When Charlotte Elias contacted me in early 2012, asking if I could travel to Trinidad to lead a workshop for teachers from Success Laventille Secondary School, I had no idea the magnitude of the project she was working on.
I first connected with Charlotte in 2001 when I returned to Trinidad to help develop education programming at her organization Caribbean Contemporary Arts (CCA), located down the hill/road from Success Laventille. Charlotte founded CCA in 1997 and led it for about 10 years until it unfortunately was forced to close. That summer in 2001, I had the pleasure of putting together two programs: Art in Tent, a series of conversations around the arts and education in Trinidad and a summer arts camp for young people which culminated in an exhibition at CCA. At the time, while working at ArtsConnection, I was a student at New York University completing an MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies with a concentration in Museum Studies. My supervisor at ArtsConnection graciously allowed me to take a leave of absence to spend the summer in Trinidad working with Charlotte.
In March 2012, I travelled ‘home again’ nervously rehearsing every second of the workshop I had prepared for the group. I was full of fear and questions. What if the teachers think my workshop is a waste of time? What if my having been away for so long, will make things foreign to me and hinder my ability to see, hear, listen and facilitate effectively. What if what I have prepared just isn’t the right approach for connecting with this group?
Now fifteen years later, after that first encounter and four years after that teacher workshop, a movie called Art Connect was screened at BAM in Brooklyn. I sat in the theater, among a group of dear friends each doing their part to have a positive impact on young people faced with a variety of challenges, anxiously awaiting the start of the movie.
The event at BAM was coordinated by the Caribbean Film Academy. The documentary focuses on a group of young people ranging in age from 12-15 who go to Success Laventille Secondary School and live in the neighborhood, one of the poorest most violent communities in the country, and historically a community that has created some important contributors to the arts of the nation. In the documentary, teens take part in dance, song writing, and mural making activities facilitated by a carefully selected group of artists. It chronicles their journey discovering their artistic voice and positively influencing their outlook on life and their future.
My small part in the process was to create that positive arts experience for the teachers who work with these young people everyday. An element that Charlotte and her team recognized as an important component of this work.
By using a combination of ice breakers to relax me and the participants, a live performance by Muhammed Muwakil from Freetown Collective to use as a point of reference on the creative process and an opportunity for the teachers to create and perform, my goal was to make visible, the characteristics of a successful learning environment and how to facilitate that through the arts.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to share what I have dedicated my career to exploring and developing with artists and educators. The experience helped make visible the universality of the arts as a powerful tool for inspiring learning. My fears were wasted emotion. The movie is beautifully crafted and a testament to the power of the arts to positively impact the lives of young people and those that facilitate this work. Congratulations Charlotte and thank you for your unending dedication to this work. The journey continues…