Looking back on 25 years of culture

Henry Muttoo describes the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s past and future goals as ‘two-pronged’.

As artistic director of the organisation for the last 22 years, Mr. Muttoo said that the goals of the organisation have never changed, though they are often re-evaluated.

‘We wanted to look carefully at the needs of the Cayman Islands, to look at what happened before,’ Mr. Muttoo said, ‘while also putting the Cayman National Cultural Foundation law to practical use.’

The Cayman National Cultural Foundation law was enacted in 1984 (although it was revised in 1992, this revised version was never gazetted, thus the 1984 version remains in use).

The law reads: ‘The functions and objectives of the Foundation are to stimulate and facilitate the development of culture generally’, going on to include the stimulation of the development of local talent through workshops, training, exhibitions and so on and ‘to do anything necessary or desirable to assist persons interested in developing cultural and artistic expression, including the preservation and exploration of Caymanian cultural heritage.’

This provided the Foundation with its goals and for the past 25 years it has actively pursued them, originally under the auspices of the first Foundation chairman Oswell Rankine and eventually with Mr. Muttoo in the role of artistic director, a post he has held since 1998.

The conceptual vision for the Foundation included the realisation of an exhibition space, a museum, archives and more, many of which proved major undertakings that became separate entities that still exist today – the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands National Archives, the Cayman Islands National Trust and the Cayman Islands National Museum, among others.

After this segregation, the Foundation was able to re-focus entirely on, as the law stated, ‘the development of culture generally’, which of course, leads to the ultimate question: ‘How do you develop culture?’

Preferring to instead attempt to recognise, rather than develop, culture, Mr. Muttoo made his intentions clear to Dave Martins, then chairman of the CNCF board, when Mr. Martins was interviewing Mr. Muttoo to join the CNCF in 1989.

‘I told Dave Martins that I was not interested in coming to Cayman to run a theatre only and I thought the law and the people in Cayman needed to have a broader scope and understanding of culture and how it fits into their lives,’ Mr. Muttoo said. ‘So we set out to employ the Cultural Foundation law.’

Part of his action plan has included recognising the influence of globalisation on Cayman’s future culture.

‘Globalisation has a lot of strengths but smaller cultures that are vulnerable to change are being forced to change to things they don’t like,’ Mr. Muttoo said. ‘You have to recognise any shock to a system is traumatic … Change is inevitable; it happens everywhere, but when it happens so rapidly it traumatises people.’

While embracing globalisation, it remains important to the Foundation to recognise Cayman’s past.

In celebration of those cultural figures and active artists in Cayman’s community who have contributed to the development and sustenance of the country’s culture, the Foundation presented an unusually large number of awards this year – 38 in total – and introduced medals to the award-giving ceremony, which was performed during the Foundation’s anniversary gala on Friday, 23 October at the Harquail Theatre.

‘We have a general rule that we wouldn’t give out more than one or two golds every year and if people don’t measure up to the standards we don’t award it – it’s not that it must be awarded,’ Mr. Muttoo said. ‘This was an unusual year because it was an anniversary so we had to go back and recognise some of the people.’

Awards fell into one of two categories – either a CNCF Star for Creativity in the Arts or a CNCF Heritage Cross Award, both of which were awarded at bronze, silver and gold levels (bronze celebrated those who had given at least five years of service in the arts or in cultural heritage, silver represented 10 years or more and gold 25 years or more). Certificates in each category were given for those who did not yet qualify for a bronze award but still needed to be recognised.

‘If you’ve done a brilliant piece of work, you’re a young artist, you’ve not been in it for long, we have the scope for you to be recognised with the certificate,’ said Mr. Muttoo.

Although the Foundation has presented annual awards since 1991, this year was the first year medals were introduced.

‘The reason why I [brought in] the medals is because I felt that if you can wear a medal it seems to me that people put more value if you’re wearing something on your chest,’ said Mr. Muttoo, who added that he hoped that people would wear their medals at public ceremonies in the future.

Mr. Muttoo explained that Alan Ebanks, one of the recipients of a Gold Star for Creativity in the Arts medal at the recent gala celebration, had called him the next week.

‘He called to tell me ‘I wore my medal to church on Sunday and I was recognised and they gave me five minutes to talk about my experience’,’ Mr. Muttoo said.

Special awards were also given to Helen Harquail for philanthropy, Osewell Rankine and Edward Herd, for long service. Sonia Bodden Kemball was also recognised as Volunteer of the Year.

Ms Bodden Kemball has been involved with the arts for 25 years and she worked with the Foundation for six years.

In the past year alone, Ms Bodden Kemball volunteered her time to stage manage Rundown, Dance Vibes, Fresh Cayman Couture during Cayfest, One White One Black (in Guyana) and December.