Budget Cuts Challenge Work of CDF

Image: Dance forms a major part of the annual National Arts Festival [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]

Image: Dance forms a major part of the annual National Arts Festival [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
Dance forms a major part of the annual National Arts Festival [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
THERE are elements of Saint Lucian culture that are both unique and appealing that even foreigners visiting our shores return to relive the experience. Despite the island’s arts scene’s gradual pace towards becoming mainstream, what people see and get are often synonymous with what some of the world’s best stages offer to audiences.

Whether it’s a La Marguerite or La Rose flower festival, the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival or Saint Lucia Carnival, JounenKwéyòl, Sir Derek Walcott’s poetry or Sir Dunstan St. Omer’s paintings, there’s just something peculiar about the island’s rich culture that always seems to attract people’s interest. And with the recent opening of Walcott House, the local cultural landscape is set to realize a transformational shift from the chronic cry for performing space to filling seats.

As the island’s leading agency charged with the development of Saint Lucian culture, the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) plays an integral role in ensuring that the arts have a transformative role in people’s lives and that it promotes national pride. That objective is realized through kind-hearted sponsors and a vast wealth of Saint Lucians involved in the arts. One of the uphill battles CDF continues to face, though, is getting Saint Lucians to appreciate and support the arts, including being part of the audience.

CDF launched its annual programme of activities last Thursday, a year-long calendar that includes both its training and events programmes. The National Arts Festival (NAF) forms part of the annual programme of activities and is set to begin in a few weeks.

CDF’s Celeste Burton. . [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
CDF’s Celeste Burton. . [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
Celeste Burton, CDF’s Director of Training, Promotion and Development, told The VOICE yesterday that this year’s Festival has been scaled down due to financial constraints.

However, the CDF has adopted a slightly different model than before in working with communities that want to host their own festivals by incorporating unique aspects of their community into those events.

Thus far, Mon Repos (Micoud) has been identified as a host community for the NAF, with discussions underway for Vieux Fort and Soufriere to join in the fray.

Training programmes for the NAF are expected to begin by late March and will incorporate dance workshops in anticipation of the Cultural Icon Series in May which will pay tribute to former dance teacher, the late Virginia Alexander. An exhibition paying tribute to Alexander will run two weeks before the concert and will feature highlights of her career.

Training programmes in theatre and other art forms will also be undertaken, Burton said.

Also on the calendar of activities are the Youth Summer Arts Platform, Emancipation Day Exhibition, La Rose and La Marguerite flower festivals and the December festivals, namely the Lantern Festival, Festival of Carols and Festival of Lights.

Burton said a great deal of emphasis is placed on training programmes so as to make the arts a viable and sustainable industry. Building partnerships with experienced facilitators and institutions, she said, has helped immensely. But these incremental pluses continue to be plagued by budget cuts that often force the CDF to become both creative and determined.

Image: Despite limited theatre space and dismal audiences, the island’s theatre arts continue to grow. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
Despite limited theatre space and dismal audiences, the island’s theatre arts continue to grow. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
“The financial challenge is always there,” Burton told The VOICE. “Like other institutions, we are facing many issues resulting from budget cuts. For instance, our budget was cut by $65,000 this year which is a lot to us because it can go very far in terms of organizing our events and programmes.”

While financial support remains crucial to the development of the arts, Burton said CDF wants people to know where the organization is coming from and what it does. She also wants the media to do more in getting the message out. Parents, too, need to embrace these programmes by also getting their children involved in the arts.

Burton said that while the arts remain a viable option for many young people, the fact that the sector has not become as mainstream as it should has resulted in many artistes not being able to gain sustainable livelihoods from their craft. That, she said, will change over time with CDF’s committed approach to being a game-changer.

“We have a mandate to preserve and develop our culture. The communities have the numbers of artists. So we just need to continue finding ways of making culture not just a tradition but also a business,” Burton said.

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