International Caribbean Art Fair (ICAFair)

The Visual Arts in Grenada: A Sustainable Resource

By Susan Mains

Posted: November 3, 2009

Susan Mains

Susan Mains


Courtesy: The Artist

One of the most defining moments of my artistic career was when an officer attached to the Ministry of Culture turned down the Art Council's request for funding to send an exhibit overseas. The reply given was, "Art is not a part of culture." Since that time more than five years ago, I have observed in many ways that visual art is the "outside child" of our institutional cultural milieu.


It took me a long time to be brave enough to say, "I am an artist."


I am an artist. Because my art education has been self-inflicted, it took me a long time to be brave enough to say, "I am an artist." I did not go to school to become an artist. My inner creativity was expressed at an early age. When given a "paint by number" set of a portrait of a horse, I ignored the numbers and lines and painted a landscape scene of the cane field and old windmill that I saw out my window from our residence in Barbados. My parents, themselves educators, encouraged me to be a teacher. They viewed art as a nice hobby, but certainly not something that would sustain a girl in for the future. Three degrees in education later, I still had a deep need to express myself in color and paint. Living in Dominica at the time (teaching, of course), a teenager would often come to our house to visit. He was a nascent artist himself, and when he saw my amateurish attempts at painting, he told me "You could do much better than this." He began to give me constructive criticism, and I started to paint in earnest. Thus began a journey in visual art that continues to this day.


When I returned to Grenada to live permanently in 1992, I immediately began to paint scenes from Grenada, and exhibit with the Grenada Arts Council. For many, many years the Grenada Art Council hosted an annual show at Marryshow House. As a teenager I had visited the exhibit every year - admiring the work, longing to know the secrets of the artists - how did they do that? I believe that my history is typical of that of many small islanders, the desire to create art very strong, yet the opportunity, limited.


Art in Grenada enjoys no institutional support


The reality of the state of visual art in Grenada is that it enjoys no institutional support. Following are some examples of this.


Education System

Art education in primary and secondary school is very limited. When it is offered in secondary school it is often relegated to those "who can't do so well academically." A principal once told me that the only reason they prepare students for Art for the CXC is so that some students can "at least get one O level." The traditional materials and supplies needed to do art are expensive. The customs duty and the VAT tax, and the surcharge and this that and the other often add up to about 65% added to the price of such items. A secondary teacher from St. Andrew's shared with me that he was teaching calligraphy to his students, but couldn't find the correct pens for them to practice with. When I asked him about importing them for him, his response was, "Ah, but they wouldn't be able to afford to buy them anyway." And this is quite true. Mr. Gordon de la Mothe shared with me that he left Grenada some 50 years ago with a Certificate in Art being the most he could obtain here. After studying and teaching art in England all these years, he returned to Grenada in 1997 to find that the situation was just the same.


Aside from material considerations, an even deeper problem exists for teachers wishing to teach art. For the most part, our teachers in Grenada pass on what they have been taught in school. Art history has never been a part of the core curriculum. Art is often conceptualized just as the object that is produced, thus assigning it to the category of a product. Also, there is no differentiation between art and craft, (craft being an item that can be reproduced over and over). For the teaching of art to be a reality in our primary and secondary schools the teachers themselves must have an understanding of what art means in their lives. In the past I have taught workshops for teachers in "how to teach art." We learned color theory, we played with interpretation, we collected dried grasses, seeds, coconut fiber and other natural items to be made into art. We made the projects together; fun and excitement was the order of the day. Many of the teachers expressed the view that they had never done anything like that when they were in school. I thought, "Great, I have made an impact. I have shown them how to use local materials to make art. These are things that are readily available, and don't cost much. This will be a beginning of art in primary schools! Who knows which young Picasso will come forth because of this early exposure. Yeah!" I visited these teachers in their classrooms a few months later to see what the lasting impact of the course was. I was sadly disappointed. Art class was "take your pencil and tear a page from your exercise book and draw something you like." Sigh. I could not effect positive change with a single course. It takes many interactions from many sources to enhance a person's perception of the intrinsic value of self-expression.


This dilemma is broader than the educational system.

We have not been endowed with a national appreciation for visual art. Aside from the visual trappings of Carnival, we do not perceive art as a necessary part of our cultural environment. Take, for example, the "Festival of the Arts" which has been produced by the Ministry of Culture every two years for decades. While dance, drumming, choirs, soloists, instruments, and other performing arts are very successfully encouraged, the visual arts are not even included. Art is not present in public spaces. When you walk into a government office, even in the Ministry of Culture, you do not see art on the walls, nor when you enter the country at the airport or seaport. Monuments have not been a part of what we leave behind for the next generation. Even the preservation and collection of Grenada's art has not been a priority. We have no Museum for the display of visual art.


This lack of institutional support exhibits itself in the practical. When an exhibition of Grenada's art is shown in another country, we are required to go through the same process with customs as if we were exporting goods for sale. One such occasion took me no less than seven visits to different ministries, hiring a broker to prepare paper work, carrying the papers back to the customs officer, finally to the Comptroller of Customs, all to ensure than after the work was exhibited abroad, when it came back we would not have to pay duty on it. Mind you these were works of art created in Grenada by Grenadian artists. There is no legislation regarding the exchange of art for exhibition between countries; every interchange is taken on an individual basis, thus going over the same ground again and again.


If we look to our history there are many reasons as to why as a nation we have evolved in this way. It is beyond the scope of this paper to study the aspects of colonialism, independence and nationhood and its effect on the visual arts. Therefore, we do not look back to cast blame at any source, but we look forward to forge a strong foundation for the future. History aside, we can no longer ignore this strong tool for developing nationalism and cultural identity.


I believe that the visual arts are a sustainable resource that should be utilized in nation building.


The sustainable resource in this context is the creativity of the human spirit. It is actually an intellectual resource, but needs the material and the physical to be expressed. Like the resources of the earth, it can be abused, and used up. Like the products of agriculture, if not given water and fertilizer and care, it will not thrive. It involves:

  • Business — the marketing and selling of works of art
  • Government — the institutional support in education and physical structures to exhibit art
  • Communities — the vibrant give and take of artists creating together
  • Households — the family inculcating in the young the love and appreciation for art

 All these then contribute to the creative quality of life.


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