At this time, we welcome Annalee Davis who now works with the British Council as Caribbean Arts Manager. Annalee, as you can imagine, is very busy between this new appointment and other projects which have included her work with the Fresh Milk residency in Barbados, where she is based, and the very interesting White Creole Conversations online, among other activities.
I read of her appointment in Arc, another project with which she is associated and among the first to herald this important bridge between the work of creatives in the region and the resources of the British Council.
In my stewardship of Wadadli Pen and my own journeying as a writer, I live to find opportunities for the development of the arts in Antigua and Barbuda. I am grateful to Annalee for taking the time to talk to us about her work and what her appointment means for creatives in the Caribbean and for us here on the rock.
Congratulations and Welcome, Annalee.
Annalee Davis: Thank you very much, Wadadli Pen. It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to engage with you.
Wadadli Pen: Can you clarify when you were appointed and the length of the appointment?
Annalee Davis: My appointment with the commenced on March 1st 2016 and I am on a one year contract.
Wadadli Pen: What is your mission?
Annalee Davis: The title of the post is Caribbean Arts Manager and my mission is to develop an arts strategy for the British Council in the region. We have offices in Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad and I work remotely from Barbados. While the goal is to develop projects in those countries where we are physically present, the hope is to eventually include other Caribbean countries where and when possible. The main task is to develop opportunities for, and an understanding of, contemporary British culture in the Caribbean. There are also prospects to create reciprocity and in that way, to platform Caribbean culture in the UK through exchanges. In addition, I am the 2016 Shakespeare lead for the Caribbean as well as the lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. This means that the British Council works to mainstream these three values in everything we do.
Wadadli Pen: How has it been going so far – what have you been able to accomplish or is it still too early to tell?
Annalee Davis: The British Council is a very large, global organisation and there is a lot for me to learn, so it’s very much still early days. Thus far I have been getting to know my colleagues in the region (the Americas) and have visited the three Caribbean offices to meet with my line manager, country directors and project managers. I have also met colleagues in the British Council’s UK offices in Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff and London as well as with my counterpart art managers from Lima, Caracas, Bogota and Santiago. The British Council is a very large organisation and I am learning the ropes while working to design the regional strategy and plan of activities for the Arts.
Wadadli Pen: Can you speak more specifically to what your appointment as Caribbean Arts Manager with the British Council means for creative people in the Caribbean in general, and, given that the Arc article indicated that your primary focus would be the larger territories of Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad, what, if anything, can it mean for small island states like Antigua and Barbuda?
Annalee Davis: This is the first time the British Council has appointed an Arts Manager in the Caribbean. As an organisation, it is known more as an examinations centre, one that offers programming in Education and Society and teaches English as a foreign language in the Cuba office. For the moment, my role is to build on the good work which the organisation has done in the Arts in the three offices at a national level and my interest is to develop regional projects where possible. The hope is that eventually, smaller island states may become part of regional programming or initiatives.
Wadadli Pen: Given your work across several platforms including this one as Caribbean Arts Manager, can you speak to your assessment of the Caribbean arts scene (including the literary arts) – I know this is a broad question but maybe in addition to the generalization you can speak to an example of something that’s working and something that’s not.
Annalee Davis: I think this is an exciting moment in the Caribbean for those of us working in the Arts. I entered the British Council as someone shaped by my experiences as a practicing visual artist, an educator in a BFA programme at Barbados Community College and as a creative activist working through Fresh Milk. I read the region through this tricoloured lens. An alternate view is slowly coming into focus from this new perspective of a large organisation like the British Council which, all combined, provides a fascinating panorama.
From a bird’s eye view, I see that the Caribbean continues to generate ferociously talented creatives in most of the cultural sectors, many of whom struggle around issues of sustainability given the lack of a healthy cultural eco-system. As a result, the region has lost some of its artists who choose to migrate to the metropoles where there are more options because they cannot afford to maintain their practice in the region. In recent years however, I have noticed artists who are choosing to come home after their studies or to keep one foot planted firmly in their home territory and to work in multiple spaces simultaneously. This in part is because seismic shifts have taken place in the region due to significant work undertaken by artist led initiatives nurturing artists and building a critical community.
While Caribbean governments are speaking more about the creative industries, which is in itself a good thing, the state’s relationship with artists and understanding of the arts, needs to mature and expand to include a polyphonic discourse from varied perspectives.
An example of project that is working well in my opinion is the Bocas Lit Fest, an impressive regional festival supporting Caribbean literature. Those at the helm, Marina Salandy-Brown and Nicholas Laughlin, along with their professional team, work to make their vision of developing a healthy cultural eco-system for literature, a reality. They have expanded programming to the South of Trinidad and to Tobago. Writers from the region, its diaspora and further afield make the annual pilgrimage to the twin island republic, reconnecting with each other while celebrating the very best of Caribbean writing. The festival has a genuine impact on writers’ careers because it is strategic in how it represents writers in the region and internationally, contributing meaningfully to the development of the literary arts in the region. The British Council is working as a partner with Bocas and hopes to continue that partnership moving forward.
My personal opinion on a creative regional arts project that needs refreshing is CARIFESTA which could do with some professional development that our most innovative contemporary artist would be proud to participate in. There is an opportunity to apply new ways of thinking to this regional venture.
Wadadli Pen: How can creative people connect with what you’re doing – what opportunities will come out of this engagement – and how can they tap in to it without overwhelming you or de-railing your plans?
Annalee Davis: The British Council has a website and a Facebook page which is a way for folks interested in the work we are doing to stay understand more about upcoming activities. I can also be reached via email at Annalee.email@example.com All opportunities that are developed will be presented on those two platforms, so ‘like’ the Facebook page for updates.
Wadadli Pen: This could go on forever – I have many more questions buzzing around my mind. But I think/hope we’ve touched on the main issues. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want people to know about this new role and what it means for the region?
Annalee Davis: At this moment, I can say that I am excited about the possibilities for cross-pollination across the Atlantic and the potential to engage with the diversity of British art and artists who are interested in the Caribbean. There are many projects which are in the developmental stage and which I will share with you when I can do so. For the moment, I can speak about Play Your Part, a regional contribution to a global campaign celebrating Shakespeare and his impact on the world. I am working with Shakespeare experts on all three UWI campuses and one from Cuba, along with filmmakers, comprising a dynamic team who will co-develop and co-produce a short video exploring how the Caribbean has engaged with Shakespeare. This will be launched in October.
Wadadli Pen: Thank you, Annalee. Wishing you and the region nothing but good things in this new role.
Annalee Davis: Thank you very much for your interest in the work we’re doing in the arts at the British Council.
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