While the multiplicity of talent and the sheer artistry of the individuals and groups continue to soar in the National Junior Arts Festival (SanFest), the event continues to be plagued by a lack of audience and school participation.
Last week Monday, students participating in the Skits category, played strictly for the judges as all the seats in the entire auditorium remained empty. Students from one of the participating schools, Marabella South Secondary, said the empty seats did have an impact on their portrayal.
A teacher from this school also spoke about the lack of encouragement for students who want to study theatre arts as a subject. Junior Festival advisor Walid Baksh attributed these drawbacks to a disinterest by many of the school principals.
“A lot of the principals are new and do not have a genuine interest in the arts,” he said, at the end of the preliminary round of the festival in the Victoria Education District earlier this week. “Principals are not willing to send their children to participate, especially those schools which have a greater interest in the academics. This has been a problem over the years.”
Saying this kind of thinking was skewed, Baksh pointed out that quite a number of students who received scholarships based on the Cape examination, “including about four or so from Naparima College were participating in SanFest over the past two years.
“So there is no reason for keeping children from participating. The arts play a great role in the all-round development of a child,” the former school principal advanced.
He said especially now, where there is a thrust to promote the visual and performing arts as components of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination, it is important for primary school students to be exposed to these kinds of competitions.
Admitting the syllabus was late this year and some schools did not have enough time to prepare, Baksh said allowances were made for late entries.
“But only 22 schools in the district responded, which was an improvement from the 18 we had last year,” he explained. Baksh, a former executive director of the 42-year-old festival, said the music category, in particular, was a disappointment in the district.
“There has been a fantastic turnout this year in drama, storytelling, but the skits were also disappointing.” Baksh said for years the committee has been recommending workshops in the different educational districts, to be attended not only by the teachers of the various disciplines, but other teachers and principals to see what is involved and generate interest at the same time.
“We (committee) have been advocating for years, since I was festival director for the Ministry of Education to get their curriculum officers involved in pushing the festival in the different districts.”
He threw out a challenge for the ministers of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh and Arts and Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas, “to attend one or two of the performances and see the level of involvement and the standard of the performance so they could encourage more schools to get on board.”
The festival, which is endorsed by the Ministry of Education, had its genesis in 1970 by the San Fernando Arts Council, to encourage the nurturing and establishment of the performing, literary and visual arts in schools. Over the years, the festival, which is open to talented students, up to the age of 19, has become national in scope, taking place throughout the educational districts.
In 2008, over 200 schools and 12,000 students from across Trinidad and Tobago participated in the festival which has served as a primary stage for some of the major local artistes, including Machel Montano, and pannists Atiba Williams and Liam Teague.
September 25 – October 17
Finals: October 22 – November 15, the Creative Arts Centre
Command Performance: November 20 and 21,
Highlight Performance: November 26, Queen’s Hall
Senior San Fest:
October 15 – November 25, Creative Arts Centre