youth award. This was achieved while completing a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Education (Hon), at the same university.
When Jermaine walked into my office, he carried with him the gifts and demonstrations of how the spirit of professionalism in the creative arts can be one of Jamaica’s greatest exports. We do know that our Reggae music is known, and that our dancehall is popular, but we operate as if it’s an accident that this is so. As a nation, we definitely have not given credence to the possibility of our theatre, dance and film becoming a serious career path for Jamaicans. We don’t seem to believe that the creative arts aspects of our culture can be a powerful industry. And yet Jermaine Rowe and his story exist, in spite of what our Jamaican investors refuse to see. The story of Jermaine, who studied at ‘Alvin Ailey’; danced with the ‘Dance Theatre of Harlem’; performed with Disney’s ‘The Lion King’; and also performed with Bill T. Jones’ ‘Fela’ says that so much more is possible if we dare to invest and make our creative arts and our culture the breadwinner. What is also interesting is that there are so many other Jamaicans like him, doing remarkably well out there. I could name names: Iyun Ashani (Dance Professor at Cornish College with his own dance company – Ashani Dances); Christopher Walker (Dance Professor at University of Wisconsin); Teisha Duncan (playing the lead role of Sarabi in Disney’s The Lion King)… I really could go on for a very long time listing these successes if only to show that Jermaine is not an accident. What we need to do is invest in our talent at home and help it grow to serve us here at home and also for export.
What should be the National approach towards the development of culture.
When people hear the word culture, they generally tend to think of something ‘historical’, ‘backward’ or ‘artistic’. When you put those things together, it’s no wonder that the kind of support which culture should have in a country like Jamaica is not there. Ironically, proper understanding and use of culture is perhaps the only thing that can fully set Jamaica on a path to development. The important thing here is not the development of culture, but the development of our Jamaican society to its full potential by the use of culture, because culture is everywhere and in everything. Culture is our way of life; beliefs; attitudes; modes of expression; and of course our arts. In order to facilitate culture in the full expression in order to reap the benefits, Jamaica has to focus on culture in four main areas. This includes:
- Culture for human and social development
- Culture as research and exposition
- Culture as art and expression
In the area of CULTURE FOR HUMAN AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT we need to explore how culture can operate successfully in tandem with our NGOs and social development groups as well as our Ministries of Education and with youth in order to bring about certain awareness about ourselves as Jamaicans. The Jamaican people need to be further empowered and not just emboldened in regards to civic pride, nationalism and in themselves. Yes we are ‘Out of Many One People’ but the vast majority of the people are still ensnared in systematic self-hatred as a result of the lasting effects of the enslavement of Africans. This is seen clearly in the bleaching of so many youths and endorsed by so many of the base creative leaders. Issues like this can be addressed though culture. The use of cultural agents and policies as the vehicles of change is extremely important here. If one looks at how Japan’s culture has helped to build discipline in the society and an eagerness for learning, one can understand clearly how culture in Jamaica can transform our society and our education system. It is a symbiotic relationship that will show how bit by bit the ‘culture’ can itself change.
CULTURE AS RESEARCH AND EXPOSITION will be integral to the process of development. It is only through rigorous research and testing of ideas that theories and workable principles will come into play to support the development that is needed:
- In the area of culture
- To help culture support the developmental goals of Jamaica.
It is important also that research is part of the drive for policy and development in Jamaica because we must NOT assume that because we believe something will work, it really will or that something has worked before that it will keep on working. Programmes and policies must be evaluated for their effectiveness and their use continued or discontinued accordingly.
CULTURE AS ART AND EXPRESSION is the area that we most associate with when we say the word culture and the reason for this is that it is the most visible aspect of our culture. It is in fact an important part of ‘BRAND JAMAICA’ and so we know that this aspect of culture is extremely important also to our economic survival and works in tandem with CULTURE FOR ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE. In order to maintain the highest standards and quality for our culture so that it can continue exciting and enticing the world, we must embark on a path of Capacity Building. We do already have strong cultural experts in Jamaica. We need to use them to strengthen others, and where necessary partner with international bodies to support our local capacity building exercises (as long as it doesn’t disrupt the natural expression of our culture in negative ways).
Our culture is the foundation of our economic independence, if we could only use it to finally free ourselves from our enslavement to systems that disempower us. It is in fact more paradox than irony that, it is our culture that has supported this enslavement and yet it is only that very same culture that can free us from it. There is much here that needs investigation and support. On the cultural front, Jamaica is in serious need of:
- Visionaries who can see and articulate the possibilities for Jamaican cultural enterprise
- Technocrats with specialized knowledge in the field who can set up policies and systems that support the structure of cultural enterprise
- Advocates who speak on behalf of culture and help it make inroads into important areas
- Fundraisers and Proposal Writers who create opportunities for the cultural industry to grow, by raising money
- Investors who work with cultural practitioners to create strategies that ensure the financial viability of the sector through insight, sponsorship, development of the infrastructure needed and management of the resources through fiscal responsibility
- Cultural Practitioners and Implementers who can Coordinate and orchestrate the programmes that flow from a solidly constructed vision and policy
The Jamaican artiste Chronixx has a song entitled ‘Here Comes Trouble’ – and I see it as a fitting song for the set up of a real cultural revolution on the horizon. My only adjustment would be to change the word ‘trouble’ to culture:
Here comes CULTURE
Here comes the danger
Welcome the savior
Welcome the rasta youths
You no haffi ask is who…