No one documentary or piece of research can answer all these questions in their complex and multiple wholes across a nation. Yet insights are possible, and lessons for social change can be learnt.
Art Connect is a documentary by director Miquel Galforé and executive producer Charlotte Elias, made with the support and help of many others. It is a story of hope and empowerment. A journey into the lives of a small group of students at Success School, Laventille, and how through a project called Art Connect these young members of society grow, transform and connect to each other and the positive possibilities of their futures.
According to the project blurb, “the Art Connect Project was created by artist Wendell McShine and is rooted in the philosophy that investment in education, art and humanities is vital for the uplifting and development of any society. The program was created to promote self awareness through the use of educational and dynamic creative workshops.”
Through the powerful experiences of art, song and dance, led by persons and groups including McShine, Muhammad Muwakil and Lou Lyons of the Freetown Collective, and UK dance theatre group Company Chameleon we see the power art has to connect people to each other. We also see how art can connect young people to their strengths, often buried deep by the pressures of everyday life. As one student puts it: “people don’t understand how hard the teenage life is.”
In the context of an anthropology of youth there is much to learn from Galforé’s documentary and the art connect project. One lesson is education is not simply about rote learning, regurgitation and passing exams. Education must also be about imagination and dreams too, about transformations, about hope. The systems currently in place in T&T secondary schools need a transfusion of inspiration and art connect suggests some great ideas worth pursuing.
The impressive young persons featured all begin the project dealing with harsh real life situations and traumas. Some speak of never being happy, of being scared, of being misunderstood. Over the course of the film we see the power of group-support in powering personal change.
It is a stark contrast to the harsh individualism and failure dominating the contemporary education system with its constant focus on examination. This present system is limited. It contains young people’s potential rather than supports them in awakening their talent, dreams and hope.
The second lesson is for Art Connect to be successful it needs to be more than a documentary or an experiment in one school. Art Connect needs government financial support and wider societal input in order to produce material changes in the type of education we offer our children.
Having been present for two of the first three local screenings of the film and hearing the Q&A sessions afterward, it is also clear the great impact Art Connect has on audiences. Nearly all comments reflected on the power of the piece and called on the Ministry of Education to put into action a training program to reproduce the Art Connect project around the country’s schools.
As the executive producer pointed out the project is not as simple as sending anyone and everyone into schools, but finding persons with the right balance of qualities to fit what is needed. Not an easy task. It takes time and preparation. The involvement of the Company Chameleon dance company from the UK for example took two years of preparation and fundraising.
A positive idea suggested was to use the young persons who have grown through the project themselves. This is also a way to offer pathways extending beyond their time in the program and into the future. And this is the crux.
The Art Connect project is wonderful and creative. It transformed the moments its young people lived in. However the program did, and always will, come to an end. And it is here pathways toward the future must become part of the project. It is no good awakening the hope of youth and not empowering it too.
In a society where our youth need support far more sophisticated and empowering than the debacle that was Lifesport, Art Connect is an inspiring idea the Ministry of Education should support and develop. Not least, because encouraging the potentials of the nation’s young people is a critical part of what all our futures will look like.