Arts in Action

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The arts must play a critical role in personal and social development

Arts-in-Action (AiA) functions as the Theatre-in-Education Outreach Unit of the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Operating as a self funded not-for-profit entity within arts and cultural industry of Trinidad and Tobago, Arts-in-Action is guided by the philosophy that the arts must play a critical role in personal and social development. (Marvin George, 2005, Cultural Industries as a Motor for Development: Arts-in-Action as Testimony). Officially launched in 1994, Arts-in-Action (AiA) is a public education programme, the brainchild of UWI professor Danielle Lyndersay. The programme is now considered to be the leading team of applied creative arts consultants in the Anglophone Caribbean. (www.meppublishers.com/online/caribbean-beat/current_issue/index.php?pid=1000&id=cb83-2-32).
The University of the West Indies has been AiA’s home base since its inception, a relationship honoured by their receipt of the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in 2002 and subsequent integration as a unit of the university system. Their team members often come on board following completion of either the theatre and drama in education certificate, or the BA in Theatre Arts offered by the University. Its team members have included some of Trinidad’s most accomplished young performers: Marvin George, Camille Quamina, Kurtis Gross, Michael Cherry, Samantha Pierre, Patrice Briggs, Brendan Lacaille, amongst others. The programme seeks to extend the work of the Centre into rural and urban communities and institutions throughout, in the first instance, Trinidad and Tobago and, in time the Caribbean region. Arts-in-Action has conducted over 300 workshop/performances with over 25,000 participants ranging in age from 3 years to the elderly. The themes and subjects investigated deal with a multitude of social problems relevant to the region. For example, alcohol and drug addiction, domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide, deceit, bullying, gambling, self-esteem, role models, mentors, parents and peers are some of the issues raised. All presentations require audience participation using the theatre-in-education techniques for conflict resolution, mediation, decision-making, team-building and self-esteem. (www.uwi.ed).
Methodologically, the work of Arts-in-Action is informed by the theory and practice of the Brazilian educator-activist, Augusto Boal and his “Theatre of the Oppressed”. With this method applied, Arts-in-Action has managed over the past twelve years to situate its unique style of Forum Theatre, called interactive performance workshops not only in primary and secondary schools, but in communities, street corners, rum-shops, churches, worksites, corporate board-rooms and a host of other non-arts settings (Marvin George, 2005, Cultural Industries as a Motor for Development: Arts-in-Action as Testimony). Taking into account the needs of each client, the AiA team devises and presents a piece of interactive action theatre, which sometimes employs folklore or Carnival characters. They then create an interactive forum where the workshop participants are encouraged to begin thinking critically about the issue at hand, airing viewpoints, and working towards a solution or constructive approach. The team uses a plethora of techniques to coax sometimes self-conscious and sceptical audiences to open up, whether it’s placing people in the “hot seat”, or engaging in role-playing and trust exercises. The entire thing can last anything from thirty minutes to five hours, always with the emphasis on presenting healthy and viable options to the members of the forum, and empowering the communities, schools, and staff they engage through personal accountability (www.meppublishers.com/online/caribbean-beat/current_issue/index.php?pid=1000&id=cb83-2-32). What makes the work unique is the synthesis of Boal’s method with elements of the rich Caribbean culture of the island: festival performances, rituals, folklore, music, dance and beliefs etc. for its text, aesthetic and ethos.
Dolly Mois: A Cry Against Violence (1994) created by Rawle Gibbons and students at the CCFA as their annual production, is considered to be the group’s seminal work. The project, a response to the disturbing frequency with which reports of battered women and instances of domestic violence had reached the news headlines, toured twenty-two community centres through Trinidad and Tobago. In C.L.E.A.N., (an acronym which stands for Care and Love for the Environment And Nature), Arts-in-Action used its theatre to rejuvenate some of their folklore characters; two of these characters for example, Papa Bois (the Father of the Forest) and Mama D’leau (Mother of the Water) teach primary school aged students concepts such as Deforestation, Land and Water Pollution. Given the inextricability of the discourse on the Trinidad Carnival from Trinidad history itself, a ´Hidden History´ curriculum is delivered in the process. In another project called L.I.F.E. (Liberating Imagination for Expression), funded by the IDB, the Carnival Arts are used as rehabilitative and skills development tools, as training is offered in these areas to ex-offenders.
In 2002 AiA participated in Sci-TechKnoFest 2002, a ten-day celebration of science and technology. Organised around the theme of “Celebrating Our Connectivity”, the Festival featured attractions for all age groups and promoted public understanding of advancements and issues in science and technology developed under five sub-headings: communications, environment, health, home and everyday living, and technologies and innovations in the productive sector. The AiA contribution to the festival, “Who Let The Dogs Out?” dealt with the discovery of the rabies virus by Dr. Lennox Pawan, a famous local scientist.
DRAMATHICS is another initiative that proposes a Drama/Theatre and Integrated-Arts approach to Mathematics Education in Primary Schools. The project aimed to enhance the teaching of Mathematics by equipping teachers with DRAMATHICS techniques that can be used to support or supplement existing methods of Mathematics Curricula delivery. The project sought to increase students’ appreciation for Mathematics, by way of exciting students’ interest in the subject. The project engaged over 250 pupils from 10 schools in Trinidad and Tobago (25 students per school) as well as provided training for a group of 50 teachers (representing 5 per school from the 10 schools selected) in DRAMATHICS teaching techniques (www.undp.org.tt/sgp/sgrants.html)
However, according to Marvin George, a leading group member, “none of Arts-in-Action’s projects have been as ambitious or as inspiring as our Jus’ Once project”. Jus’ Once was initiated in 1998 as a forum for dealing with the myths, misinformation and stigmas that are associated with HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support. Citing HIV/AIDS as one of the Caribbean’s more critical developmental challenges, an immediate, relevant and effective response was required. Three years later the project received support from the Canadian High Commission that allowed Arts-in-Action to prove the efficacy of the Jus’ Once model in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS” (Marvin George, 2005, Cultural Industries as a Motor for Development: Arts-in-Action as Testimony). Two researchers were hired to assess the impact of the project. There were six actor-teacher-facilitators, each taking on a role that personified one of the myths that plagued our ‘knowledge’ of the disease: that AIDS is a homosexual disease, that healthy people don’t get AIDS, that people with the disease look sick and that balloons and plastic wrap are as effective as condoms in prevention. These myths were interspersed with original music, children’s games and factual ‘unmasked’ statistics. In the post-performance workshop, participants would engage in discussions with the facilitators; one of them is still in role. The audiences would test what they know against what they’ve learnt through their questioning and interview of this character. They would share information on best practices for prevention and how to treat with persons living with the disease. In 2004 the Jus’ Once project was named by the UNAIDS/UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) AIDS Competence Programme as one of the top ten “Techniques and Practices for Local Responses to HIV/AIDS”. In the same year, the IDB would select Arts-in-Action from among hundreds of projects from Latin America and the Caribbean to complete a list of forty exemplary and exceptional youth driven projects from this region. (Marvin George, 2005, Cultural Industries as a Motor for Development: Arts-in-Action as Testimony).
AiA have been the recipients of several international grants and commissions, numerous awards for their projects. Their clients have included the United Nations, government ministries, schools and communities throughout the country, and corporations like BHP Billiton, BP Trinidad and Tobago, Republic Bank, First Citizens Bank, the Rotary Club, and TSTT. Beyond their local work, AiA has travelled extensively throughout the region, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Author: Ana Sanchez-Colberg

Bio

Since 1994, the Centre for Creative & Festival Arts has embarked upon a programme of public education, entitled Arts-in-Action. Essentially, this programme seeks to extend the work and mission of the Centre into communities and institutions throughout, in the first instance, Trinidad and Tobago, and subsequently throughout the Caribbean Region. The philosophical basis of its work has been that art has an indispensable role to play in the process of social and attitudinal change and development.
Today, Arts-in-Action is recognized as the leading Applied Creative Arts Consultants in the Caribbean Region. As a self-funded, not-for-profit unit of the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts, UWI, Arts-in-Action draws on the expertise of its members who are all facilitators and graduates of Creative Arts programmes at UWI. Arts-in-Action also draws on the vast knowledge and skills base that its unique position as an entity within the UWI affords it.
Since its inception Arts-in-Action has completed well over 3000 interactive performance workshops across the country, the Caribbean, the USA and UK, dealing with pertinent societal issues to over half a million participants. Researched real-life situations, which are culturally sensitive, are used to provoke empathy and awareness of the issues. Arts-in-Action’s innovative techniques in Drama and Theatre-in-Education (DIE and TIE), serve to stimulate discussion and identification of solutions to challenges presented, from participating audiences.

Merits

• 2005 UNDP Small Grants Programme Award for DRAMATICS
• 2004 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Youth / Master Card Entrepreneurship Award (Culture)
• 2004 bpTT Spirit of Community Awards – Youth in Education Category
• 2003 Green Leaf Award – EMA Environmental Management Authority
• 2003 bpTT Spirit of Community Awards – The Environment Category
• 2003 bpTT Spirit of Community Awards – Arts & Culture Category
• 2002-03 Tidy T&T Outstanding Project: Environmental Literary Category
• 2002-03 Inter-American Development Bank Grant: Cultural Development
• 2002 Trinidad Express Newspapers Merit Award to Youth Group or Organization
• 2001 UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence
• CANADA FUND Award for HIV/AIDS Awareness, 2000-2003
• BP AMOCO Leaders Award 1999: Environmental Category
• XI FITA ’98 Festival Internationale di Teatro Aruba, Best Production

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Contacting the World Street Event

(01 July 06 - 23 July 06)