Our Readers' Opinions
July 10, 2009
Social value of Cultural Arts Pt:1


by Maxwell Haywood

Vincy Mas 2009 has just ended, and many of us will be reflecting on what happened during carnival. The outpouring of creativity through the cultural arts should remind us that culture is a serious affair and must not be allowed to pass us by without putting it into perspective.{{more}}

Throughout history, the cultural arts have shown that they are significant instruments in the quest for human freedom. They are vital for individual and “collective” development. There seems to be a lesson in this idea for each of us and our society as a whole. The idea makes me wonder how St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) would look if the cultural arts are allowed to follow their critical logic —- as a reflection of the particular and general social environments.

There is one aspect that is problematic: not all who engage in artistic work do it for the upliftment of humanity. Many artistes unconsciously or consciously promote the debasement of humanity, and they often elevate half-truths, lies, mischief, slander, violence, and the sexualization of society. All this is detrimental to the integrity of the cultural arts and the society in which they manifest themselves. For the cultural arts to flourish and uplift humanity, the artistes’ freedom of expression must be protected always, and the artistes in turn must exercise this freedom of expression with a high sense of social responsibility. On one hand, this means that when their right to freedom of expression is violated, all of us must speak out on behalf of the artistes. On the other hand, when the cultural artistes use their creativity to violate the rights of other persons, and when the artistes ignore their social responsibility, we all must criticize them for doing so. No one is beyond criticism. We all will be socially richer as a result.

Speaking during the inaugural Dr. J.P. Eustace Memorial Secondary School Art and Craft Awards Ceremony on June 5, 2009, guest speaker at the event, Senior Education Officer Carlton Hall, reminded the students of a very important idea regarding creativity. According to the Searchlight newspaper of June 26, 2009, he said: “We are not talking about creating home-made bombs to become a home-made terrorists. You must be creating something that can contribute to yourself, the existence of your family and the development of your country,”

Recently, Vonnie Roudette, Art lecturer at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College and one of SVG’s cultural arts experts, was quoted by the Searchlight newspaper of June 26, 2009, as saying: “I’ve seen creativity transform young lives!” Her observation is indeed a profound one. I will highlight a few examples to illustrate this crucial idea and then place the spotlight exclusively on SVG.

When the freedom movement in the USA was organizing black people in the twentieth century, it benefited tremendously from the creative works of artistes such as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Stevie Wonder and many others. Poets such as Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, and Maya Angelou revealed the beauty and the necessity of the struggles conducted by the movement of black people for freedom from racial and class discrimination, oppression and exploitation. The freedom movement in the USA has helped to break down many barriers to economic, social and political opportunities for black people, women and other so-called minority groups. Many Caribbean people living in the US and home in the Caribbean are now benefiting from the victories of that freedom movement.

Cultural artistes in the Caribbean have proven the social value of the cultural arts. For example, the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers has made many people wiser in their thoughts and actions. The Wailers have contributed to liberation movements worldwide. During their struggles against racist regimes, national liberation fighters on the African continent, especially in the Southern African region, got more strength from the creative works of the Wailers. Bob Marley’s song entitled Zimbabwe was a popular song in Zimbabwe itself, the rest of Africa and the world. In 1981, the Zimbabwean people invited Bob Marley to perform at the inaugural celebrations of the new Government made up of the liberation forces that fought a bitter war against the white racist minority regime. This was a major achievement for not only Bob Marley and the Wailers but for all Caribbean cultural artistes.

Furthermore, some of us might remember that great South African play called “Sarafina”, which dramatized the evils of the apartheid system in South Africa before it was destroyed by the liberation forces, led by the African National Congress. Sarafina played on Broadway in the USA for a relatively long time. It significantly helped to sensitize the world or international public opinion to the urgency of ending apartheid. There are many more examples like Sarafina.

In SVG, we have cultural art forms such as: carnival, calypso, soca, steel pan, reggae, drama, dance, rap, poetry, painting, handicraft, designing, photography, fashion, and others. There are also cultural arts organizations and businesses, too, that represent these art forms. I always wonder how we could reach a stage where these cultural art forms and cultural arts organizations become vehicles for consciously motivating and inspiring us to achieve a more humanized society or a higher level of humane existence. What about carnival? Specifically, what about the calypso component of carnival? Did 2009 calypsos tell us anything about the potential of this cultural art form to advance the humanization of our society? In my next article, I will attempt to answer this question.