INFLUENCING CULTURE AND THE ARTS IN THE CARIBBEAN THROUGH RESEARCH: DCFA’s Cultural Research Colloquium 2013

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On Monday the 25th November 2013 the first student Colloquium on Cultural Research was hosted by the Department of Creative and festival Arts, UWI, St. Augustine. The colloquium showcased the research scholarship of the students enrolled in the course THEA1004 Introduction to Cultural Research Methods headed by Dr. Jo-anne Tull and supported by Ms. Anthea Octave. The event also served as the student’s Presentation Coursework component. The Department of Creative and Festival Arts has a long history of conducting academic research in the Creative Arts and the culture of the Caribbean: an actuality that understandably rarely gets distinguished alongside the more immediate and entertaining endeavours of its student and staff. Nevertheless a core requisite of a degree in the Arts is an understanding of culture and the endowment of its students with the necessary tools to investigate the social, historical and technical aspects of their fields of interest. Culture and the Arts can be a challenging area in which to conduct academic research and more so Culture and the Arts in the Caribbean where so much is of the history has been scarcely documented, lost, un-catalogued or still in the keepings of oral re-tellings.  Additionally, the vibrancy and fluency of our culture and creative forms also pose challenges of finding the right investigative tools to capture and measure their true impacts. The Course Introduction to Cultural Research Methods is one of the apparatus of the DCFA that seeks to respond to and guide contemporary developments of academic research in culture and creative arts practices in the Caribbean. The Cultural Research Colloquium is a deliberate contribution towards the influencing the value and legacy of the arts in Caribbean culture.

Under the theme, “Interrogating Contemporary Caribbean Culture: Traditional Impacts, Contemporary Meanings”, students made formal presentations across four themed panels. – the performing arts; traditional and contemporary masquerade; Caribbean folk practices; and contemporary cultural norms. The  individual panels were chaired throughout the day by Marvin George MA.( lecturer at DCFA, UWI), Keri Johnson MA. (Graduate of DCFA, UWI and one of the first individuals with a Masters in Carnival Arts, UTT) and Dr. Jo-anne Tull ( co-ordinator of the Carnival Studies Unit UWI). The results of the day saw the first year students demonstrating a strong understanding of the process for conducting cultural research and the presentation of their efforts in an effective and professional style.  Outstanding among the Presentations were:

  • “From Fabric to Beads’: Transitions in Design and Production of Contemporary Carnival Costumes in ‘Trini Revelers’ “ by Jillian Franklyn  |  Esther-Marie Jones  |  Simone McShine
  • “Dance Victoria Dance”                                                                                                              by Michelle Pilgrim  |  Latoya Bushe  |  Danielle Balroop
  • “The Familiarity of the Midnight Robber Amongst Young People 15-19 at Two Secondary Schools”by  Alicia George-Baptiste  |  Robert Francis  |  Phelix John
  • “‘Lime, Sweet Lime’: The Culture of Liming and its Key Trends in Trinidad” by Sangita Ajodhasingh  |  Yasser Ali  | Ursuline Nelson-Williams                                                    
  • “Positive Futures: Teaching the Performing Arts through Technology”                                                    by Mindy Giles  |  Jonathon   |  Lauren

The following are images from the day and the opening remarks from the Head of the Department of Creative and Festival Arts Mr. Jessel Murray M.M. who set the tone for what would eventually be a proud display of the future of research and culture in the Caribbean.

“In perusing the undergraduate catalogue for the Humanities, with particular reference to this Department, it was noted that there is only one course which is dedicated solely to undergraduate research and that is the Introduction to Cultural Research Methods offered by the Carnival Studies Unit. It is known that research skills are vital for personal and professional development. The ability to facilitate research enables an individual to resolve daily challenges whilst for an undergraduate student the skills learnt are critical for every facet of student-  academic life and a  pertinent requirement to enter graduate studies.

The Undergraduate Office of the University of Texas notes that up to a few years ago, research was strictly reserved for faculty members. It was therefore considered a privilege to be able to conduct research and have the facilities to do so. Times have changed. For many undergraduate students, research is valuable not just for examination success but rather to apply knowledge learnt in educational settings and to discover alternatives to established modes of life.

Gonzalez (2001) has argued, that for undergraduate students, research is crucial in a global economy that is increasingly becoming knowledge based. She notes that “what students are capable of learning in the future is as important as how much they know when they graduate”. Research is thus fundamental for undergraduate students as it aids in their reaction to new situations and solving problems, now and in the future.

Throughout today’s proceedings the papers presented will deal with research into the aspect of culture. Melvin Bragg, a BBC4 broadcaster recently advanced a broad definition of culture on a panel discussion entitled “The value of Culture”. He believes that Culture defines everything that is not nature and defines us as humans. It is anything made by humans and exists in two forms: high culture (entertainment: – opera, ballet and similar forms.) and low culture (everyday customs). It is something inherited from previous generations but it is not genetic. Culture’s value can be found in its contribution to the economy in the form of creative industries (arts, music and the like) and socially in the regeneration and creation of liveable communities.

Cultural research can therefore be valuable based on its ability to solve societal problems. Certainly, today’s proceedings are a welcome addition to the process of the examination of some of the many pressing problems facing our own multicultural society.

On behalf of the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, I would like to congratulate Dr. Jo-anne Tull and all of the staff members of the Carnival Studies Unit for this initiative which we hope will become an annual affair at the Department. I wish you all the best for a productive and stimulating day.”

Jessel Murray M.M.

Senior Lecturer and Head

Department of Creative and Festival Arts

University of the West Indies, St. Augustine

Trinidad, W.I.

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The full album can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.630107867030567.1073741825.149014411806584&type=1

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